Saturday, 18 March 2017

Teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency and professional learning

This post reflects some reading I have been doing in the last few weeks as I grapple with teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency and how this is affected by the professional learning stance of the teacher and their context.

Some forms of professional learning are more suited to supporting the development of knowledge and understanding, skills and abilities, and dispositions than others. There are opposing views around who determines the professional learning agenda for teachers, which can be polarised to: teachers should be the agents of change (enhancing their professionalism through teacher agency) versus teacher learning which should be driven by external change agents (policy and curriculum). In both cases, the culture of the school matters, if the mechanisms and supports are available to promote teacher agency then this model will predominate, however, if a supportive and trusting culture does not exist then perhaps the model will comply more to external drivers. Professional learning communities can be a strong driver of improvement if utilised effectively, Fullan (2003) cautions that professional learning communities will not necessarily lead to changes in practice if the interactions simple reinforce ineffective practice. So, professional learning and learning communities need to interact with views beyond their own context and involve themselves in critical reading and reflection to move their thinking and practice to being more research enhanced.

Professional learning communities are a powerful means of engaging teachers in professional learning that can lean into the improvement agenda but also build teacher capacity through teachers engaging in and with research. It is important that professional learning communities are led by teachers, because this type of professional learning goes beyond developing and sharing knowledge and practices, and is more about establishing, cultivating and valuing opportunities for informed professional judgement, decisions, and actions. This is echoed in teaching Scotland Future (2010) where Donaldson discusses teachers as “expert practitioners whose professional practice and relationships are rooted in strong values, who take responsibility for their own development”.
Professional learning requires that engagement with teachers’ learning is at the centre of the process. Learning in a professional context should be driven by both teacher and student needs, as without this there is little motivation to make any improvement. Therefore, professional learning that is practical, personalised to the teachers learning needs and relevant to their classroom practices, has a greatest effect on teacher learning and thus student outcomes. When teachers recognise themselves as problem solvers and self-select their professional learning approaches, they tend to seek authentic professional collaboration and develop the skills of evaluation and reflection. Effective professional learning should be coherent, outcome orientated, sustainable and evidence informed professional learning that takes cognisance of how adults learn.

Practitioner enquiry offers a method of effective teacher learning as it derives from and informs the professional learning of teachers, it supports collaborative working using a range of approaches, and helps teachers to gain knowledge and understanding, develop skills and abilities, and interrogates their values as part of the learning process.

Chapman et al believe that their research into “[School Improvement Partnership Programme] SIPP partnership are ‘proof of concept’”. They posit that ‘system coherence’ can be created through a ‘set of agreed principles and broad framework’ that supports professional learning, but has the built-in flexibility to be context specific and can “strengthen the middle through continuous professional learning underpinned by discipline collaborative enquiry”.

The relationship between teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency, professional learning is complex and unique to the individual. The way in which professional identity can be developed and enhanced is within the power of the individual but is also dependent on the support and leadership in their context. Collaborative practitioner enquiry can offer a means of creating the conditions to support teacher agency but this must be flexible enough to allow individual needs to be met but also structured enough to support improvement through effective partnership working. How teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency, and professional learning can be expressed through professional capital is my next line of enquiry.

Campbell, C. Leiberman, A. Yashkina, A (2016) Developing professional capital in policy and practice
Chapman, c. Chestnutt, H. Friel, N. Hall, S, Lowden, K. (2016) Professionals capital and collaborative inquiry networks for educational equity and improvement?

Duncalf, D. Lloyd, D. Pratt, A, Horsfall, P (2017) Teacher perspectives of cultivating learning through practitioner enquiry to transform practice

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Teacher professionalism, teacher agency and teacher identity

This post reflects some reading I have been doing in the last few weeks as I grapple with teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency both for myself, in my context and beyond, thinking about how to support teachers to enhance their professionalism, shape their identity and develop their agency.

