Teacher Empowerment through Engagement in a Learning Community in Ireland: Working across Disadvantaged Schools

Jun. 01, 2017

Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 43, No. 3, 334–352, 2017
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the professional development (PD) of a group of urban physical education teachers as they moved from a learning community focused on a new curriculum in physical education to a community of practice (CoP) committed to intense, sustained and focused engagement on issues related to their teaching practice and personal growth as physical educators. Specifically, the authors focused on support in setting and achieving group goals, shared experiences of planning and teaching students and the informed development of learning communities towards a community of practice model.

The participants were eighteen post-primary qualified physical education teachers from 16 schools located in urban settings in the Dublin area of Ireland. They participated in the Urban Schools Group (USG) initiative.
USG intended to provide a group of physical education teachers in urban schools with PD to empower them to address issues posed by their challenging work situations (e.g. poor facilities, low economic conditions, students with challenging behaviour).
Four years of data collection included in-service seminar/workshop evaluations, small group discussions and focus group and individual interviews.

Discussion and conclusion

This study chronicles the growing confidence and empowerment of the teachers involved as they strove to build strong relationships in support of their efforts in challenging urban contexts.

The participants reported development of their teaching practice and pedagogical skills by applying the teaching strategies shared by colleagues in the community. They noted being invigorated to try new and innovative practices, were reassured that what they were doing was actually worthwhile and meaningful to students, and felt strongly that the community could continue to move forward, benefiting both themselves and students.

The participants' professional growth was supported by principals willing to allow them to engage in PD designed for the purpose of increasing their own knowledge and skills, which provided them with recognition and respect. The teachers came to recognise their ability to design lessons to engage students and to implement these lessons in ways that were challenging and exciting, supporting the notion of increased self-efficacy.
The teachers’ focus was consistently on their students and how to impact their learning by developing their own knowledge and skills in order to provide a quality education.

Recognition of the journey they have taken, which moved from hesitancy to early motivation and from frustration to feelings of professional worth and empowerment, is portrayed in their interactions. The success of the USG may be attributed to the teachers and the commitment they made to community and to improving the physical education they deliver to young people in challenging settings. Through sharing experiences and participating in workshops and seminars, increasingly delivered by group members themselves, the teachers have immersed themselves in discussion and dialogue.

This research is ongoing as the authors explore and examine how the USG teachers are able to maintain the work of their community, reinvent themselves and move from concluding one phase to begin new projects, and explore the meaning the community has for individual teachers and/or facilitators in the first instance and pre-service teachers and newly qualified teachers in the future.

Updated: Jun. 14, 2017