Teacher Learning in a Context of Educational Change: Informal Learning Versus Systematically Supported Learning

Jan. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(1), p. 76-92. (January/February, 2011) 
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This follow-up study explores whether and how supervision makes a difference to teacher learning. The study describes the learning process of Nicole, an experienced teacher who had participated in the initial study.

The main question addressed in this article is, how does formal learning through supervision differ from informal learning in the professional life of a teacher?

This question is answered by addressing the following sub-questions:
1.What were Nicole’s learning outcomes and informal learning activities during the year she did not receive systematic support in her learning?
2.What were Nicole’s learning outcomes after the series of supervisory sessions?
3.What aspects of the supervision contributed to achieving these learning outcomes?

Context of the Study
This study took place in the context of a national reform in the higher levels of secondary education in the Netherlands.
The reforms encompassed changes in the curriculum of all school subjects. Schools were encouraged to promote students’ active and self-regulated learning.
Teachers were supposed to become facilitators of students’ learning processes and to assist students in developing their own learning strategies.


In the context of this reform, 32 experienced teachers were monitored over a period of 14 months with no systematic learning support
Four of the 32 teachers, Paul, Miranda, Nicole, and Albert, were more closely followed in a multiple case study. From each of these four teachers, six lessons were videotaped.

Results: The Case of Nicole

At the start of the initial study, Nicole was a 55-year-old biology teacher with 22 years of teaching experience. She taught at a school located in a suburb of a large city in the Netherlands.


During the supervisory sessions, the supervisor encouraged Nicole to find out why students were doing what they were doing by simply asking them. Nicole’s way of reflecting on situations shifted from a focus on whether a teaching strategy worked or not to a deeper understanding of the situation: a shift from action-oriented reflection by herself to meaning-oriented reflection together with the students.

The supervisor also helped Nicole become aware of the thought patterns obstructing her in working toward her ideal.

In Nicole’s case, her feelings of insecurity and frustration impeded her informal learning because she did not know how to deal with these feelings on her own.
Nicole’s supervision seemed to offer her a safe and supportive environment for exploring these feelings and for accepting small failures and feelings of uncertainty as a natural part of any learning process.

During the supervision trajectory, Nicole was encouraged to focus on her ideals instead of her problems.
Nicole discovered that by imagining her ideal, she could motivate herself to keep learning. Nicole’s nonverbal behavior illustrates the liberating effects of focusing on her ideals and the positive aspects of a situation rather than focusing on what is problematic.
Her liberation allows her to obtain a new perspective, and her responses reflect a full realization of what this new perspective means for herself, her teaching, and her students.

Updated: Jul. 18, 2012