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JTE Authors Propose Inquiry-Oriented Standards to Capture Complexity of Teaching

Have you seen the JTE Insider blog managed by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team? Check out the following interview with authors of a recent article. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles themselves in the full JTE archives online – just log in with your AACTE profile here.

This interview features insights from the article “Capturing the Complex, Situated, and Active Nature of Teaching Through Inquiry-Oriented Standards for Teaching” by Claire Sinnema, Frauke Meyer, and Graeme Aitken of the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The article, which appears in the January/February 2017 issue of JTE, is summarized in the following abstract:

Given widespread acceptance of the role of teaching in improving student outcomes, it is not surprising that policy makers have turned to teaching standards as a lever for educational improvement. There are, however, long-standing critiques of standards that suggest they are reductionist and promote a dualism between theory and practice. Our purpose here is to propose a model of Teaching for Better Learning (TBL) that responds to those critiques and that captures the complexity of teaching rather than focusing on discrete elements. Our model foregrounds the salience of teachers’ own situations and the active nature of teachers’ practice in a way that integrates practice with relevant theory. We outline how the TBL model can be used to derive inquiry-oriented teaching standards, an alternative approach that challenges widely accepted conventions for the design of standards and, we argue, might better support the improvement of teaching and learning.

This interview for JTE Insider contains responses from Sinnema and Meyer.

Q: Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?

A: This research was prompted by recommendations from a New Zealand Government Education Workforce Advisory Group. The group recommended, in 2010, a number of structural changes to improve the quality of initial teacher education and induction into the profession. Decisions about such structural changes at a system level were noted to require clarity about the outcomes of initial teacher education and the nature of the provision needed to achieve those outcomes.

In response to that recommendation, the New Zealand Ministry of Education commissioned two papers to inform discussion about lifting the quality of initial teacher education provision – one about the specification of graduate outcomes (our work on this paper is the basis of our JTE article), and an accompanying paper about the quality of practicum experiences and induction into the profession.

Q: What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

A: A challenge in research that involves designing a model of the type that we have is to ensure the presentation of the model adequately conveys the intentions of those involved in its development. Our Teaching for Better Learning model underwent numerous revisions as we trialed ways to convey both what is important to inquire into and how resources might inform and strengthen that inquiry. The visual features of the model are, therefore, not accidental, or for aesthetic reasons, but rather are intended to convey quite important messages. Some of those intentions have become more obvious, we hope, through the iterations of the model based on feedback throughout its development. Some visual features are intended to convey messages that are a touch more subtle, for example:

  • To signal the equal weight and status of each inquiry, and/or the need for teachers to determine the weight and status of each according to the particularities of any given situation they are inquiring into, we ensured consistency in the font size in all inquiry boxes – despite there being space in some boxes for a larger font.
  • To signal that all of the resources in the model can and ought to be an informant of every inquiry to at least some extent, we positioned text boxes so that they do not sit next to or under inquiry boxes, but rather are tucked just behind and overlapping the inquiry boxes and combined with an arrow into the inquiry itself.
  • To signal the need to be explicit in considering which resources should be drawn of for each and every inquiry, there are arrows from each resource box to each inquiry box.
  • To signal that the inquiries and resources included in our model are not exhaustive (there are likely to be other inquiries and resources that contribute to the goal of teaching for better learning), we use broken rather than solid lines in multiple places.
  • To signal the particular importance of “knowledge” as a resource for teaching alongside the other resources, and the scope and depth of both epistemic and socio-cultural knowledge required for teaching well, we purposely present the knowledge resource in a box larger than the others.
  • To signal the slightly different nature of the “critiquing the education system” inquiry, one that draws on what teachers might learn from the other inquiries in their own context, but additionally that requires concern for teaching and learning that reaches far beyond their own context, we position that box separate to but underpinning the other inquires.

Q: Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

A: We refer in the article, in the section about the context for the study, to the fact that “Our work on the paper led us to analyze and critique existing standards for graduating teachers from multiple jurisdictions at national and state level.” In a sentence, we skip over what was actually a substantial phase of our work on this project, so we’re delighted to describe here just a little more about this phase.

We reviewed 13 policy documents outlining graduating teacher standards from Australia (national as well as state documents from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and the Northern Territory), New Zealand (national documents), the United Kingdom (state documents from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales), the United States (national document), and Canada (province documents from Ontario and British Columbia). We looked at those that were available online, in English, and from North America, Europe, or Australasia. We included standards for graduating teachers exclusively and also those where the graduating teacher level was included alongside a broader framework of standards for newly registered and experienced teachers.

We analyzed the standards according to (1) the purpose of standards; (2) the application of standards (passive versus applied); (3) the relationship between knowledge and practice; (4) the domains used to organize standards; (5) the treatment of diversity and culture; (6) the positioning of values, ethical consideration, and dispositions; and (7) the organization of standards as they relate to various career stages.

Our argument “left sitting on the cutting room floor” that was developed through that analysis is that there are six limitations with regard to the content and organization of existing graduating teacher standards. These are (1) the nonactive, nonapplied nature of the standards; (2) the foregrounding of knowledge over practice; (3) the discrete treatment of domains of professional practice, knowledge, and dispositions; (4) the obscured, deficit, and nonresponsive treatment of diversity and culture; (5) the detached positioning of values, ethical considerations, and dispositions; and (6) the limited demands on graduates through the organization of standards around a career progression.

Q: What current areas of research are you pursuing?

A: Both Claire and Frauke are members of the Faculty of Education and Social Work’s Leadership Research Group. They have been involved in subsequent research on how teachers and teacher educators perceive and implement the Teaching for Better Learning model. They are also researching problem-solving in educational leadership and in particular how problems (such as those that might be revealed through a Teaching for Better Learning inquiry) are handled by school leaders. They focus particularly on the interpersonal capabilities required to address and resolve such problems in ways that serve educational improvement.

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