The professional development of natural sciences teachers : possibilities of a community of practice

Philander, Christa Joline (2018-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : Continuing professional teacher development (CPTD) that is effectively undertaken presents a significant opportunity to reform education in South Africa. However, CPTD is currently trapped in traditional transmissionist approaches that are misaligned to teachers’ needs and their shortcomings. As a result, education practitioners and researchers are increasingly calling to abandon these low-impact initiatives in favour of CPTD models that improve teachers’ subject content knowledge and pedagogy by affording teachers opportunities to collaborate. A community of practice (CoP) for teachers, which is known to foster teacher collaboration has design characteristics appealing to the effective facilitation of CPTD. Taking a dissident position, this study intended setting up a teacher CoP with the researcher as the initiator and facilitator, to determine its potential contributions to the professional development of ten participating Senior Phase Natural Sciences teachers from the rural school district of Vredendal, Western Cape Province. This study also aimed to establish the principles and aspects influencing the effective operation of such a teacher CoP. In South Africa, CPTD is regulated by guidelines contained in the National Policy Framework for Teacher Education and Development (NPFTED), hence the theoretical framework considered for this study needed alignment to it. A descripto-exploratory research design, underpinned by a social constructivist ontology, interpretivist epistemology and a multi-method qualitative case study methodology was found appropriate for observing the experiences of the participating teachers in a naturalistic setting. This study embraces Wenger’s (1998) CoP construct as a theoretical framework. A CoP, by original definition, features the following three foundational elements, namely the domain, the community and the practice. In this study, the domain encapsulates the CPTD, the participating teachers and the researcher as an observer-participant represent the community, and the practice includes different strategies used during the CoP sessions that were used to explain and demonstrate specific contexts as well as the corresponding concepts. Primary data were collected via different techniques including questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and CoP observations. Secondary data encompassed participant diaries, field notes, the researcher’s reflective journal and an extensive document review. The construct of rigour was applied to ensure that the experiences of the teacher participants reflected the study accurately and demonstrated the credibility of the research. Transcribed and re-organised data were subsequently categorised, coded and subjected to thematic analysis to answer the research questions. The results highlight two critical problems. Firstly, teacher participants admitted that they are not adequately equipped to teach the subject content effectively and expressed a need to understand the theory better, and to teach the subject relevant to everyday life. Secondly, teacher isolation hampers CPTD efforts in the Vredendal school district extensively as teachers have difficulties to collaborate due to the vast distances between schools, a poor telecommunications network, lack of finances and inadequate facilities and equipment. The CoP intervention augmented the professional identity of the teacher participants meaningfully by helping to build specific competences required by the authoritative norms set out in the NPFTED. Participants improved their subject content knowledge, notably. They developed the ability to teach Natural Sciences theory relevant to real-life situations and raised their skill level to conduct demonstrations and practical work more confidently. Opportunities for self-reflection appeared instrumental in entrenching the newly acquired teaching practices. These positive changes are considered to have benefitted from including the participants in key aspects of the design and operation of the CoP. Teacher participants explicitly appreciated the constructive interaction and collaboration in the CoP sessions and approved of its enabling influences on their professional development. An inclusive CoP structure, established professional relationships among CoP members and a motivated CoP membership proved to be the critical aspects essential to the effective operation of a teacher CoP. This study found that professional relationships built on mutual respect and trust are the most significant enabler for accomplishing successful teacher collaboration. The findings of this study support global research, indicating that teacher collaboration is the common foundation of effective CPTD strategies. Accordingly, a CoP presents an enticing opportunity to facilitate CPD effectively as it is purposely designed to foster teacher collaboration, and it is recognised to break down teacher isolation, which is especially prevalent in rural school environments. Potentially operationalising teacher CoPs in the South African education system, both as a standalone initiative or integrated with endorsed professional learning communities (PLCs) requires modification of the original construct. In this context, a teacher CoP needs a formal, but an inclusive structure preferably with an education specialist as a facilitator in the leading role. A blended CoP approach, with its characteristic focus on deriving value from employing information and communications technologies and smart electronic teaching aids, could improve the operation of a teacher CoP.