New Directions for the Design and Study of Professional Development: Attending to the Coevolution of Teachers' Participation across Contexts

By Kazemi, Elham; Hubbard, Amanda | Journal of Teacher Education, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

New Directions for the Design and Study of Professional Development: Attending to the Coevolution of Teachers' Participation across Contexts


Kazemi, Elham, Hubbard, Amanda, Journal of Teacher Education


Imagine a series of mathematics professional development (PD) sessions. A group of teachers meets regularly. A skilled facilitator uses records of practice to lead thoughtful conversations. The teachers do mathematics together, analyze student work, and bring in examples or stories from their own classrooms. Observers might characterize these sessions as the kind of quality PD that should become normative in schools and districts across the nation. After sustained participation in these sessions, we observe teachers' classrooms and find dramatic transformations in the classroom practices of some and hardly a trace of the PD work in others. What should we conclude? The PD was not as good or effective as we thought it was. Some teachers "got it" more than others. Maybe the students resisted. Perhaps the goals were too ambitious and the teaching too hard. There could have been a lack of support in the school or district. Any of these explanations are plausible. Yet they all reflect a predominant view of thinking about teacher learning in unidirectional terms, one that understandably construes evidence of learning as implementation of new ideas in the classroom. We wish to disrupt this prevalent view and offer a new way of conceptualizing the relationship between teachers' experience in PD and their classroom practice. (1) We contend that researchers should examine whether and how teachers' participation across these settings coevolves over time by asking, "What is the relationship between settings over time, and how does this affect teachers' participation in each setting?" We show why pursuing that question instead of the more typical, "What is the impact of participating in PD on teachers' practice?" will strengthen how we understand and design for teacher learning.

Now picture two teachers who participated in the same series of PD sessions we sketched above. One of them, Lupe, came to each session with questions about what she tried in her classroom and gave detailed accounts of students' thinking. She left those discussions with ideas about what to investigate or experiment with next. Her participation in PD helped her rework her classroom practice, and her classroom practice helped her make sense of her engagement in PD activities. Over time, her work across these two contexts fed her efforts to figure out how to bring her students' ideas in more purposeful engagement with one another. Another teacher, Juan, also got ideas from the PD sessions that he tried in his classroom. He searched for worthwhile tasks that would help his students develop conceptual understandings of their computational strategies. He shared these strategies during PD sessions but provided less detail about what his students did and thought. In contrast to Lupe, his work in the classroom rested more on posing tasks and managing time rather than finding ways to bring his students' ideas into more purposeful engagement with one another. For Juan, his engagement across settings was more loosely coupled, whereas for Lupe her participation in one context propelled her participation in the other and vice versa.

It is precisely this relationship across contexts over time that is the focus of our article. Our argument is this: To better understand why and how some teachers' practice changes more than others while engaging in PD, we need to reconceive how we document and understand the learning that occurs. We develop our argument in the following way. First, we make a distinction between knowledge that is possessed and knowing that is deployed in action. Learning to improve teaching entails developing both knowledge and knowing. We carry this distinction into a review of how teachers' instructional practice is represented in professional education that centers on records of practice, paying particular attention to the relationship between individual and collective learning. We then make our case for the benefits of moving from unidirectional to multidirectional analyses of teacher learning across the PD and classroom contexts. …

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