Teacher professionalism needs to be placed in the broader context of neoliberal economic and political reforms and as such, the development of a teachers’ professional identity becomes increasingly influenced by the discourses of a market regulated professional community. This market driven professionalism supports and encourages improved performance and normative practices for its members and as such complies to a ‘managed professionalism’ model for teachers. The managed professionalism model has strong accountability policies, linked with performativity, which emphasises measurable performances and creates new professional norms.
Contemporary education reform champion instrumentalist concepts of teachers, by using words like practitioners rather than teachers, it encourages an emphasis on the technical and rational elements of professional practice. However, teachers are more complex and multifaceted than this ‘instrumentalist’ approach suggests. Most teachers conscribe to a professional stance that is based on values, both personal and professional, which emphasises the emotional, personal and relational aspects of teaching, the moral imperative, if you will.

Personal and professional values develop over time as does teacher identity. Teacher identity is influenced by and formed within multiple social, cultural, political, and historical contexts. It is formed through relationships, involves emotions, and the reconstruction of personal stories. It is negotiated through how the individual finds themselves in their context, through the available resources and their own experiences both personal and educational. Identities are constantly made and refined as teachers use their surroundings to make sense of and interact with and in their current context.

There is an acknowledged staged process to teacher identity development. Firstly, new teachers develop knowledge of curriculum content and become confidence in applying known skills to new situations. As a teachers’ learning journey progresses there is a shift in focus from subject matter expertise to pedagogical expertise as teachers develop skills in engaging students in their learning in a variety of ways, to support all learners needs. This leads to the development of a professional identity, a process described as a ‘professional self-image’ which is created using feedback from themselves and significant others, and as such, it can be said that it is a social construction, which is evolving as new situations present themselves.

Teacher agency and teacher identity are intimately inter-twined. Teacher agency, expands teacher identity to include the situational as well as individual, and is formed and re-formed constantly over the course of a teachers’ career. As teachers construct an understanding of who they are, within their school and professional context, they take actions that they believe align with that construction. These actions then feedback into the on-going identity construction process but are also influenced by context, structures and resources available to the teacher.

The interplay between teacher professionalism, professional identity and teacher agency is complex. To try deconstruct these three elements which are all part of what it means to be a teacher to create a simple definition is probably naive. So, I need to be content for now but want to move on to thinking about how these are influenced by professional learning and specifically how enquiry, both individual and collaborative, supports teachers to enhance their professionalism, develop identity and agency.

Berry, A. Clemans, A, Kostogriz, A (eds) (2007) Dimensions of professional learning
Buchanan, R. (2015) Teacher identity and agency in an era of accountability

Kitsing, M. Boyle, A. Kukemelk, H Mikk, J. (2016) the impact of professional capital on educational excellence and equity in Estonia

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Teacher agency and empowerment

In the current climate in Scottish education, where there is considerable teacher frustration with the perception of continual changing of the ‘goal posts’, can teacher agency be a means of empowering and supporting teachers to be more autonomous in managing their workload, to help them to continue to support all children and young people to be the best they can be?
There are many teachers across Scotland who feel that they are not empowered, indeed they feel powerless within their school environment, where structure, policies and the lack of time seem to limit their autonomy. As their autonomy is eroded and can lead to a negative strategic compliance stance of - ‘just tell me what to do’.

Learning communities offer an opportunity for teacher empowerment by teachers leading, being involved, included and responsible for their own and others learning. However, most when set up, neglect the underlying structures and social dynamics that are required of learning communities. The teambuilding work isn’t done before the teacher learning community is asked to produce the desired change, result, policy, whatever the focus is. This is usually due to time pressure, if you only have six meetings throughout the session, spending the first couple team building, may not seem a good use of time. There is also the inherent assumption that collegiate working is a ‘good thing’ but there is no clear evidence or even critical questions being asked whether it actually has a positive effect.
So, if teachers are not empowered through teacher learning communities how can they be empowered? The concept of teacher agency defined by Biesta, Priestley, Robinson (2105) in their book “Teacher Agency – An Ecological Approach” may go some way to an answer.

I have been slowly developing an understanding of this model of teacher agency, to be honest it has taken me a while to step back and consider all the elements which the authors believe are encompassed in this model. For me, I held a psychological empowerment model of teacher agency, which could be defined as a process of enhancing feelings of self-efficacy i.e. having high impact and competence and feeling that what I did was meaningful. I was a strong advocate of teacher agency through ‘individual effort’, through self-determination of learning and perhaps paid less attention to the other elements which Biesta, Priestley & Robinson discuss as essential for teacher agency i.e. resources, structure, and context. These other elements were only presented to me as barriers to overcome or navigate as I had never experienced them as enablers. So, my view of teacher agency and an individual effort was formed from cynical observations of ‘empowerment’ where ‘development opportunities’ were merely delegation and became unfair expectations in a crowded workload. However, having taken time to consider this I am fully on-board with the notion that agency is not something some “people can have or possess” but is in fact something that people “do or achieve” (Biesta & Pedder, 2006).

