Learning to change : a study of continuing teacher development in two contexts of educational reform.
Systemic educational reforms entail major changes at the different levels of the system, of which classroom practice is ultimately crucial to obtaining the desired output. Within this paradigm shift, experienced teachers have to replace what they are likely to consider good teaching and learning approaches with unfamiliar strategies. Continuing professional teacher development (CPTD) plays a key role in successfully changing classroom practices. This in-depth case study research —six teachers in two different countries, Canada and South Africa—looks into the information acquisition process of instructors. Interviews were performed at different levels of the educational system – policy makers, pedagogic/subject advisors as well as teachers for which questionnaires and classroom observation were also used to collect data. A research-based analytical tool developed by Laura Desimone (Desimone, 2009) guided the exploration of the vast data collected and served as the analytical framework for the various data sources, drawing a link between the intended, implemented and attained policies. The thorough discourse analysis situated in the interpretivist framework gives global insight into the teachers’ perception of the impact of CPTD as it enables a deep understanding of the information acquisition and utilization by teachers. The examination of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge in different reform contexts brings a profound perspective on how professional development activities contribute to the professional capital of educators, as envisaged by Hargreaves and Fullan (2012). Data suggest that policies related to professional development are adequate in Québec and in South Africa, but that planning around implementation is hasty or lacking altogether. Regardless of the socio-economic environment and the professional development accessibility, teachers do not perceive CPTD as being a major vector of change and they were found to lack the necessary capacity to change their practices to reflect their beliefs. Finally, teachers reported that the most influential factor on practices is the availability of teaching and learning material and learners’ reaction to it. In conclusion, in the two contexts observed, CPTD was not emphasised to the level required for a paradigm change such as constructivist-based systemic reforms. I suggest adapting CPTD delivery methods to teachers’ need by ensuring widespread and reform-aligned professional development. In addition, access to information through appropriate teaching materials combined with appealing and applicable activities should be facilitated.