An exploration of the nature of English First Additional Language (EFAL) teacher's participation in clusters and how it contributes to their professional development : a case of two clusters in the UMgungundlovu District.
The major objective of the study was to explore the nature of participation of English First Additional Language (EFAL) teachers in clusters, what they learn and the extent to which they thought their participation contributed to their professional development. This is a qualitative study located within the interpretive paradigm. The questions in this study were answered by using a case study approach. Two cluster groups were purposively selected as its members were in the same geographical area and were supported by the same subject advisor. The data was collected using focus group interviews, semi-structured individual interviews, observations and document analysis. Data was analysed through coding and emerging themes were identified in order to answer the research questions. This study used Richmond and Manokore (2010)‘s concept of professional learning communities‘ to understand how teachers participated in clusters, the kinds of activities they involved themselves in, and the extent to which they regarded clusters as contributing to their professional development. This study also draws from Grossman‘s (1990) categories of teacher knowledge to better understand the kinds of knowledge that teachers acquired in the cluster groups and how this helped them to improve their professional practice. The findings suggest that teachers participated in a variety of activities, and that the interactions, conversations and mentoring that took place during meetings helped them understand the policies, meet the expectations of the department of education and improve their teaching practice in many ways. Teachers reported acquiring general pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of the context and the curriculum and some subject content knowledge. The subject cluster meetings also influenced the teacher‘s interactions outside the scheduled times, encouraged class visit with other schools, and fostered the culture of sharing of resources and expertise. However, the teachers expressed concern that cluster meetings tended to focus more on ensuring that they complied with the department of education requirements, like the strong focus on moderation of learners‘ work for the purposes of reporting. Teachers highlighted that they needed to have more interactions with the subject advisor during all their cluster meetings, which was not always the case due to the large number of schools that the subject advisor needed to serve. This suggests that the cluster groups need to be closely supported by subject specialists in order to ensure their relevance to teachers‘ needs and that they contribute to professional development. This study concludes that the conversations and activities that EFAL teachers who participated in this study engaged in in their cluster groups did play an imperative role towards their professional development.