The much-used quote from the OECD’s, Schleicher “the quality of a nation’s education system cannot outstrip the quality of its teachers” highlight the quality of the system that supports and promotes teacher agency. Therefore, leadership is essential. Leadership should create the culture and provide the structures and resources to support teacher agency. It also needs to be trusting, inclusive and supportive and enhance the collaborative aspects of professional learning.

Policy statements effect leadership and the enactment of leadership. Policy can hinder teacher agency by restricting and trying to control teachers work through regulation, inspection and the curriculum. This can create a ‘what works’ approach to education where the learning becomes a ‘learner knows, understands and is able to do’ but does not touch on the wider aspects of learning and raises a philosophical question of “whether it is ethical in a democracy to predefine what people should learn, and how they should be” (p155). Policy can also miss the moral imperative of education through a performativity culture and bureaucratic approaches to assessment. With a strong focus on attainment, we appear to have lost the achievement dimension which gives a more child centred approach to education.

There is a balance to be achieved by leadership teams both at a local authority level and school level. Leadership teams should not be the only source of policy engagement for teachers, as their interpretations of policy can reduce teacher professionalism as it diminishes teachers’ capacity to make professional judgements. This has to be balanced with teachers lack the efficacy to engage with, and decode the language of policy into meaningful practice. This can be resolved to some extent if teachers engage in research and professional reading, to broaden and deepen their educational perspectives.

Teacher agency gives a model for a more rounded education system where the connections between levels, the macro, meso and micro, are all pointing in the same direction. It has the power to support teachers to be more autonomous within their workload but as ever, it is not as simple as that. The model of teacher agency described by Biesta, Priestley & Robinson moves beyond teachers ‘possessing agency’ to a more expansive model of teachers ‘achieving agency’ through their own efforts, but also the culture of their work environment and the structures and resources that support their efforts. Within this model, leadership is key and the support from all levels of the education system is a must. Policy needs to liberate teachers from a narrow view of education, local authorities need to support teachers and be ‘less inspectorial’ and school leaders need to create conditions for all teachers to thrive. If we can move towards this model, then teacher agency can empower teachers and enhance their professionalism.


Biesta, G. Priestley, M. Robinson, S (2015) Teacher Agency – An ecological Approach: Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Policy, professionalism, and performativity

