Conditions for the quality of primary education teachers’ collective learning at individual and group level

J.J. Doppenberg, P.J. Brok den, T.C.M. Bergen

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Abstract

Collective teacher learning plays an important role in teachers' professional development and schools' innovative capacity. Despite this importance, collective learning in schools has been weakly conceptualised and little empirical evidence exists with respect to the contributions of collective learning to the professional development of teachers and the learning of their students. Unclear is how schools stimulate collective learning of their teachers and the conditions that hinder or enhance collective learning. This study has the aim to contribute to the conceptualisation and operationalisation of collective teacher learning. Moreover, we will focus on the conditions that hinder or enhance collective teacher learning in Dutch primary education schools.Collective teacher learning in this study refers to activities that lead to a change in teachers' cognition and/or behaviour. In the literature many conditions have been suggested that are supposed to affect collective learning in schools. In this study, we distinguish conditions at individual/teacher, group/team and the context level. Based on a literature review and interviews with primary education teachers and school leaders a questionnaire is being developed that aims at measuring the following components of collective teacher learning: learning processes (like experimenting and discussing), learning results (like change in cognition or shared language) and learning conditions (like a will to learn and opportunities to work together).In December 2008 the developed questionnaire will be administered to over a hundred primary education schools in the Netherlands. First, reliability and validity analyses of the questionnaire will be conducted and empirical results of the questionnaire will be compared with theory. Second, descriptive analyses, regression analyses and means analyses (on the conditions, with groups based on the effectiveness of collective learning) will be conducted. In the presentation the developed questionnaire, its validity and reliability and the empirical results will be presented and discussed. Conditions for the quality of primary education teachers' collective learning at individual and group level. Rationale and theoretical frameworkThe world around us changes rapidly. To suffice the needs of society, education has to change as well and schools need to learn to adapt. Schools should be able to continuously develop, change and improve to ultimately, become a learning organisation. Teachers play a central roll in this process and have to continuously develop their teacher professionalism as well. Collective learning has been argued to be of major importance for the professional development of teachers and to the innovative capacity in schools. Collective teacher learning in this study refers to activities that lead to a change in cognition or behaviour, or both (Meirink, 2007).However, collective learning has been varied and weakly conceptualised and little empirical evidence exists with respect to the contributions of collective learning to professional development of teachers and the learning of their students. Unclear is how schools (can) stimulate collective learning of their teachers and the conditions that hinder or enhance collective learning.From the literature, a number of conditions has been reported at the individual/teacher level (teachers' beliefs and knowledge, preferences for learning activities), the school/team level (learning culture, vision) and the context level (organisational conditions, school leadership). Research on organisational learning mostly emphasizes organisational conditions fostering learning (Leithwood & Louis, 1998), but research of for example Kwakman (2003) suggested that personal conditions might be more significant in predicting professional learning activities than task and work environment conditions. Obviously, there are interactions within and between conditions at the individual and group level. However, such interactions have been studied scarcely.The aim of this study is to answer two major questions:How can collective learning be conceptualised and operationalised within innovating primary education schools in terms of individual and group level learning processes and results?What conditions (at the individual, group and context level) are important for the quality of collective learning? MethodTo answer these questions a questionnaire for teachers and school leaders was developed. For this purpose first a literature review was conducted as well as semi-structured interviews with teachers and school leaders of primary education schools.The questionnaire aimed at measuring the following components of collective learning: learning processes (like experimenting and discussing), learning results (like change in cognition and shared language), and learning conditions (like a will to learn, shared vision and leadership) of collective teacher learning. The questionnaire consisted of a number of scales representing the components and their subgroups, such as collectivity of goals, transparency of visions, learning skills of the individual and the group and opportunities to work together. Items in the scales were constructed as a Likert-type five-point scale (totally agree ¿ totally disagree). In December 2008 the developed questionnaire will be administered to over a hundred primary education schools in the southern part of the Netherlands. The data will be analysed in a number of ways. First, reliability (Cronbach's alpha) and construct validity analyses (exploratory factor analyses, scale inter correlations) of the questionnaire will be conducted to check the quality of the questionnaire. Also, empirical results of the questionnaire will be compared with the theoretical model to see if the questionnaire represent what has been found in theory. Second, descriptives (means and standard deviations) will be generated per variable to see what conditions are more and which are less frequent; teachers and schools will be divided into groups of 'less' and 'more' effective based on the presence of characteristics of collective learning and mean scores on the (presence of) conditions will be determined between the groups to see whether significant differences could be found; regression analyses will be conducted on effectiveness measures with the conditions (at the different levels) as explanatory variables. Results and conclusionsSince the data collection is still in progress, we can only report some preliminary results, based on steps in the development process of the questionnaire. Results of the interviews showed that teachers think that important conditions are: time, an organisation structure to facilitate collective activities, a subject that all teachers are interested and motivated for, teachers that are good listeners, teachers who respect each other and accept each others differences. also Interestingly, several teachers mentioned that the collective activity was hindered by another colleague, because he or she acted differently. It seemed that accepting each others differences is not a common process. The questionnaire itself, its empirical results regarding collective teacher learning and the conditions that influence the quality of collective teacher learning will be presented.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication13th Biennale conference for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI 2009), 25-29 August 2009, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
PublisherUvA and VU Amsterdam
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

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