This Symposium has been accepted for the programme of the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference 12-16 April 2004, in San Diego with contributions from: Catriona McDonagh, Bernie Sullivan and Jean McNiff from the University of Limerick;  from Joan Whitehead and Bernie Fitzgerald from the University of the West of England; from Cheryl Black and Jackie Delong from the Grand Erie District School Board; from Jack Whitehead of the University of Bath and from Maggie Farren of Dublin City University.



Aims of the session


This session aims to demonstrate the transformative potential of individuals' collaborative self-studies for the development of sustainable global educational networks of communication. For this potential to be realised we see certain practices as necessary. Here we explain some of these practices and how we believe we are achieving and justifying them by making our evidence base and the outcomes visible through multi media representations of our learning.


We are a group of teachers, professional educators, and education administrators, working across the levels of education systems. Each of us asks, ‘How do I improve what I am doing for personal and social good?’ Each of us aims to generate our personal educational theories (23) to show how we are doing so through our contributions to the education of social formations in our own settings. This symposium is an opportunity to test the validity of these claims against the critical judgement of peers, in the spirit of the AERA organisers' themes, to make public a consideration of 'what counts as evidence in high-quality educational research, how educational research informs and is informed by practice, and the nature of the social, political, and historical contexts in which educational research is conducted and used' (see (25). We are claiming that we are not only fulfilling those high principles, but are also transforming them into the kinds of practices that contribute to sustainable forms of living worldwide (5).


Given the fragility of the world we are in, we believe that educational endeavours should increasingly focus on developing international understanding in the interests of nurturing forms of life that respect the integrity and right to self-determination of all (3, 20). Our symposium explains how we try to do this. We believe that the validity of our efforts lies in the generation of educational theories of professional practice. A criterion for the legitimation of such validity claims is the capacity of educators to show how they are holding themselves accountable for their work as they seek to exercise their educative influence at local and global levels. In our symposium, we explain how we are fulfilling our understanding that acceptance of individual responsibility for ourselves and to each other through collaborative self-study is at the heart of global influence (2), and we are testing our claims in the public domain.


We aim to produce evidence to support our claims that we are contributing to more sustainable forms of global understanding through education, by offering descriptions and explanations of our practices in different education settings, as we try to exercise our educative influence for social good. We show how our public accounts of theory-generation contribute to a systematic knowledge base (22). From the ground of clarifying the meanings of our embodied values and using them as educational standards of judgment we show how contributing to this knowledge base constitutes a form of theory-generation that has profound implications for educational practices world-wide.


Our presentation is substantively and methodologically transformational, and takes the form of four papers presented collaboratively. Each of the papers explains the learning processes of the authors, as they research the realisation of their educational values within their social situations. The series of papers shows the transformation of influence, from a consideration of the moral commitments of self-study, through the realisation of those commitments across a range of professional practices and through expanding spheres of systemic influence.


Educational significance


The educational significance of our presentation lies in showing how, in response to Snow's call to systematize our professional knowledge-base (22), the collaborative production of evidence-based accounts can contribute to this knowledge base, and how this knowledge base, in response to Coulter and Wiens (4), Feldman (9) and Noffke (18), can influence the trajectories of social change. We show how what begins as the personal accountability of self-study has the potential to impact on processes of organisational and social change at local levels, and how this can transform into the education of social formations at global levels. We explain how the knowledge base, which contains multi-media presentations (8) of personal enquiries undertaken collaboratively, can be disseminated through global networks, in live and electronic forms; how these networks contain the potentials for sustainable forms of education that have implications for future educational practices (13); and how these practices have reciprocal influence at local and global level. Drawing on Bateson's (1) idea that the patterns that connect need to manifest generative transformational potential, we explain how our educational practices are realisations of metaphors of transformation through reciprocal mutuality. We explain how the social processes of local and global education interactions are sustained through their capacity to inform one another. We also explain how these social processes constitute a form of living theory-generation that feeds back into practice, so that new practices become the grounds for new forms of theory. The significance of our individual and collaborative work lies, we believe, in its capacity for reciprocal epistemological and social transformation. Our presentation offers theoretical justification for our work, and shows its practical consequences in the lives of real people.