Spending some time working at the Scottish Government offices at Victoria Quay has piqued my interest in policy. Some of the questions I have asked Scottish Government colleagues are; Who creates policy? How is it created? What research is it based on? How is it implemented, enacted? Is policy quality assured? Basic questions I know but a starting point.
During the SERA conference in November I went along to hear Paul Adams of the University of Strathclyde to further my knowledge on policy. Paul very kindly gave me a reading list he uses with his M.Ed. candidates so I could do reading, etc. on policy, as given I work full time I could not enrol in the class. The reference on the reading list that has really resonated with me is Paul’s own book entitled ‘Policy and Education’, this is well written and very readable. In this post, I will use Paul’s book to briefly discuss the link between policy, professionalism, and performativity as these are high on my personal ‘thinking about’ agenda at the moment.
‘Profession’ is a contested concept and is dependent on the political stance and values of the viewer. Teachers tend to discuss their profession and professionalism in terms of behaviour, conduct and standards they hold alongside status given through public perception. However, teaching in the past has been considered a quasi-profession, being given more accolade than some jobs but not a true profession as it blends altruism with intellectual engagement. The ‘golden age’ of teacher professionalism is considered to be the 50’s and 60’s, Hargreaves (2000) describes this as the period of the ‘autonomous professional’, where professional judgement was highly valued. Professional judgement is back in focus as the NIF states that “consistent, well-moderated teacher judgement” (p12) will be used to support pupils progress.
Both Day (2002) and Brennan (1996) argue that teachers as ‘professionals’ has been eroded by decentralisation and intensive government scrutiny and that teachers are now part of ’managerial professionalism’, as control has shifted away from professionals towards systems managers. So, improving professionalism, through policy, which is linked to improving practice, may come at the cost of a more technical approach for teachers and move away from the autonomous stance of professionalization which increases teacher status.
The classical view of professionalism put forward by Robinson et al (2004) has three dimensions; reasonability (altruism), autonomy and knowledge, an alternative model is offered by Carr (1992) who defines four dimensions of professionalism, which are;
          procedural : mastery of technical skills
          deontic: teaching being done for others in the light of professional judgement
          supererogatory: the way in which teachers carry their professional lives into their personal lives
          axiological: the way in which teachers live their personal lives is as a role model.
Elliot (1991) discusses a model of new professionalism which considers professionalism in relation to teachers making informed judgements and decisions, while working in diverse situations and contexts. This leads to some common threads, regardless of context, in; collaborative working, effective communication to support understanding of different viewpoints, a holistic approach as the basis of professional practice and reflection to support professional judgement. As such, new professionalism is more concerned with quality of service rather than status (Evans, 2008) and promotes the idea of the professional as a reflective practitioner where professional learning is based on context and collaborative approaches in situ (Elliot, 1991). This type of reflective practice supports the development of deeper understanding of both the teachers and pupils learning and links with Hoyle’s (1974) term ‘extended Professionality’.
Neoliberal policies brought in by the Blair Government (1997) led to a performance management system which positioned teachers as a ‘unit to be managed’. Although Scotland has autonomy over education policy, there is evidence of policy migration as Scotland too has moved to a more performativity culture, where ‘commercialised professionalism’ which panders to profitability and international competitiveness (Whitty, 2000) also gained some traction. This created a rift in the teaching population as longer serving teachers tended to have a more holistic vision, both for their professionalism and pedagogy, whereas, newer teachers having not known anything different, seemed more content with managerial and test-based education (Day, 2002). This rise of performativity created unforeseen consequences as the caring role of a teacher was reduced and it became a function of administration rather than the altruistic and moral stance of the teacher, Noddings (2002) argues, ‘care about’ (attainment) takes precedence over ‘care for’. This precedence of attainment leads to test scores being used as the measure of ‘what teachers do and how pupils achieve’ and the wider view of achievement is reduced. This stance is premised on all pupils having an equal starting point, ignoring social factors, and becomes a means of control by the government. This diminishing professionalism where ‘best practice’ is shared as ‘the way to do things’, regardless of context. We know that not all children have an equal starting point and this is now being addressed in Scotland through the NIF as stated on p3 “ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap” and through the Scottish Attainment Challenge. More controversial is the intention of the Scottish Government to continue the pursuit of national assessments which many consider not the best way to show pupil progress.
Performativity also threatens teachers sense of agency and encourages uncritical compliance. It reduces teachers time to connect with pupils thus changing teacher identity to a more managerial model, which diminishes teachers sense of motivation, efficacy, and job satisfaction. Mark Priestley, University of Stirling, writes extensively on performativity and his must read blog can be found here
In literature, professionalism is a contest proposition. In policy, it is often used as a means of control leaning into a performativity, accountability and managerial agenda. For me, teacher professionalism should encompass the knowledge, skills and abilities, attributes and disposition that supports teacher learning for improved pupil outcomes. This must also sit alongside the moral imperative, the human face of teaching underpinned by values where connection with learners are just as important as attainment data.

Adams, P. (2014) Policy and Education; Routledge

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Teacher professionalism and teacher identity through professional learning

This week I have been engaged in re-reading learning theories with the intention of underpinning my thinking about professional learning to help me co-create a resource to support teachers gather evidence of impact. This is where my thinking has got to so far.

Engaging with teacher professionalism and teacher identity will require a commitment to professional learning which will involve new learning or a revisiting of previous learning. This involves teachers developing new knowledge, skills, abilities and developing dispositions, while using literature to underpin their thinking.

