After the welcomes and introductions to the day, we began by hearing from Tom Hamilton of the GTCS. The title of Tom's presentation was Impact: 'What Impact? Whose Impact? Educational Practice, Educational Policy and Research Excellence.' This encapsulated a common theme for the day, which was around impact for learners at all levels, and the recognition that we are all learners. Tom pointed out the position in Scotland where Government Poliies, GTCS through professional standards and professional update, Education Scotland and Higher Education were very much aligned in direction of travel. He saw this as a time of great 'opportunity' for Scottish Education and one which fully supported the adoption of enquiry practices to teacher, school and system development. Whilst he saw this as a time of opportunity he also had a few words of caution. He warned against the 'snake-oil salesmen' who were often prevalent in education. The ones who offered magic cures, silver bullets and off-the-shelf solutions to our problems. He noted that whilst research was vital, it was important that we should look critically at all research and it's quality. Sometimes good and excellent research is ignored because it does not fit a particular Government's or Authority's politically philosophy on education. He welcomed and supported the adoption of practitioner enquiry approaches and particularly advocated the 'Inquiry-as-stance' advocation of Marilyn Cochrane-Smith, where enquiry is seen very much as a disposition and a way of being for professionals. He thought the new professional update process would support such a way developing. He pointed out that PU was positively motivated and was about empowering teachers to take forward their own professional development. He saw teachers as enquiring professionals as central to teacher professional learning.
Tom did describe himself very much as the warm up act for the star of the day who was Marilyn Cochran-Smith. She was the next speaker.
Marilyn Cochran-Smith is the Cawthorn Professor of Teacher Education at Boston College in the USA. She has been developing her theories and practice regarding practitioner enquiry since the mid 1980s and has published and edited many books and papers on this subject. The title of her presentation was 'Inquiry as Stance: Local and Beyond.'
She too started with a couple of warnings. She cautioned that there was a danger that practitioner enquiry could be attached to lots of different agendas. Like any other well meaning and well intended approach it could become something completely different in order to fit different agendas. If that happens its impact will not be as it should. She spoke of two examples of what this might look like. One was in the USA where many districts 'require' teachers to take part in practitioner enquiry. To ensure this happens they then provide them with a step by step manual of how they will go about this. The second example was from Singapore where every teacher is expected to be in a Professional Learning Community focused on enquiry into practice. But when she and colleagues spoke to school principals about these it became clear that they didn't know what these were for or how they should operate. Two examples of how you can take the label 'practitioner enquiry' and change completely the principles behind it, or not even understand them, and produce something else without achieving the same results.
Having started with a caution, she then went on to speak at length about why she saw practitioner enquiry as the way forward for teacher, school, leadership and learner development. As the title of her talk indicated she was looking at this through two lenses, the local and the beyond. She began by stating again that inquiry was for everyone not just teachers. Every individual, learner, teacher, headteachers, local authority managers, academics, everyone would benefit from the adoption of such approaches to their work and their positions. Next she pointed out the differences and commonalities between Professional Inquiry Groups and Professional Learning Groups, TLCs and the like. She felt that the former were very much 'social movement' groups, based on teacher and student learning, looked at means and ends, were concerned with data of practice and equity outside of the accountability framework. The later she categorised as 'school reform initiatives' focused on school effects, were seen as a means to an end, shared best local practice, used assessment data and were concerned with equity only within the current accountability frameworks. She said the key was that it was the process that went on within Professional Inquiry Groups that made the difference, not the content. To be truly effective and embedded practitioners needed to adopt inquiry-as-stance, but what does this mean and what are the impacts? She saw three major categories of benefit:
- This was a theory of action grounded in the dialectic of enquiry and practice
- It repositions the collective intellectual capacity of the practitioners
- It transforms teaching and learning, and schooling
- perspectful conceptual
- a world view
- a critical habit of mind
- a dynamic and fluid way of knowing and being in the world of educational practice
- carries across professional careers
- carries across educational settings
- problem solving method
- set of steps
Tweets from the day can be found on #Light14
More information about the Get Wet Project at get wet.org.uk