Academic journal article International Education Studies

Opportunities and Challenges for Teacher Professional Development: A Case of Collaborative Learning Community in South Korea

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Opportunities and Challenges for Teacher Professional Development: A Case of Collaborative Learning Community in South Korea

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study investigates how characteristics of a collaborative professional learning activity support and hinder teacher learning and growth by examining the experiences of three Korean secondary teachers who participated in a school-initiated collaborative teacher learning project. The findings demonstrated that this learning opportunity supported teachers in their learning and professional development in the following ways. First, teachers experienced professional growth through collaborative learning with colleagues. Second, teachers learned to self-reflect on their classes. Third, the program fostered an inquiry stance toward teaching. Also identified are some of the obstacles encountered, such as time constraints, psychological barriers, and the lack of a discussion culture.

Keywords: Korean teachers, learning community, professional development, teacher learning

1. Introduction

Educational reform movements in Korea and around the world are setting ambitious goals for student learning. Many factors contribute to achieving these goals. However, changes in classroom practices demanded by the reforms ultimately rely on teachers (Fullan & Miles, 1992; Spillane, 1999). Changes of this magnitude will be difficult to carry out without support and guidance for teacher development (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Putnam & Borko, 2000; Wilson & Berne, 1999). This realization has led educational scholars and policy makers to put great emphasis on improving teacher professional development as a cornerstone of education reform (Fullan, 2000; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2006).

Cohen and Hill (2000) conducted a study of mathematics teaching in California by examining data on teachers' professional development experiences and school-level data on student performance on a mathematics test administered statewide. They found that, controlling for the characteristics of students enrolled, mathematics achievement was on average higher in schools where teachers had participated in extensive professional development focusing on methods of teaching specific mathematics content, compared to the achievement in schools where teachers had not. Kennedy (1998) found similar results in a review of well-designed experimental studies of the relationship between professional development and student achievement in mathematics and science. In Korea, Seo (2009) also argued that when teachers developed a professional learning community, it not only enhanced their knowledge base, but also had a significant impact on their classroom work. Indeed, the growing number of professional development efforts that center on teachers carefully examining and analyzing classroom practice is a testimony to this census (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Campbell et al., 2004; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Garet, 2001; Opfer & Pedder, 2010).

Although many studies have evidenced that effective teachers can be fostered by continuing professional development, they rarely address questions such as what are powerful ways for teachers to learn and grow through professional development? What challenges and dilemmas do teachers encounter while participating in professional development? This study investigates the conditions and qualities of collaborative professional learning activities that support or hinder teacher learning and growth by examining the experiences of three Korean elementary teachers who participated in a school-initiated collaborative teacher learning project.

The result of this study will reveal the potential benefits of helping teachers learn and grow through collaborative teacher learning, and also flesh out some challenges to professional development. This study also will support researchers and educators in understanding how to develop and enact teacher collaborative learning activities as an alternative to short-term, top-down, generic, or formulaic approaches.

2. An Examination of the Research-Base for Teacher Professional Development

Traditional teacher professional development is based on a hierarchical model of expertise and a transmission model of teaching; that is, one goes to experts and "receives" professional knowledge from them. …

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