A Teacher Educator Learns How to Learn from Mistakes: Single and Double-loop Learning for Facilitators of In-service Teacher Education

Jul. 01, 2015

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 11, No. 3, 213–227, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study explores the role that teacher educators themselves may play in instances of limited success. The first author used self-study to explore how his framing of his facilitation role created a defensive rather than an open-to-learning professional development experience.

The first author, Aaron, is an Australian who volunteered through Voluntary Service Overseas to work in Ghana for two years. Prior to this appointment he had worked as a primary teacher for three years in Australia. During his volunteer placement in Ghana, he was located at a regional education office and assigned the job of providing professional development for 89 schools in the district.
He engaged in self-study to learn how to live the values that would enable him to learn from his mistakes and be more effective in helping teachers improve their practise.
He was concerned with understanding why he acted the way he did when he challenged teachers’ rote teaching methods.

Three main data sources were used in this study. First, Aaron kept a reflective journal during the six-month period in which he facilitated 20 professional development workshops in two primary schools.
Second, he recorded and transcribed eight semi-structured interviews that were designed to explore why the teachers at both schools continued to prefer rote teaching methods.
Third, he contacted the second author by email to act as a critical friend. Both authors exchanged more than 30 emails over a six-month period as the second author provided feedback on the Aaron’s analyses of his behaviour.


This article has described how, despite being skilled in teaching, the first author was not skilled in helping teachers learn, at least initially.
In particular, two strategies limited his effectiveness.
First, he chose to communicate his critical evaluations of the teachers’ teaching indirectly, thereby contributing to the defensiveness of those he was attempting to help. The indirect approach was motivated by a desire to change the teachers while being sensitive to their feelings.
Secondly, Aaron failed to establish a shared understanding of the problem. If he had been more open to teachers’ thinking about his suggested teaching strategies, he could have tailored his assistance to address their key concerns, like their own decoding skills.

Through engagement with the literature of Argyris and Scho¨n, the first author began to realise how, despite his best intentions, his actions communicated a persuasive and controlling sub-text.
In-service facilitators who are unable to double-loop learn will have difficulty identifying and addressing teachers’ perceived barriers to changing their practices. Without tailoring their support to teachers’ specific needs, the ability of in-service educators to encourage and support change may be limited. Indeed, if the facilitators are convinced that a teacher’s practice is inadequate, they may, as the first author did, not pay sufficient attention to teachers’ reasons for being reluctant to change. Instead of inquiring into their reasoning and using it to design mutually acceptable forms of improvement, they may try to counteract these concerns with persuasion. If this fails to lead to improvements in teaching practice, such actions should then be considered mistakes. Learning from such mistakes requires double-loop learning.

In this article the authors have outlined a process for increasing the ability of in-service educators to double-loop learn about the validity of their theories of effective practice. The discovery of incongruence between intended and actual behavior provides a powerful incentive for change. For the first author at least, the realisation of the mismatch highlighted how he was experiencing himself as a living contradiction, a realization that motivated more critical reflection. Once incongruence is recognised, a further challenge involves learning to enact the collaborative and critical values that most in-service educators espouse.

By building on the work of Argyris and Scho¨n (1974), this article describes a self-study process that involves using transcripts to infer the beliefs and values that underpin in-service educators’ decisions about how to act.
Furthermore, the authors have linked the first author’s self-study to the more general problem of how to increase the effectiveness of in-service education by learning from mistakes. The authors have accomplished this by showing how the principles and tools of double-loop learning can enable facilitators to test and improve the theories of action that inform their practice.

Argyris, C., & Scho¨n, D. (1974). Theory in practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Updated: Dec. 28, 2016
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