The processes and outcomes of professional learning in an innovative school: the construction of an explanatory model.

Author: Kerry Ann Bissaker

Bissaker, Kerry Ann, 2010 The processes and outcomes of professional learning in an innovative school: the construction of an explanatory model., Flinders University, School of Education

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Science and mathematics education in Australian senior secondary years is experiencing declining enrolments, negative student attitudes, a shortage of qualified teachers and a curriculum that lacks relevance to contemporary life (Masters, 2006, Smith, 2003, Tytler, 2007). Such evidence calls for transformation in secondary science and mathematics education and acknowledges that teachers’ professional learning is central to achieving required transformation. Fulton Senior Secondary School is a purpose built school designed to respond to the perceived crisis in teaching and learning of science and mathematics in the final years of schooling. It is also the site in which this qualitative interpretive case study was conducted. The purpose of the research was to investigate the processes and outcomes of teachers’ professional learning in a setting that was designed to promote innovation and reform. The research, conducted over a period of six years, used grounded theory methods to answer questions about what supported and sustained teachers’ learning, and what were the outcomes of this learning for teachers, students and the school. To achieve an authentic account of the teachers’ lived experiences, I positioned myself as an insider-researcher, working intensely and thoughtfully with staff at Fulton over a period of six years. The study revealed the nature of the interactions between contextual conditions, organisational elements and relationships factors that influenced teachers’ professional learning. An explanatory model of professional learning was developed as an outcome of the theorising process. This identified the importance of alignments between: teachers’ capacities, characteristics and sense of personal agency; and specific contextual conditions, organisational elements and relationship factors. Successful alignments were identified as affordances for teachers’ learning and formed the basis of the explanatory model. In essence, the contextual conditions, organisational elements and relationship factors of Fulton provided the architecture of an explanatory model of professional learning. The teachers acted as explorers of this architecture. The research revealed that teachers brought existing beliefs and practices to Fulton, but through incidental and intentional learning, these beliefs and practices were expanded and often changed. Teachers developed deep understanding of many factors associated with effective pedagogy including: learning and learning processes; new science and mathematics content; effective curriculum design; and authentic assessment processes. The teachers were open to challenges and recognised their roles as learners in achieving the vision of the school. Their outcomes varied, but each teacher’s learning influenced both the students and the school as a learning organisation. There was considerable evidence that the investment in teachers as learners was pivotal to achieving the vision of transforming science and mathematics education in the senior secondary years at this school.

Keywords: professional learning,teachers' learning,organisational learning,science and mathematics professional learning

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2010
School: School of Education
Supervisor: Emeritus Professor Alan Russell