Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Making Practice Public: Teacher Learning in the 21st Century

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Making Practice Public: Teacher Learning in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

There is worldwide concern that schools must change to meet the demands of rapidly changing demographics, the globalization of the economy, as well as the technological and cultural changes that are happening around us. There is much agreement that the teacher is the key figure in any changes that are needed (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005). There is also a commonly held view that the professional development of teachers should be the primary vehicle for teachers to improve their practice. Teachers have long perceived professional development, though well intentioned, to be fragmented, disconnected, and irrelevant to the real problems of their classroom practice. Researchers too have joined the chorus in agreement with teachers' perceptions (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Borko & Putnam, 1995; Hatch et al., 2005; Lieberman & Miller, 2001). In this article, we challenge the entrenched professional development practices. We describe and discuss local, sustainable, and economical teacher learning experiences that use professional learning communities, center on the study of practice, and incorporate the use of technology. Our cases were developed collaboratively with teachers over the course of a decade and led us to some insights we think can contribute to a new understanding of the content and purposes of professional development. Others have suggested that the road from practitioner knowledge to professional knowledge is just in its infancy but clearly provides much of what we need to explore. Practitioner knowledge comes from the problems of practice as they are "detailed, concrete and specific" (Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002, p. 6). But more than that, the knowledge must be made public so that it can be shared, critiqued, and verified. We propose that the advent and ubiquity of new media tools and social networking web resources provide a means for networked learning to scale up. These important conceptual hooks present some new possibilities for thinking differently about the codification of professional knowledge, the conditions for its evolution, and the ways that professional development is organized. The idea of teacher quality and its importance in improving student learning have made this a time when such ideas as professional knowledge are paramount. We preface our discussion with a review of the research that has led us to argue for professional learning communities. We document the policies and practices of professional development in high-achieving countries internationally that have transformed the way teachers learn, and we discuss the importance of online social networking as it is being used for teacher learning.

From Isolation to Colleagueship

For many years, researchers have written about the isolation of teachers and the harm that it brings to their continued learning and development (Lieberman & Miller, 1984; Lortie, 1975; Sarason, 1982). More than 25 years ago, researchers began to look at the importance of collegiality among teachers (Little, 1982, 1986) to see whether it made a difference in the professional development of teachers. Little's (1982, 1986) seminal work showed that teachers who planned and worked together over time built commitment not only to each other but to further learning. Even the act of "struggling" together at the same time in the same ways helped teachers to master new practices. Some researchers warned that without the necessary supports, collegiality could be "contrived" (Hargreaves, 2003, p. 165). Policies, Hargreaves (2003) argued, could get in the way of collegiality by putting too many requirements and restrictions on allowing teachers to grow the necessary relationships and shared work.

Perhaps our best example of colleagueship (and community) is the National Writing Project (NWP), now celebrating more than 30 years of existence in more than 200 sites in the United States. Lieberman and Wood (2000) studied two sites of the NWP, one urban and one rural, and found that the practices that occurred during the summer institute helped teachers see that working together was a powerful way to learn about their own and others' practices. …

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