Within learning for teachers, we have to consider how adults learn and how to support this learning. This raises questions about whether adult learning is different from children’s learning, and as such, should be structured differently. Knowles in his discussion of adult learning offers his principles of andragogy, which are based on various assumptions and are contested. Hartees’ (1984) critique of Knowles work discusses that adults are essentially self-directing, characterised by their experiences, and have a readiness to learn through a problem solving approach. This is added to by Mezirow’s (1997) research on adult learning, which shows that for adults to experience transformative learning, they must experience something different from children’s learning and become critically reflective of their own and others practice.
This begs the question of national bodies such as GTCS as to how can they support adult learning that is required to move the teaching profession to a research enriched profession? The answer will involve providing teachers with a range of opportunities in a variety of formats that offer rich, creative learning experiences that lead to mastery, which also challenges dispositional stances. This has to be accompanied by effective leadership that promotes teacher agency and can be defined as “the capacity of teachers to act purposefully and constructively to direct their professional growth and contribute to the growth of their colleagues” Calvert (1026:4). This supports the notion of practitioner enquiry being a professional learning activity where practitioners individually or collaboratively engage in enquiry into their own practice and then share findings locally or nationally. This has to be supported with structures of intelligent accountabilities within a positive professional learning environment that promotes a culture of continuous learning – life long learning.
Teacher professionalism and teacher identity is underpinned by the work of Dewey who argues for a scholarly approach to teacher education. This incorporates reflective practice where each learning experience is connected and reflected on holistically. Professional learning which is invoked by intrinsic motivation is more powerful than professional learning which is fostered upon teachers as it supports intellectual stimulation and growth and supports the teachers learning journey. Teachers as learners, like children, need to feel secure in their environment and feel confident in supporting the life-long learner within them. Teachers need to be guided by their thirst for knowledge and desire to learn, but take cognisance of their moral responsibility and the social justice agenda within the accountability framework of the learning community.

Each teacher should be supported to engage in appropriate, for them, professional learning in an environment and with the resources that supports their teacher journey. Sometimes that professional learning can be uncomfortable as we are programmed to ‘make sense of the world’ and sometimes professional learning disrupts our thinking. Teacher learning should be an active experience, typified by professional discussions and activities which involves gaining professional skills, knowledge, abilities through practitioner enquiry and professional learning.

Schools should try to create opportunities for professional learning in an environment that stimulates professional dialogue and encourages practitioner enquiry. Professional dialogue is an intensely social activity and through the internalisation of dialogue connections to ideas and thoughts ‘contributes to ‘sense making’ for each individual. So, sharing through verbalising is powerful as teachers make sense of their internal monologue and supports others to build on their knowledge and understanding.
For teachers, this means participatory modes of professional learning, creating a collaborative community of learners which involves all teachers within the community contributing what they can to building knowledge for the shared benefit for all, in an environment which celebrated difference.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Teacher Education and Retention

