Learning about the practice of teaching is a complex and ongoing business. While it may commence as initial teacher education, undertaken as tertiary study, it necessarily continues throughout a teacher’s professional career. This is recognized by employing authorities across many parts of the world as they make provisions for professional learning often characterized as “professional development,” mainly through short and longer generic courses. However, such provision may lack contextual coherence leading to an acknowledgement that the complexity of teaching may be better captured through systematic inquiry undertaken by practitioners into their own practices in the company of others. Such inquiry could investigate not only matters of significance in terms of actions and activities, but also take account of local and external relevant discourses and the arrangements of relationships with peers and students themselves mediated by a variety of factors, for example, social geography. Educational practice is best seen as a “living practice” constantly morphing and changing in accord with a dynamic world. It can be argued that inquiry-based learning is itself a practice-changing practice with a focus on a range of matters such as enhancing student learning outcomes through a profound understanding of how students learn via their agency as the consequential stakeholders able and willing to provide their teachers with honest and worthwhile feedback. As well practitioner inquiry may address what is worthwhile, fundamental and enduring, and seek to integrate current theories with practice.
Many so-called “improvements” and “reforms” in education are developed with little reference to that which teachers know and understand of their practice. They are developed for teachers rather than with teachers. As a redress it is essential that teachers themselves can articulate their practice and provide sustainable, plausible evidence of not only their achievements, but also the many matters that present ongoing challenges, for example: the impact of social media on classroom dynamics; technological innovation more generally; and state-wide testing regimes combined with international comparisons. Systematic inquiry can contribute not only to the professional learning of the practitioners who are so engaged, but also to the larger body of knowledge regarding professional practice. With this end in mind, it is essential that inquiry-based learning is both to the benefit of individual teachers as well as the broader profession itself and to act as an antidote to some of the less desirable features of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). Thus inquiry-based learning may be seen as a powerful reform in its own right.
Jane Abbiss and Eline Vanassche
A review of the field of practice-focused research in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) reveals four broad genres of qualitative research: case studies of teacher education programs and developments; research into student teacher experience and learning; inquiry into teacher educators’ own learning, identity, and beliefs; and conceptual or theory-building research. This is an eclectic field that is defined by variation in methodologies rather than by a few clearly identifiable research approaches. What practice-focused research in ITE has in common, though, is a desire on the behalf of teacher educator researchers to understand the complexity of teacher education and contribute to shifts in practice, for the benefit of student teachers and, ultimately, for learners in schools and early childhood education. In this endeavor, teacher educator researchers are presented with a challenge to achieve a balance between goals of local relevance and making a theoretical contribution to the broader field. This is a persistent tension. Notwithstanding the capacity for practice-focused research to achieve a stronger balance and greater relevance beyond the local, key contributions of practice-focused research in ITE include: highlighting the importance of context, questioning what might be understood by “improvement” in teacher education and schooling, and pushing back against research power structures that undervalue practice-focused research.
Drawing on a painting metaphor, each genre represents a collection of sketches of practice-focused research in ITE that together provide the viewer with an overview of the field. However, these genres are not mutually exclusive categories as any particular research study (or sketch) might be placed within one or more groupings; for example, inquiry into teacher educators’ own learning often also includes attention to student teachers’ experiences and case studies of teacher education initiatives inevitably draw on theory to frame the research and make sense of findings. Also, overviewing the field and identifying relevant research is not as simple as it might first appear, given challenges in identifying research undertaken by teacher educators, differences in the positioning of teacher educators within different educational systems, and privileging of American (US) views of teacher education in published research, which was counteracted in a small way in this review by explicitly including voices located outside this dominant setting. Examples of different types of qualitative research projects illustrate issues in teacher education that matter to teacher educator researchers globally and locally and how they have sought to use a variety of methodologies to understand them. The examples also show how teacher educators themselves define what is important in teacher education research, often through small-scale studies of context-specific teacher education problems and practices, and how there is value in “smaller story” research that supports understanding of both universals and particularities along with the grand narratives of teacher education.