Summary of presentations


Paper 1                      'Ontological commitments in self study'


Presenter 1            (University of Bath)  Jack Whitehead

Presenter 2            (University of Limerick) Jean McNiff

Presenter 3            (Dublin City University) Maggie Farren


An elementary moral principle is that no one should expect another to do something they are not prepared to do themselves. In our paper we explain how this commitment acts as a core principle for our work as professional educators and educational theorists, and we set out the ideas and values to which we hold ourselves accountable.


We are each undertaking our separate enquiries as we support educators in higher degree study in different countries. Our enquiries focus on explaining what we do as professional educators that will influence the quality of learning of others.


We encourage educators across the professions to ask questions of the kind, 'How do I improve what I am doing for personal and social benefit?' as we do. We make explicit the kind of educative influence we hope to exercise by producing authenticated accounts of our work, which contain evidence that shows how we hold inviolable the endowment of all to exercise their originality of mind and critical judgement.


Theorising processes of self-study, we believe, should go beyond conceptual analyses of the potential worth of self-study, and explain how the worth is embodied within the practice. Accepting that self-study is a form of educational research that has significant potentials for the education of social formations, we therefore aim to transform discourses of regulatory principles into discourses of political practices (17) which show the passionate investment involved in a commitment to living in the direction of one’s educational values. These are ontological commitments that embed issues of epistemology and methodology.


In our efforts to create a systematic knowledge base, in response to Snow (22) and Hiebert, Gallimore and Stigler (12), we make available the work of ourselves and those we support as learning resources for use world wide. Our work in education knows no frontiers. We explain how we are transforming the social, political, and historical contexts within which our research is located into new forms of global influence (see 11). Our methodologies are first to exercise self-critique in relation to the professional judgements we make; second to invite critique through our networked communications with peers; third to present that critical process to an expanded critical forum in the shape of this presentation. We hope in this way to strengthen our interconnecting networks of communicative action in which individuals, groups, communities and networks can share accounts of learning in order to live more fully their educational values in their varied contexts.


The papers that follow demonstrate the reciprocal influence between ourselves and others with whom we work in a variety of education settings.


Paper 2                     Learning from and with our pupils

Presenter 4            (University of Limerick) Catriona McDonagh

Presenter 5            (University of Limerick) Bernie Sullivan


Our work as primary teachers in Dublin focuses on helping our pupils to maximise their own potentials for learning. Our professional commitments are informed by our values of social justice that holds as sacred the right of all to learn, regardless of social or academic positioning, as well as our educational values to do with the right of all to exercise their originality of mind and critical judgement in order to learn in ways that are appropriate for them.


We work in separate schools, both with young children with so-called 'special educational needs'. Some of these children come from the Traveller community, a community that is educationally marginalized in Ireland (14). Through studying our practices, we have been able to crystallise our initially tacit concerns into explicit concerns about how our children were not learning because they were systematically disadvantaged by the traditional socio-political contexts of education that banish children who are 'different' to the educational margins (19). In trying to teach our children so that they could learn, we concluded that our traditional pedagogies were contributing to the marginalisation, and we needed to develop new pedagogies that were grounded in the pupils' ways of learning. Our research, as adults involved in professional learning and mindful of the new challenges of educational theory and practice (21), involved generating evidence to show how we could support our claims that our new ways of working had implications for organisational and social change (16). Our evidence demonstrates the validity of theorising our practices as a new (for us) integrated model of professionals' and pupils' learning, rather than perceive teaching and learning as separate realms of discourse. At our presentation we will produce some of this evidence, using multi-media forms of representation. We also hope to explain how our research is impacting on our institutions, and on what counts as good professional practice in Ireland.


Paper 3


Experiencing and evidencing learning: new ways of working with mentors and trainees in a Training School partnership.

Presenter 6            (University of the West of England) Joan Whitehead For the whole training school website click here. For the action research methodology

click here.

