Education is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. The interplay between thought, language and social relationships is, for me, the act of education. My interest in education stems from this belief. I see beauty in the construction of ideas by people through discussion and action. At a practical level I thoroughly enjoy building with children their understandings of the world around them in science lessons. This education is not the exclusive property of the youth; of equal interest to me are the things which I am learning in school. I view this year as a project of my own education, in which I have learned and am learning many things about my own nature, and about the nature of learning.
Kingdown Community School is a large mixed gender comprehensive school in Warminster with sports college status, where I have spent much of the last year as a novice teacher in the science department. There are around 1400 pupils including a sixth form of over 200. There is a large staff at Kingdown, this year with three NQTs, two of whom are in Science. The school has as one of its mission statement aims Òto make effective learning the most important aim of the school.Ó (KCS, 2002) With so many teachers of all levels of experience, it is natural that this Òeffective learningÓ involves teacher, as well as pupil development.
In my role as a novice teacher I have seen and realised much around me this year which has been perplexing; my learning curve has been as steep as any at the school. I have had to engage with so many different issues and develop so many different values. I have no doubt that I could not have engaged with issues surrounding my practice as a novice teacher with sufficient intellectual clarity to continue had it not been for the support of other novices, established teachers and the staff support structure of Kingdown.
Engaging in conversations with other novice teachers at Kingdown allowed me to realise that others shared values with me, and that there were some things of importance common to teachers at the start of their careers. I wanted to investigate how one of these issues, reflective consciousness, developed through the professional life of a teacher, and what the role of Kingdown is in helping staff to develop in this way. The essence of this study is to reflect on how Kingdown School supports staff in their personal development as teachers, from the initial training, through the probation year and beyond into their career. To research this question it was necessary to reflect carefully on what my own educational values are, and in learning about Kingdown as an environment for staff development I have had the opportunity for much personal growth. This is a study of reflective practice at Kingdown from four different perspectives; those of novice teachers, NQTs, experienced teachers and senior school management.
In the nineteen seventies Lawrence Stenhouse proposed a system of curriculum development which was based firmly within the domain of teachers. He was of the opinion that no classroom was an island (Stenhouse L, 1975, p157) and that by sharing their research teachers could generate enough data for revisions of local curriculum policy to be considered. Now, a generation after his ideas were put forward curriculum decisions are arguably even farther removed from teachers in the UK than they were in the Seventies; none of us really have a great deal of choice as to what we teach or, increasingly even how we teach it. There is often a sense among teachers practising at the moment that this government intervention for, it is claimed, short-term political gain restricts good teaching and removes a sense of ownership from professionals for their work.
I am inspired to work through this sense of distance by the work of the Brazilian educationalist Paulo Friere. He wrote that education is the act of freedom (Friere P, 1974, p147) and that educators must believe that people are capable of participating in their own pursuit of liberation (Friere P, 1972, p150). I am motivated to teach by a belief that education is an act of emancipation. The contradiction between this sense of freedom and the growing sense of control from government is one I feel strongly in my practice. Only through reflecting on what happens in my lessons, and on my behaviour do I manage to teach in this space between freedom and control.
A reflective practitioner in the classroom context is a teacher who develops through analysing their practice in order to make better sense of the teaching and learning that takes place in their classroom (Sebba J, 1994, p81). Lesson evaluation may not necessarily be a process of simply identifying problems:
ÒWe donÕt pretend to start with a problem, clearly articulated and defined, and end with a solution. We are more engaged with consciousness raising than in problem- solving.Ó
(Carspecken P + Macgillivray L, 1998, p171)
This more informal approach to lesson evaluation, without strict rules and boundaries may be very important to teachers. Through informal conversation we are enabled to articulate feeling and opinion, testing our own perceptions against those of others (Hannan et al, 1971, p113). I discovered by surveying novice teachers that formal review is often onerous. It is reassuring to read of the value in less stringent evaluation.
Reflection of this kind can come about in the normal social course of a teacherÕs day. It is common for British teachers to talk together about their problems and successes in the classroom, and to provide mutual support. (Claxton G et al, 1996, p71). Certainly my experience of Kingdown was that this collaboration did take place. However, it is important for me to find out why reflection is such a salient issue in the lives of teachers, and how the structure of Kingdown allows for it. ÒIs it too great a claim to say that reflection may produce school reform?Ó ask Osterman and Kottkamp (1993, p171). In my context it may be possible to identify whether school policy at Kingdown is motivated by a need for reflective practice or whether it merely reflects the personal need of teachers for development.
This essay is built around data gathered from novice teachers during a period lasting from the middle of the block one practice to the middle of the block two practice, and from staff at Kingdown at the end of the academic year. This data consists of a questionnaire and several interviews taped and typed up, along with my own reflective writing on these pieces. The questionnaire data is presented as anonymous and I have changed the names of the participants with whom I conducted the interviews. Full transcripts are presented in the appendices.
This is not quantitative research. I do not believe that such a small scale study could possibly contain the depth of research needed to make valuable statistical inferences. It can however indicate trends in opinion, highlight points of interest and raise questions and arguments. Admittedly this could be well done using minor statistical studies (rather than proofs), but the issues I have been interested in studying are better revealed by telling stories about their protagonists, indeed the very telling of those stories allows me to consider and develop aspects of my teaching. Does this make it valid research?
If a study does not address a problem and seek to solve it then it is not research (Mallick K, and Verma G, 1999). On a more specific level, Cohen and Manion have argued that research constitutes undertakings and activities aimed at developing Òa science of behaviour for the clarification of issues with a bearing on education.Ó (Cohen L, and Manion L, 1980, pp.43-4). As my work has been preoccupied with means of developing my practice and clarifying issues in my education, it fits quite neatly under these banners of research.
