The Students’ Experience Of FE Teacher Education Qualification (TEQ) Programmes: A Study of FE Teachers Professional Development And Evolving Identity In Ireland: North and South.
Education is changing - in the need for research-based responses to the grand challenges facing society; and in the employability of those working in further and higher education. It is becoming increasingly clear that participants in FE teacher education qualification (TEQ) programmes must develop new and different skills and perspectives; and programmes worldwide are responding with new and innovative models of teacher education and training. Key features of these changes include quality teaching and research training, inter-disciplinarity, partnerships with industry, and a mentality of innovation. Yet, evidence that these ‘new’ responses are effective is limited and we need additional research to understand the experience and impact of these models.
This paper aims to address this gap by sharing the findings of a cross-border explorative study on FE practitioners’ experience of professional learning and development as a result of completing a TEQ professional development programme. The paper sheds light on (a) the nature of learning and perspective transformation, (b) programme impact on participants’ professional and pedagogical development, and (c) the nature of ‘evolving ideal identity states’ for individuals and higher education providers of TEQ programmes.
Key research questions that guide this study include:
- What is ‘professional learning and development’ for FE teachers? What is the starting point for attaining further ‘qualification’?
- What is their experience of FE faculty development programmes?
- In what ways do teachers’ perspectives shift during and after their professional development programme?
- What facilitates and inhibits FE teachers’ journey in their professional development?
Literature was drawn from three focal areas and points to an emerging conceptual framework of personal, professional and situational teacher identity.
Transformative Learning is predominantly a cognitive/rational approach to adult learning that emphasises the critical role experience and reflection play on existing assumptions about the world in order to arrive at a new worldview (Mezirow 1991, 2012, Cranton, 2006, Graham Cagney, 2011). Mezirow theorises about how adults interpret their life experience and defines learning as a meaning making activity. Described as a shift in consciousness that alters in both a dramatic and permanent way our ‘being in the world’; it changes how we know. It leads to a different kind of thinking and being that enables individuals to become more open to revisiting their interpretations of the meaning of their experience: in turn guiding future action (Cranton, 2006; Tennant, 2012).
‘Inner’ Teaching-Learning Environment (TLE). Constructivist research funded by the UK government into enhancing teaching-learning environments (TLEs) suggests that students perceptions of the TLE are strongly determined by ‘a set of overlapping contexts that comprise of four elements: course contexts; teaching and assessing content; staff-student relationships; and aspects of the students and student culture within a particular programme (Entwistle, 2003; Entwistle & McCune, 2009). The ‘inner’ TLE map acts as an organising framework when considering how to encourage students to engage more deeply with the subject matter and achieve a high quality of learning through the creation of transformative learning spaces (Graham Cagney, 2011).
Identity self-states: Markus and Nurius (1985) pinpoint a ‘motivational self systems’ framework that incorporates a ‘possible’ and ‘ideal’ selves theory and self-discrepancy theory. Three seminal reviews of the literature on teacher identity in the last decade (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009; Beijard et al., 2004; Rodgers & Scott, 2008) highlight the importance of and interrelation of notions of identity, context, emotion and agency. Beijard et al (2004) and Hamman, Gosselin, Romano and Bunuan (2010) identify a strong preoccupation with investigating characteristics or content, namely what roles and values, constitute teacher identity and less attention on the situational and contextual factors within the broader framework of teacher professional development.
This research study represented Phase II of the WIT/TEQ Phase 1 longitudinal research project initiated in 2013. It extended the research focus across the island of Ireland building a clearer picture of the experience of FE teacher professional development and the role of transformative learning in supporting their evolving ideal identity self-states. WIT Ethics Committee, approval was awarded to the SAFETTI study (TEQ Phase II) in October 2015.
The basic research design for Phase 11 - this study (SAFETTI) was qualitative inquiry. It used a mixed methods design and purposeful sampling (deMarrais, 2004; Roulston, 2010). Participants were selected on the basis that they were teaching within the FE sector, had completed a relevant FE teaching qualification and were currently employed as faculty members within an FE college. Participants were also invited to participate from the original TEQ Study Phase I population.
Semi-structured interviews (Glesne, 2006) (1-2 hours long) were completed in 2015/16 with participants from FE colleges in the North and South of Ireland to understand their perspectives in three areas: personal learning, professional development and identity self-states. To enhance the trustworthiness of the study and triangulate the interviews, supporting documentary evidence that provided further insights was collected as the participant felt comfortable. Individuals were also asked to review their transcript and our interpretation of the interview and engage in a follow-up interview if deeper inquiry was beneficial as a part of our member checking process. A workshop held in June 2016 provided participants with an additional opportunity to meet the research team and to review the results from the initial analysis of the data. It also enabled the research team to engage further with participants in order to gain a broader understanding (from FE teachers' perspectives) of the key constructs of personal learning, professional development and identity self-states.
Digital recordings were fully transcribed. Consistent with qualitative methodology, the data was analysed by the researchers with respect to the research questions using a mix of inductive coding and the constant comparative method (Charmaz, 2014; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and the modified inductive Framework Approach (Smith & Firth, 2011). Analysis of themes within each category produced the findings that follow.
Key findings to emerge from the study identify how FE educators experience professional development programmes, and what learning spaces are needed to support their ‘readiness for change’.
i) Personal Learning and Perspective Shifting was supported by a personal transformative learning space comprised of direct and active learning experiences, informed dialogue, critical reflection and personal action plans ((Mezirow, 1991, 2012; Cranton, 2006; Graham Cagney, 2011). The majority of respondents reported that changes in their mindset occurred predominantly within the psychological, epistemological and moral-ethical habits of mind. Participants engaged in all three levels of reflection—content, process and premise—but primarily at the content and process levels, with some critical reflection (Mezirow, 1997) happening after their immediate experience of the teaching-learning environment (Entwistle, 2003).
ii) Professional Development: Work-based learning models and partnerships were important in support of FE teacher education (Husband, 2015). Critical insights were made to linking knowledge to their practice, particularly in relation to depth of knowledge, skills and understanding of teaching pedagogy and processes, and abilities to communicate these (Coughlan and Graham Cagney, 2009). The notion of transdisciplinary skills (Skotols, 2006) emerged as a unique insight.
iii) Results on identity self-states are similar to those of Conway and Clarke (2003) and Hamman, et al (2010). Student teacher possible selves evolve from being “task based” to “quality based”; and teacher feared selves remain predominately task based. There is also a strong relationship between personal, professional and situational mediating factors in the formation of possible future teacher selves. Teachers demonstrated that the process of reflection on action having experienced an eventful change in their lives, both personal and professional, was critical in the formation of their evolving possible selves.
The question remains as to how to facilitate teachers ‘readiness for change’ as they envisage future possible selves personally and professionally
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