Sources for Learning: Understanding the Role of Context in Teacher Professional Learning

Research output: Doctoral thesisResearch external, graduation external


This thesis investigates how context serves as a source for teacher learning. The complexities of teaching are growing and so is the need for teacher life long learning. Recent studies suggest that professional learning can be understood as the result of an array of experiences, but only if existing ideas and practices are being challenged through these experiences. If indeed professional learning emerges out of challenge, then it is relevant to take a closer look at teachers’ contexts, the kinds of challenges these contexts accom-modate, and the ways they are perceived and processed by teachers.
Building on the principles of Participatory Action Research, this exploratory study addresses the question of how these processes can be understood: how teacher contexts can work as a source for teacher learning. The participants were teachers who followed a master’s programme. In the first study their reflective work was explored to identify which context factors had served as a source for their professional learning. In the second study, these identified factors were used to co-construct a reflective tool to prompt and capture teachers’ engagement with context factors. The master’s students then had their workplace colleagues engage with the tool and Study 3 explores the data that were generated through this deployment.
The results suggest that teachers’ contexts can be divided into three domains: a personal practice domain, a social domain, and a theoretical domain, and that confrontations within these domains can be the result of both planned and unplanned events. Teachers appear to have a preference for unplanned learning that emerges from their own personal experiences. The thesis examines the mechanisms behind this, and it explores how teachers might be stimulated to expand the reference points they tap into. The implications of these findings are discussed at macro, meso and micro level.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of London, Institute of Education
  • Daly, Caroline, Supervisor, External person
  • Snoek, Marco, Co-supervisor, External person
  • Mills, Martin, Co-supervisor, External person
Award date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


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