Academic journal article The Professional Educator

Teacher-Candidates' Perceptions of Schools as Professional Communities of Inquiry: A Mixed-Methods Investigation

Academic journal article The Professional Educator

Teacher-Candidates' Perceptions of Schools as Professional Communities of Inquiry: A Mixed-Methods Investigation

Article excerpt

Abstract

In North American teacher education programs, preservice students typically complete a substantial proportion of time practice teaching in schools, experiencing the extent to which professional school communities of inquiry contribute toward improving teaching and learning. Although there is extensive research about the experiences of new teachers, there is far less attention on preservice teachers' perceptions of schools as professional communities of inquiry. The purpose of this mixed-methods research was to compare teacher-candidates' expectations prior to the practice-teaching placements with their observations following the practice-teaching experience. More specifically, the objective of this paper was to determine the effect of the student-teacher practicum experience on prospective teachers' beliefs about schools as communities of inquiry to improve teaching and learning. Of major significance, participants' perceptions following their preservice training were significantly lower than their expectations prior to the field placements.

Introduction

The importance of effective and purposeful school organization has been extensively documented in the literature (Gottfredson, Gottfredson, Payne, & Gottfredson, 2003; Welsch, 2000). School organizations that are defined by communities of professional practice and collaboration encourage their members to partake in knowledge-creation (Hara, 2001; Wenger, 1998; Zhu & Baylen, 2005). The manner in which schools are organized influences the collective actions of their constituents since the work of educators extends beyond the classroom (Ingram & Smith, 1993; Williams, 2005; Young, 2000). School organization consists of various networks of aligning systems that impact strategic and managerial concerns (Morgan, 2006). Formal school organizations, therefore, establish the goals and boundaries of human activity (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006).

Schools that function as professional communities of inquiry include teachers and administrators who are committed to shared learning practices. The objective of their individual and collaborative endeavors is to improve their effectiveness as professional educators to further improve student learning (Fullan, 2003; Hargreaves & Fink, 2006; Hord, 1997; Mitchell & Sackney, 2000). Under the construct of professional learning communities, all educators are commissioned to continuous inquiry to improve teaching and learning (Westheimer, 1999). Further, learning communities are distinguished by their professional approach to teaching and learning and by their principle-driven decision-making protocols (DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Hargreaves & Stone-Johnson, 2004). Embedded in their organizational principles is a culture of trust, professional inquiry, and proven resolve to further student learning (Anderson & Togneri, 2002; Bryk & Schneider, 2004; Evans, 1996; Fielding, 2001; Hargreaves & Stone-Johnson, 2004; Westheimer, 1999). Schools as professional communities of inquiry recognize the importance of extending supplementary support to novice teachers in contrast to school organizations that do not adequately sustain collaborative and meaningful action (Lipshitz, Friedman, & Popper, 2007).

As a major component of their teacher training programs, preservice teachers complete a substantial proportion of time practice teaching in schools (in Ontario, Canada, for example, the teacher practicum ranges from 10 to 12 weeks). Prospective teachers are immersed in the norms, values, and social relationships of various schools, as these experiences contribute toward their professional trajectory (Bryk & Driscoll, 1988; Lee, Bryk, & Smith, 1993). Critical to school organizational environments is their potential as professional communities of inquiry to sustain constructive dialogue and collaborative problem solving. In this context, dialogue serves as the vehicle to interrogate the systemic processes of inquiry and learning (Bohm, 1990; Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, & Smith, 1994). …

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