In ‘Teaching Scotland’ this week there is an article based on this post about teacher retention, here is the full post.
Teacher education and retention rates give an indication of the ‘health’ of the education system. If the number of students choosing teaching as a career is high and the attrition rates are low, then this shows a system which values its teachers as professionals and supports their career long professional learning.
From a study of Australian student teachers, those entering the profession are typically female, young, from less than affluent families’ backgrounds, with postgraduate career changers tending to be moving from a career with a similar occupational status as teaching. This is very similar to Scotland. For those student teachers in the study, teaching was not considered a fall-back career but a planned career choice even when there was strong social dissuasion as teaching. It was stated that teaching offers rewards that are not inherent in other occupations. These are linked to personal and social values which leads to higher job satisfaction.
The Australian study discusses that student teachers are motivated to choose teaching as a career based on motivators and values. The motivators being their ‘teaching ability’ related beliefs, personal utility values and positive prior experiences of teaching and learning. This is based on the intrinsic values of teaching, social utility values (making a difference) and personal utility values (job security). The values in the Professional Standards reflect the values of teaching and social utility values.
The Teacher Induction scheme is supported by research as support for early career teachers (ECT) is deemed essential as ECT develop a sense of ‘Who am I as a teacher?’ and ‘Who do I want to become?’ In education systems that support teacher professionalism, like Scotland, ECT are supported by a mentor, who can be both formal and informal. There is evidence that both are vital, as ETC need to develop a social network and have a social connectedness in order to ‘find themselves as teachers’. ECT need space to ask both instructional questions but also share thoughts and concerns with colleagues to develop as sense of belonging. School leaders should offer opportunities for all teachers to be connected through TLC’s and invest in staffrooms as social spaces to support the formation of casual networks. 
More market driven education systems of countries such as the USA and England, which invests little in teachers and PL show higher attrition rates.  The recently published report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, England (2016) states that the retention rate for primary trainees was between 58-68%. For secondary trainees, the retention rate was on average 37-44% for Teach First graduates and 59-62% for other routes. When the cost is also compared with other methods of teacher education in England, the Teach First model cost an average of £38,000 compared to other routes which are broadly on par with each other costing between £18, 000 - £23, 500 for secondary graduates. This market driven approach does not appear to be best value for public money.
In these market driven education systems, the way teachers are prepared for the classroom also shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of learning and teaching, and instead develops teachers who have a narrow concept of teaching. This narrow view is enacted as the ability to raise test scores and does not embody successful teaching as the ability to incite curiosity, develop a love of learning or cultivate empathy and compassion for others. This narrow view also undermines the deeper and broader view of building human capital. As teachers in these systems are more about being in competition with each other than learning together, it creates a culture of individualism and does not support collaborative practice or building social capital. This is counterpoint to the aspiration of the Scottish education system which understands that partnership working and collaboration is the best way forward. However, partnership working and collaboration is not without its issues.
Scotland suffers not as much from teacher attrition or poor workforce planning but there is an issue with teacher geographical distribution across the country, leading to real problems with teacher numbers in some areas and some subjects in secondary schools. Typically, of the student teachers who start on an ITE course, 85% will graduate and then proceed into the Teacher Inductions Scheme. The retention rates of teachers from the Teacher Induction scheme has varied from the lowest of 73% in 2005 to the highest of 94% in 2015, the average retention rate over that last three years for the Teacher Induction Scheme is 89.6%. This is very good value for the public purse.  The investment made in our new teachers results in very high rates of retention, as the government representative from Saudi Arabia said after the Scottish system was explained “Ah.  I see now.  You grow your teachers.”
Recruitment campaigns to boost teacher numbers need to focus on a variety of factors and not settle for the easy option of promoting the social contribution and the opportunity to work with children. We have to be more explicit about the personal utility (job security/satisfaction) and intrinsic values that make teaching an option for a wide pool of graduates and career changers. Scotland provides access to high quality and teacher driven professional learning, reinforcing the view of teaching as a career, of teachers as professionals, and of teachers as life-long learners.
Allan, R. Bellfield, C. Greaves, E. Sharp, C. Walker, M. (2016) Long term costs and benefits of Different Initial Teaching Training Routes; Institute of Fiscal Studies; London
Richarson, P.W. & Watt, H.M.G. (2006) who chooses teaching and Why? Profiling characteristics and Motivations across three Australian Universities, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 34:1, 27-56
Struyve, C. Daly, A. Van de Candelaere, M. Bieke De Fraine, Meredith, C. Hannes, K. De Fraine, B. (2016) ‘more than a mentor’, journal of professional capital and community, Vol 1 Issue 3, pp.198-218
Zeichner, K.7 Hollar, J (2016) “developing professional capital in teaching through initial teacher education”. Journal of Professional capital and community, Vol 1, Issue 2 pp.110-123

Sunday, 20 November 2016

SCEL- enquire-connect-engage

Here are some reflections on the first SCEL enquire-connect-engage event which took place at Shawlands Academy. I was welcomed by a very bright, lovely and chatty S1 pupil who introduced herself and then escorted me to the area of the school where the event was taking place.

On entering the space, I met in very quick succession Lynne Jones (the organiser,@MissJOnes), Fearghal Kelly (of pedagoo fame and SCEL, @fearghal_SCEL), David Cameron (@realdavidcameron) and Dr Aileen Kennedy,(Edinburgh Univesity, @DrAileenK), with these people in the room you know there are going to be great conversations around professional learning and practitioner enquiry.

David Cameron was chairing the event and in his usual charismatic style welcomed us all. In setting the premise for the day, David stated that perhaps “we should stop talking about good or best practice but start talking about sustainable practice”. Fenwick (2016:81) states “quality improvement has now become an expectation of professional responsibility” and I think that David is calling for a change in emphasis in Scottish Education to a more ‘meaningful and manageable’ model of practice that can be maintained, sustained and enhanced day in and day out.

Dr Aileen Kennedy gave the keynote which, as usual when I hear Aileen speak, both resonates and challenges my thinking in equal measures. Aileen discussed the following four key questions:

·         What is/might be transformed in ‘transformative professional learning?

