A case study of informal teacher learning in the foundation phase.
This study describes how two teachers in foundation phase learn informally in the workplace. It also aims to analyse the context within each school and evaluates to what extent the context supports teacher learning. A case study methodology approach was adopted to understand the phenomenon of informal learning in an in-depth way. Three different collection methods were used to generate data. Each teacher was interviewed to generate data to answer both research questions, which are the ways in which selected foundation phase teachers learn informally and how the school context supports or impedes their learning. The participants then put a collage together to illustrate the ways in which they learn. Their explanation and discussion of the collage was audio recorded. Each participant took photographs of their learning experiences to supplement the data already generated. This was followed by photo-elicitation interview. Data was organised using Opfer and Pedder’s (2011) complex systems on teacher learning. Teacher learning is non-linear and nested into subsystems, namely the individual, the activity and the school, which all operate in a nested way and are a catalyst for teacher learning. Themes were highlighted and in-depth narratives of the participant’s learning trajectories were documented. The learning activities were then plotted on a grid which distinguished between unplanned and incidental and social and individual learning activities. Both participants generated a kaleidoscope of data. The data produced perspectives on the ways in which teachers learn informally. Sarah was a confident teacher, 37 years in the profession. Her social and individual learning were balanced equally while her learning was predominantly planned. Deborah appeared to lack confidence with just 8 years in the profession. Her learning was more individualistic since her context lacked collaborative learning experience. Her planned and unplanned learning experiences are equivalent. The findings support Opfer and Pedder’s (2011) claim that teacher learning is cyclic and nested into subsystems. It also revealed that teachers learn in different ways and their trajectories of learning may vary but learning still takes place. The context of Sarah’s school supported teacher learning, but Deborah’s school impeded her learning and did not provide a collaborative culture to support her learning. This study outlined the problems faced by Deborah in a particular rural South African school context that impeded learning opportunities and development. Evidence provided in the study supports Opfer and Pedder’s Complexity Theory (2011, p.376) which argues that the school plays an instrumental part in the nested cyclic system to influence teacher learning. Sarah’s school context created more opportunities for teacher learning emphasising that the context is very influential tool in learning processes. The study shows that the school is a catalyst for teacher learning. It recommends that each school needs to review, reassess and restructure the programs available for professional development and teacher learning providing substantial opportunities for the teachers to learn.