Monash University
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Developing WITHIN practice PD: A cultural-historical approach to understanding the institutional practice of teachers’ professional development

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posted on 2017-02-17, 01:46 authored by Grimmett, Helen
Over the past two decades, the term professional development has increasingly been replaced in the education research literature by the term professional learning, reflecting the paradigm swing towards conceptualisations of learning as ongoing, social, situated and actively constructed. Arguing that this notion of professional learning is currently under-theorised, this study uses Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theoretical framework to provide a robust theorisation of the institutional practice of teachers’ professional development in order to understand the necessary conditions required for teachers to develop new motives and competences to transform their participation in their various professional practices. Cultural-historical interventionist methodology (introducing the role of researcher as observant collaborator) was used to collaboratively create two different practices of professional development (PD) with teachers in two Australian primary schools. In the first practice, the researcher collaborated with the entire staff of one school, in 10 hours of after-school PD meetings over a period of six months, as they learnt about cultural-historical principles of teaching/learning and child development. However, analysis of the collected video and audio data highlighted that, in this after-school format based on the existing professional learning literature, it was very difficult for an outside facilitator to effectively support the teachers’ development of new motives and competences to be able to utilise their newly learnt knowledge to actually transform their classroom practices. A preliminary model of the system of essential relations found to be necessary for effective professional development was formulated and then used to inform the creation of ‘WITHIN practice PD’ (Professional development WITH a teacher, IN their practice) as the second phase of the project. In this second phase, the strategies of co-teaching (18.5 hours working together in the classroom) and co-generative dialoguing (6 hours of reflecting, planning and theorising), were used over a five month period with a Grade 3/4 teacher at another school. Through these strategies we were able to not only collaboratively create significant changes in the teacher’s classroom practice, but also came to understand the significance of joint activity and conscious awareness for creating a developmental environment for all participants. It was found that joint activity in both the classroom and the co-generative dialoguing sessions opens up a space for creating the necessary conditions for the participants’ development of unified concepts – the synthesis of theoretical and practical aspects of a concept – and for development of the participants’ capacity to use these unified concepts with conscious awareness to create, implement and sustain deliberate and thoughtful expansions of classroom teaching and other professional practices. Joint activity in the classroom was also found to be particularly important for disrupting the teacher’s habitual practices (actions which occur without conscious awareness), because the presence of another, who could lend their own conscious awareness in the very situation and moment that the teacher was acting without conscious awareness, disrupted the expected patterns of actions and institutional structures that typically predispose teachers to act in habitual ways. This disruption provoked situated conscious awareness, allowing the teacher (and students) to experience the effects of new ways of acting and making it easier for the teacher to disrupt their own habitual practices and act with conscious awareness in future situations. This thesis provides important contributions to both our theoretical understanding of the institutional practice of teachers’ professional development, in order that we can continue to improve the effectiveness of this practice; and to our methodological understanding of how cultural-historical interventionist research can simultaneously contribute to, and expand our understanding of, the development of practices and participants.


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Marilyn Fleer

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Monash University. Faculty of Education. Education


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Education

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