·         How can we better understand the potential impact of different forms of professional learning?

·         What about issues of motivation and accountability in relation to practitioner enquiry?

·         Practitioner enquiry – individual or collaborative?

For some teachers, enquiry may promote levels of critical reflection that are ‘transformative’. Transformative learning occurs when individuals have the opportunity and skills to really question and consider their underpinning beliefs, assumptions, values and practices. This goes beyond developing content knowledge and requires a criticality and questioning approach, and as such the process of transformative learning can be challenging and 'uncomfortable'. The gains from transformative learning however are worth the effort as it can lead to meaningful changes in practice which impact positively on pupil learning. Kennedy (2011) talks about professional learning as needing to be “both personally and contextually relevant” so situated in the teachers practice and something that is relevant to them and their learners. This professional learning may be formal, as in part of an agreed action of learning through the PRD process or informal as it occurs through the year. Thus, the PRD action plan can be considered a live document that can be added to and altered in line with the needs of the teacher and their learners. In fact, Kennedy (2011) cites Rhodes, Nevill & Allan (2005) who suggest that informal and unplanned collaborative CPD [professional learning] is a key part of the development of professional identity.

Through Aileen’s research, she produced a 3 stage continuum of professional learning moved from transmissive to transformative. Within the tranmissive mode Aileen suggests that the models of learning include training models, deficit models and cascade models. At the other end of the continuum is the transmissive mode which has only one model of learning in Aileen's model, which is collaborative professional inquiry models. The middle section of the continuum is entitled  ‘malleable’. This malleable section contains professional learning activities that have the capacity to be either transmissive or transformative depending on why, how and what of the activity. This stage contains activities such as award bearing models, standards based models, coaching/mentoring models, community of practice models. The malleability within these professional learning activities is desired outcome. Is it about “negotiating identity, managing transitions effectively, producing innovations or even critically questioning norms of practice” Fenwick (2106), so about my autonomy as a professional or is it about institutionalised discipline? For example, is coaching and mentoring for my own personal growth or is it aligned to produce externally derived desired behaviours?

I was pleased to hear Aileen say that “practice is shaped by values and beliefs” as I am a strong advocate for the premise that professional values underpin teacher professionalism and teacher identity. At the moment, I am working with partner organisations to produce a learning resource which support teachers to explore professional values in their local context and how this informs their practice and professional actions.

The final question discussed by Aileen was about practitioner enquiry and an individual pursuit or a collaborative endeavour. Practitioner enquiry is usually undertaken within the practitioners own practice or in collaboration with others. Evaluation and reflective teaching are fundamental to practitioner enquiry and within collaborative enquiry the group shares a common research question which can then be ‘investigated’ through different lenses to enhance knowledge creation and dissemination within the group and beyond.  When a community becomes an enquiring community it opens up the possibility to challenge assumptions, to articulate values, to make their practice problematic and to form partnerships with academics to engage in theory and research to further enhance the life chances of their students. However, collaboration is almost seen as a power of good without any critical examination of whether it does lead to enhanced practice and shared learning. Fenwick (2016) states that “‘collaboration’ tends to be over-simplified in practice as a romanticised ideal of communication, and in policy as a universal governing imperative for professional work in public service”, this is augmented by Kennedy (2011) who states that “‘co-operation is not necessarily collaboration”.

In concluding, Aileen asked in undertaking practitioner enquiry, what would be your motivation? who do you share with? and who benefits? I think for teachers, regular engagement in practitioner enquiry supports professional growth by challenging or disrupting thinking. It helps to create a space to stop and look again at existing ways of working.

Having an enquiry as stance disposition is a powerful force in developing teachers’ agency and the enquiring professional demonstrates their commitment to engaging young people, their parents and the community in the education process. Through this, teachers recognize their accountability to learners and the collective responsibility of the profession, working together for the common purpose of improving outcomes for all and contributing in informed ways to “closing the attainment gap”. 

Fenwick, T. (2106) Professional Responsibility and Professionalism: A sociomaterial examination; Routledge

Kennedy, A. (2011) 'Collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers in Scotland: aspirations, opportunities and barriers' European Journal of Teacher Education, vol 34, no. 1, pp. 25-41.