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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

Refocusing PD through inquiry

Charlie Naylor

The paper and references listed here can be accessed on the BCTF web site, bctf.ca.

"A teacher union’s collaborative research agenda and strategies: One way forward for Canadian teacher unions in supporting teachers’ Professional Development?" (Charlie Naylor, BCTF Research) bctf.ca/ResearchReports/2005tr01.

This paper reviews some of the current literature on professional development, including Hargreaves’s (2000) four stages of professionalism, Randi & Zeichner’s (2004) stress on collaborative professional development epitomized by teacher research, networks, and study groups, and a critique of the increasingly prescriptive, professional learning communities by Dufour et al (2005). Other sections of the paper consider:

  • Teacher union-PD connection (Leithwood 2004, Bascia 2000)
  • Networking for the schools of the future (OECD 2001, 2003)
  • Networks and strategic alliances in business (Wallace 2004, Linden 2003)

The paper’s key argument is that the BCTF can build support for teachers’ professional development through teacher inquiry as a union-led approach that fits within current and cutting-edge literature in PD and collaboration.

Three examples of BCTF research collaborations with universities, school districts, and community organizations are provided:

  1. A federally funded research project with several universities and school districts in two Canadian provinces. Research project title: "From Literacy to Multiliteracies: Designing knowledge frameworks for the new economy." 
  2. A collaborative project in three BC school districts—"Teaching to Diversity," with a focus on web-based information for teachers, and as a place for the publication of teachers’ writing on diversity issues and practices. 
  3. Teacher-union collaboration with community organizations with a focus on inclusive education, and subsequent union participation in a "National Summit on Inclusive Education."

Eight recommendations are made and explored:

• Teacher unions need to be aware of shifting societal, schooling, and professional contexts, and should be ready to adapt to meet changing professional needs of teachers.

• Accessing the literature on professional development allows for a reasoned case to be made for teacher unions’ promotion of specific types of professional development.

• Teacher union capacity and credibility is enhanced by internal collaboration and by collaboration with external agencies.

• Teacher unions might develop their own forms of learning communities, which might offer an alternative to prescriptive and directive frameworks for professional development.

• Teacher unions should learn about collaboration from sources other than just the education literature.

• Documentation of our experience and analysis of the literature allows teacher unions to share learning with teachers and with actual or potential collaborators/partners.

• Teacher unions should develop cohorts of union-sponsored leaders who can promote, support, and write about present union-led professional development.

• Teacher unions and their partners should consider how collaborating supports student learning and teachers’ work, and might potentially reduce conflict in education systems.

Some BC teachers are involved in union-initiated inquiry through the BCTF’s Research Division projects, or through the BCTF’s Program for Quality Teaching (PQT). But the scale is small, with BCTF funding in decline and at critically low levels. These small-scale efforts may not survive in the BCTF unless a case for union-led teacher inquiry is made, which this paper aims to do. Teacher inquiry is a highly appropriate focus for a teacher union wanting to support teacher-directed, collegial professional development. It just needs more attention and resources from the BCTF to make it happen. Learning from the literature, developing collaborations, improving training for cohorts of teacher research leaders, and building on BC’s strong base of teacher knowledge could help to make union-sponsored teacher inquiry an effective and powerful form of professional development.

BCTF inquiry projects could be linked to specific subject areas, social-justice issues, or issues important to all teachers, such as assessment or inclusion. They could explore elementary, middle, or secondary schooling practices and issues. PSAs might be involved as sponsors or co-ordinators of inquiry groups. Local PD chairs might play a facilitative role to encourage teacher inquiry in districts. Expanded facilitation of teacher inquiry groups and facilitator networks could be supported by the BCTF, as might dissemination through publishing and conferences. Some of these ideas have been piloted by BCTF Research and have proved successful but they need a wider application to become systemic within the union and the province.

– Charlie Naylor, BCTF Research

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