Enhancing teacher education practice through professional learning conversations

May. 15, 2008

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 31, Issue 2 May 2008 , pages 215 – 227

This paper discusses the processes and benefits experienced by a trio of teacher educators who engaged in peer observation, collaborative reflection, critical friendship and improvement-directed practice through a series of professional learning conversations. The paper examined professional development or professional learning initiatives in which teachers work to enhance their teaching experience and struggle for recognition.
Our methodology is initiated by and focused on self; it is improvement-aimed; and it is interactive at one or more stages of the process. The research uses 'collective self-reflection' which provides a method to 'inquire into our own and others' teaching. We were 'gatherer(s) of anecdotes' of significance to us with 'a keen sense of the point or cogency that the anecdote carries within itself'.

Our research questions were as follows:

• What are the essential ingredients that help us to make sense of each other's teaching?
• What challenges arise for our meaning-making of what we see?
• How does peer observation and professional dialogue inform our understanding of teaching?

Our observations and conversations in this study had the initial goal of enhancing our practice. As a result of the conversations we shared, a complementary aim arose: to understand better the nature of professional learning as experienced through interaction and observation. The process of analysis began with capturing the data in notes on the conversations and through a series of reflections from Sandy and Peter, with responses from John.

From our analysis of the professional conversations four themes seemed to determine the types of matters we chose to discuss. Specifically these included: observations and views that challenged our notions of good teaching; aspects of our teaching about which we had doubts; points of difference in our teaching noted in observations; and points of similarity in our teaching that were matters of interest or concern to the observer.

The most essential ingredient for making sense of our teaching, or indeed, for any teacher educators who wish to learn from each other, is the pre-existence of a robust professional and personal relationship. What makes these peer observations and subsequent learning conversations valuable for our professional development is their acknowledgment of the cognitive-emotional and personal-professional aspects of teaching. The trust in each other must not be born of blind acceptance, as this process demands that we confront each other to make sense of our practice, thus providing frames of reference for us to see things differently.

We argue that the contribution of this role is not merely in what the critical friend offers to the observed teacher, but rather, lies in the opportunity for discussion that probes the assumptions of all concerned, challenges views of what good teaching looks like, and enables analysis of the practices of all concerned.

Reviewed by the Portal Team

Updated: Sep. 04, 2008