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Effektiewe voortgesette professionele onderwysersontwikkeling (VPOO) bied 'n gulde geleentheid om onderwys in Suid-Afrika te hervorm. VPOO is egter vasgevang in tradisionele benaderings wat onderwysers se behoeftes en hul tekortkominge misken. As gevolg hiervan eis opvoeders en navorsers toenemend om hierdie oneffektiewe inisiatiewe te laat vaar en VPOOmodelle te aanvaar wat onderwysers se vakinhoudskennis en pedagogiek sal verbeter deur samewerkingsgeleenthede vir hulle aan te bied. 'n Gemeenskap van Praktyk (GvP) vir onderwysers, wat bekend daarvoor is om onderwysersamewerking te bevorder, toon eienskappe wat bevorderlik is vir die effektiewe fasilitering van VPOO. Hierdie studie beoog om 'n GvP met die navorser as fasiliteerder tot stand te bring, om sodoende die potensiële bydraes daarvan tot die professionele ontwikkeling van tien deelnemende Senior Fase Natuurwetenskappeonderwysers binne die landelike skooldistrik van Vredendal, Wes-Kaapprovinsie, vas te stel. Hierdie studie is ook daarop gemik om die beginsels en aspekte wat die effektiewe werking van so 'n onderwyser-GvP beïnvloed, te bepaal. In Suid-Afrika word VPOO gereguleer deur riglyne soos vervat in die Nasionale Beleidsraamwerk vir Onderwysersopvoeding en -ontwikkeling (NBROO) en daarom moes die teoretiese raamwerk van hierdie studie dus daarmee in lyn gebring word. 'n Beskrywende navorsingsontwerp, ondersteun deur 'n sosiaal konstruktivistiese ontologie, 'n interpretivistiese epistemologie en 'n multi-metode kwalitatiewe gevallestudie-metodologie, is geskik gevind om die ervarings van die deelnemende onderwysers in 'n naturalistiese omgewing waar te neem. Hierdie studie maak gebruik van Wenger (1998) se oorspronklike GvP-konsep as 'n teoretiese raamwerk wat uit drie fundamentele elemente bestaan naamlik die domein, die gemeenskap en die praktyk. In hierdie studie omsluit die domein die VPOO, die deelnemende onderwysers en navorser verteenwoordig die gemeenskap, en die praktyk sluit verskillende strategieë in wat tydens die GvP-sessies gebruik is om spesifieke kontekste te verduidelik en te demonstreer. Primêre data is deur verskillende tegnieke ingesamel, insluitend vraelyste, semi-gestruktureerde onderhoude en GvP-waarnemings. Sekondêre data is verkry uit dagboeke, veldnotas, die navorser se reflektiewe joernaal en 'n uitgebreide dokumentoorsig. Geloofwaardigheidstoetse is toegepas om te verseker dat die ervarings van die deelnemende onderwysers die studie akkuraat weerspieël. Transkribeerde- en herorganiseerde data is vervolgens gekategoriseer, gekodeer en onderwerp aan tematiese analise om die navorsingsvrae te beantwoord. Die resultate beklemtoon twee kritiese probleme. Eerstens het deelnemende onderwysers erken dat hulle nie voldoende toegerus is om die vakinhoud effektief te onderrig nie en dat hulle die teorie beter moet verstaan om die vak meer relevant aan te kan bied. Tweedens belemmer onderwyser-isolasie VPOO-pogings in die Vredendal-skooldistrik aansienlik aangesien onderwysers dit moeilik vind om saam te werk weens die groot afstande tussen skole, swak telekommunikasienetwerk, gebrek aan finansies en onvoldoende fasiliteite, asook toerusting. Die GvP-ingryping het die professionele identiteit van deelnemende onderwysers betekenisvol uitgebou deur te help om spesifieke vaardighede te verbeter wat vereis word deur die norme wat in die NBROO uiteengesit word. Deelnemers het veral hul vakinhoudskennis verbeter. Hulle het die vermoë ontwikkel om die Natuurwetenskappe-teorie meer relevant te maak, asook hul vaardigheidsvlakke te verhoog deur praktiese aktiwiteite met meer selfvertroue te verrig. Geleenthede vir selfrefleksie was instrumenteel in die vestiging van die nuutverworwe onderwyspraktyke. Hierdie positiewe aanpassings word as voordelig beskou deurdat die deelnemers ingesluit was by sleutelaspekte van die ontwerp en werking van die GvP. Onderwysers het die konstruktiewe interaksie en samewerking in die GvP-sessies waardeer en die positiewe invloed daarvan op hul professionele ontwikkeling bevestig. 'n Inklusiewe GvPstruktuur, gevestigde professionele verhoudings tussen die GvP-lidmaatskap en 'n gemotiveerde GvP-lidmaatskap is die sleutelaspekte wat noodsaaklik is vir die effektiewe werking van 'n onderwyser-GvP. Daar is bevind dat professionele verhoudings wat op wedersydse respek en vertroue gebou is, egter die belangrikste blyk te wees. Hierdie studie ondersteun die groeiende oproep om transmissiêre VPOO-benaderings te laat vaar ten gunste van meer effektiewe onderwyserontwikkelingsmodelle. Die ontwerpselemente van 'n GvP maak dit uiters geskik om onderwysersamewerking te bevorder en dienooreenkomstig onderwysersisolasie te verbreek, veral in landelike skoolomgewings. Die moontlike operasionalisering van onderwyser-GvPs in die Suid-Afrikaanse onderwysstelsel, beide as 'n selfstandige of geïntegreerde inisiatief met professionele leergemeenskappe, vereis wysiging van die oorspronklike konsep. In hierdie konteks het 'n onderwyser-GvP 'n formele, maar 'n inklusiewe struktuur nodig, verkieslik met 'n onderwyspesialis in die fasiliteerdersrol. 'n Gemengde GvP-benadering, met 'n kenmerkende fokus op waardetoevoeging deur die gebruik van inligting- en kommunikasietegnologieë asook slim-elektroniese onderwyshulpmiddels, kan die effektiewe werking van so 'n onderwyser-GvP verder bevorder.

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