Sarah M. Stitzlein
Public schools are intricately connected to the stability and vitality of our democracy in the United States. The important relationship between public schooling and democracy began as a foundational idea in our fledgling republic, and it grew slowly over the course of our country’s history. Along the way, the relationship has been tested and challenged, encountering significant problems and limitations over time, including some that continue today. Despite these struggles and the many ways in which we’ve failed to fully fulfill the relationship, it has become a key one for maintaining the strength of our society and our political system.
Unlike a monarchy and other forms of government, it is difficult to maintain a democracy. Democracies take work; they rely upon the ongoing effort of elected officials and citizens, because they cannot run themselves or rely on just one person to lead. While democracy may be a highly desirable political system, its benefits are not always self-evident to children, and the pursuant skills and work it requires do not come naturally to most people. This is the rather precarious position of democracy; in order to maintain it, we have to educate children about its benefits and rationale while also equipping them with the skills and dispositions they need in order to for them to perpetuate it well. This is why we must link education and democracy.
Democracy requires informed and active voters who seek information to make wise decisions on behalf of themselves and the common good. Such voters must understand their own rights and freedoms, as well as those of others, as they deliberate together to reach mutually agreeable policies and practices. They must be equipped to engage in free and critical inquiry about the world and the problems surrounding them. And, they need the imagination and creativity to construct, revise, add to, and share the story of democracy with others, including the next generation.
The relationship between public schooling and democracy is best understood and fulfilled when it is not just a unidirectional one, where public schools support democracy, but rather when it moves in both directions, with the formal and cultural elements of democracy shaping the governance, content, and practices of schools. In this way, democracy is not just the end of public schooling, but also the means by which we achieve it.
Artists who teach or teachers who make art? To explore the identity of the artist-teacher in contemporary educational contexts, the ethical differences between the two fields of art and learning need to be considered. Equity is sought between the needs of the learner and the demands of an artist’s practice; a tension exists here because the nurture of the learner and the challenge of art can be in conflict. The dual role of artist and of teacher have to be continually navigated in order to maintain the composite and ever-changing identity of the artist-teacher. The answer to the question of how to teach art comes through investigating attitudes to knowledge in terms of the hermeneutical discourses of “reproduction” and “production” as a means to understand developments in pedagogy for art education since the Renaissance. An understanding of the specific epistemological discourses that must be navigated by artist-teachers when they develop strategies for learning explicate the role of art practices in considering the question: What to teach? The answer lies in debates around technical skills and the capacity for critical thought.
There is a growing awareness of the crucial role that trust plays in every aspect of a school’s functioning and especially to student outcomes. To trust another person or group is to be at ease, without anxiety or worry, in a situation of interdependence in which valued outcomes depend upon the participation and contribution of others. The trustor can rest assured that their expectations will be fulfilled based on confidence in the other party’s benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. As citizens across the globe have become increasingly distrustful of their institutions and leaders, the trend away from trust creates a special challenge for schools because trust is so fundamental to their core mission of educating students. The philosopher Annette Baier observed that we tend to notice trust as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted. These days, it seems evident that trust in our society as a whole has indeed been disrupted and is in scarce supply. As contemporary society has grown more complex, as changing economic realities, changing demographics, and changing expectations in society have made life less predictable, we are beginning to notice trust much more. There are a number of things that make cultivating and maintaining trust in schools challenging. These include the effects of social media, and other new forms of information and the propensity for the news of potential threats to one’s well-being, as well as the well-being of one’s children and community to spread farther and faster than positive news.
Trust matters in schools and in our world because we cannot single-handedly either create or sustain many of the things we most cherish. Parents send their children to schools, trusting that they will be safe from harm, as well as guided and taught in keeping with our highest hopes for them. Schools are also invested with a significant share of a community’s collective resources in the form of tax dollars, school buildings, and local employment opportunities. In addition, schools are charged with keeping and promoting a society’s shared values and ideals. They foster and protect the collective ideals of respect, tolerance, and democracy, as well as the vision of equity of opportunity. Indeed, the future of a society rests with the quality of its schools. It is evident, then, why trust has become such a pressing issue for schools in these challenging and turbulent times.