Suggesting that teachers transform their practices in an attempt to answer questions about their situations, Jean McNiff (1990) plays with the idea that a teacher adapting her or his practice is an act of research, that theories are brought about by a teacher Òmaking external, through the act of writing, what is internal.Ó (McNiff J, 1990, p56).
The idea that teachers research education by writing about their practices is shared by John Elliott who talks of a relationship between developing and understanding teachersÕ thinking. He argues that encouraging teachers to inquire into their own practice, in order to research how they perceive education, in fact becomes a form of teacher development (Elliott J, 1992, p206). As this essay describes -in a sense- the development of some trainee teachersÕ perception of education, I believe I can justifiably call it research.
I have often found fascinating and liberating ideas in education and other fields to be inaccessible, hidden away beneath a spurious mass of academia and impenetrable text. Rather than hope to reproduce with my essay the exacting standards of intellectualism deemed necessary to make such research valid, I must look to tell my story in other ways, ways accessible to me and, I hope, the reader. The following discussion of my findings and their concluding overview are intended therefore to be engaging and accessible accounts of how reflecting on lessons affects teachers at Kingdown. These accounts are told firstly through the eyes of four novices as they begin to experience such practice. Perspectives on how the issues of evaluation and development might progress into the probation year and beyond, and how Kingdown as an institution is committed to aiding this development are then gained from the reflections of an NQT, an experienced teacher and a member of the senior management team.
Part one: The Novice teacher perspective- Why is reflecting important?
It is springtime and I have taught well over a hundred lessons. I probably have pieces of paperwork relating to every single one of them; IÕm certainly supposed to have. I should be able to demonstrate that I am Òcommitted to improving personal teaching practice through reflection and collaboration.Ó (UoB, 2002, p54). Naturally I will do everything I can to meet this and other standards, but such targets do not motivate me to develop. I want to improve my practice to be a great teacher, not to meet the basic entry levels of the profession. A typical lesson for me would end with a little personal reflection and some amount of feedback from the class teacher. There is almost always an experienced teacher to offer her or his opinion alongside my own. The two do not always concur (I donÕt always point this out to the teacher, for obvious reasons), so who is in the right?
I donÕt think anyone would disagree that one of the most important duties of tutors and mentors is to be supportive. It seemed in the early days of the autumn that novices tended towards overly negative reviews of their own performance in lessons; one colleague was so negative that she eventually left the course. This negativity left the tutor to take the lead in reflecting on the positive points but this was not a problem as in those days they seemed to be more aware of what had happened in the class. I found their ability to review as a unit the entirety of my work and effort in a lesson both useful and irritating.
This leaves us in an interesting situation. Nobody likes to be criticised, and teaching is such an emotionally exhausting job that the last thing anyone wants at the end of a long day is to be told or to tell themselves exactly what it was they could have done better. However, although it may not be possible for even the most reflective of novices to be entirely honest with her or his self about the performance, reflective practice does not have to be entirely an act of self flagellation. Reflection may well, as Day (1999) points out, be initiated in other ways, for example curiosity or escape from boredom. The danger, he points out is that teachers become prisoners of our own intent and only see what we want to see (Day C, 1999, p27+28). The role of the tutor and mentor may therefore be said to be one of guidance; not necessarily expounding how she or he thinks the lesson went, but overseeing the noviceÕs reflections, making sure they are not too far from reality.
The need for some form of review is clear. Novice teachers surveyed had some interesting suggestions as to how that review should come about.
I particularly appreciate the idea that evaluations should be appropriate to the individual teacher and that they are collaborative. It is of no surprise that novices resent the imposition upon their time of the university, who often come across to us as abstracted from the realities of teaching. It does seem an oversight however that there is little opportunity for pupil evaluation of novice teachers. A normal part of the teacher pupil relationship is one of feedback. If this feedback is missing from the novice/pupil relationship then not only do we miss the most important educational perspective of all, but we also make it that little bit harder to define ourselves as teachers.
Rather than seeing evaluation as a bolt on attachment to my teaching, I prefer to see it as an integral part of my practice as a teacher. If I experience problems with some of my educational values then it is natural for me to imagine a solution to the problem, act in the direction of the solution and then evaluate the solution (McNiff J, 1990, p56). With good guidance there is no reason why this cannot become a normal teaching habit, something which would aid my teaching no end.
There are several important points to make here. The first is that the staff with whom I spoke are clearly thinking in line with school policy on lesson evaluation; that some form of review at the end of every lesson in essential. This is very important and agreement such as this is one reason why Kingdown functions as a society so well; there are basic educational values which are shared by senior management, teachers and pupils. In fact reflection on the part of pupils regarding what they have learned and how they have learned it is actively encouraged in Ôlearning to learnÕ lessons and within the implementation of the national key stage three strategy.
The second point is one of involvement on the part of the school management with the teaching which goes on at the school. I felt that the senior leadership team played a very proactive role in encouraging reflective practice. This encouragement was more successful precisely because it did not make unreasonable demands upon the time of teachers by asking for more formal review of every lesson, but at the same time it was known that to be dispassionate about ones performance was not acceptable:
ÒWe came to see teacher knowledge in terms of narrative life history, as storied life compositions, These stories, these narratives of experience, are both personal, reflecting a person's life history - and social - reflecting the milieu, the contexts in which teachers life.Ó
(Connelly & Clandinin, 1999, p.3)
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