Are teachers lifelong learners? : a case study of informal learning in a suburban high school.
Internationally, there is a growing body of research that focuses on teachers’ informal learning. However, there is very little research in South Africa on informal learning and most research focuses on formal professional development initiatives. The purpose of this study is to address the gap in South African literature on the contemporary educational phenomenon of informal teacher learning. The study aims to investigate how teachers learn informally at school. The key research questions, 1. What do the selected teachers understand by the concept teacher learning? 2. In what ways do teachers learn informally at school? 3. What kinds of knowledge do teachers learn informally at school? were used to frame the study. The body of literature surveyed for this study makes reference to the variety of ways teachers learn informally in school and the benefits derived from this alternative form of learning. In South Africa, studies undertaken by Abrahams (1997) and Graven (2004) seem to suggest that there is some kind of support for collaboration and communities of practice as models of teacher learning. This study was conducted with a group of five teachers, both novice and experienced at a suburban government girls’ high school in KwaZulu-Natal. The study used the exploratory, descriptive style of case study methodology where the case is teacher learning in a high school. It was designed to unfold in four different stages and a data collection instrument specific to each stage was used to generate the necessary data: Journals (Stage 1), Photographs (Stage 2), Photovoice (Stage 3). The data were analysed in three steps: (1) Identifying patterns and themes emerging from the interview transcripts and journal entries. (2) Content analysis to give a rich, textured description of all the details of the participants’ experiences and reflections through the narrative written about each participant. (3) A deeper analysis then followed linking data to literature by looking across narratives of the five participants for what was similar or different about what knowledges they learnt and in what ways they learnt these knowledges. Some of the key findings indicate that these participants are self-motivated and that each of them took the initiative in an individual capacity to engage in informal teacher learning to either enhance or develop their content knowledge, pedagogic knowledge, pedagogic content knowledge or contextual knowledge. They learnt these knowledges by engaging in either individual learning (planned or unplanned) or social learning (planned or unplanned) from or with colleagues.