Presenter 7            (University of the West of England) Bernie Fitzgerald


As the organisers of AERA have identified there is a questioning of the role of higher education institutions in the initial training and continuing professional development of teachers. This questioning has also been evidenced in England and has led to government requirements for greater involvement by schools in initial teacher training and a central determination of training outcomes. This has tended to minimise innovation and produce a culture of compliance. 


More recently the social and political context has begun to recognise the limitations of centralised control and the Government has encouraged schools, in collaboration with higher education institutions, to explore and try out new approaches to training teachers, to carry out and use teaching research.


As university-based teacher educators involved in a Training School working with PGCE trainees and school based mentors, we have been involved in developing a model of mentoring which has given trainees and mentors a critical voice and vocabulary of reflection whilst building a more democratic community of professional practice. In this process we have reflected on our own learning and on our commitments and values. This has caused us to reappraise the interconnectedness of our training partnership and the implications for our own practice and that of others.


We see as key to this new model, which involved using multimedia to record collaborative reflection and critique by mentors and trainees, a particular quality of relationship between them and between university and school-based staff. This we believe is best characterised by a climate of professional learning involving mutuality, trust, and respect as well as the kind of open-mindedness espoused by (24).  Such qualities have enabled dialogue to take place, the situated learning of mentors, tutors and trainees to be recorded and as (12) have advocated, to be made public via a multi-media website thereby contributing to a professional knowledge base for teaching. This process has both enhanced the learning of participants as well as contributed to a network of communication about the nature of professional knowledge and learning within and beyond this particular community of practice (15). We see this presentation as another way of communicating our work to ascertain its credibility and usefulness to other teacher/ researchers and to those involved in formulating and enacting policy about teacher training and development.


Our intent is, and continues to be, to rethink the respective contributions of higher education and schools to the professional development of new and more established members of the teaching profession, to open up our current thinking to critique by others and to explore its transformative potential for ourselves and for others locally as well as globally.



Paper 4                    

How can we improve our practice at supporting teachers in our school system, as they research their professional practice to improve student learning?


Presenter 8            (Grand Erie District School Board) Phd -Jackie Delong Keynote to Japanese Association of Educators for Human Development

Presenter 9            (Grand Erie District School Board) Cheryl Black


This paper describes our work in a school district as we research our support for other educators who are researching their practice. In our respective roles as a school superintendent and an elementary school principal, we have worked as co-researchers with teachers, consultants and administrators, in our school system, in the successful completion of our masters and doctoral self-study degrees. In both roles, we model our commitment to research our own professional practice. These practices include our engagement with the political processes related to the provision of resources for learning . In our presentation we will produce authenticated evidence to explain our influence as we investigate our ability to support teachers in their quest to improve student learning, as we research together. Some of the evidence will be drawn from a successfully completed, six-year doctoral programme into the support provided by a superintendent for the development of an action research approach to professional development (6). Other evidence will be drawn from our work together as co-researchers and critical friends within our school board as we supported a successful cohort of some 14 teacher-researchers in their own master's enquiries (7).


Responding to Snow (22), the paper will show the ongoing contribution of teacher-researchers in a school board to the professional knowledge base of teaching, both in published books and in the electronic journal, Ontario Action Researcher. This contribution will include an analysis of the significance of social context in influencing our practice and learning.


Evidence of our influence will come from our personal journals, interviews with those we are supporting, together with validated narratives from ourselves and teachers. It will include an analysis of our educational influence in the Ontario Educational Research Council and the communication of our ideas in international forums of educational researchers. The processes of validation will focus on the responses of validation groups to our claims to know our own learning, the teachers’ learning and improvements in student learning. They will also focus on our claims to know our influence in the education of a school culture and in the social formation of a school board. 


Structure of the session


The presentations will be linked by participants’ critical commentary, as they explain what may be the significance of these individual and collective enquiries to sustainable educational networks of communication. They will invite critique from the audience on their claims to be contributing to the development of sustainable global networks of self-study researchers through the extension of their relationships in Ontario, Ireland and the UK to self-study researchers in Japan, China, Israel, India and Australia. Members of the audience will be invited to comment on how they themselves might contribute to strengthening these networks of communicative action, by showing how they hold themselves accountable for their work as they share their narratives of learning.


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