There is a wonderful quote from Professor John Hattie which states: “The biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching” (cited on Teaching Scotland, 2014). To me, this says that a successful teacher is one who does not stagnate, rather is continuing to grow and develop within their own professional skills. It may be easy to think that once a student has completed their teacher training (whether that be a 4 year degree or an intense PDGE year), then they have learned all that they need to know and must simply go out into the workplace and put their learning into practice. However the reality is quite the opposite, and a teacher must be committed to undertaking continual, career long learning.
This career long learning, ties in with the concept of being an enquiring practitioner. An enquiring practitioner is one who is engaged in the process of continual reading, research and professional learning which has a profound impact on their work. It involves reflection and evaluation of ideas, concepts and theories and consideration of what has worked or not worked when put into practice. There is a challenge to all teachers to be autonomous and rather than accepting all information and advice given to you from ‘the powers that be’, take it upon yourself to find out WHY you are working a certain way.
The below diagram illustrates the many different aspects of being an enquiring practitioner:
This diagram reminded me once again of the many roles and responsibilities of a teacher and made me consider the importance of selecting the right individuals for the job. There is no room for a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude when it comes to the future of our children!
Enquiry can take place either personally; when a teacher reflects upon their own practice, or collaboratively; where a group work together to investigate a question or problem, bringing their findings and ideas together to create a pool of shared knowledge and a deeper understanding for all involved.
There is a clear connection between practitioner enquiry and CLPL (career long professional learning) as it states on the Education Scotland website: “Career-long professional learning is based on the concept of teachers as enquiring practitioners who engage in deep, rigorous, high impact professional learning…Teachers recognise the need for professional learning to impact on professional practice, the quality of learning and teaching and school improvement” (Education Scotland, Undated). This reinforces the idea that a teacher needs to remain up to date and relevant through continual training and learning.
There are numerous benefits of working as an enquiring practitioner, the most important being that having a wealth of knowledge and shared experience will allow the teacher to provide the highest quality experience and learning for their pupils. Collaborative research and investigation can also help to open new doors for teachers, into areas that they may not have explored before. This can help to maintain enthusiasm and motivation, without becoming ‘stuck in a rut’ of the same routines and practices day-in and day-out.
Despite the many positive aspects, enquiry based working is not without its challenges. One of
these challenges could be that a teacher is not confident in trying new ideas or sharing their findings with their colleagues for fear of being questioned or challenged. This means that their teaching practice may not progress and develop. Another challenge is that “enquiry tends to be ‘situationally unqiue'” (Stoll, 2003 Cited on gtcs.org.uk, Undated). This means that the findings may only apply to one individual situation and it may be difficult to generalise. On the other hand; the skills that are involved in enquiry are general and can begin to develop the teacher into a confident and autonomous individual.
As a student teacher, I feel that my understanding of what it is to be an enquiring practitioner will be a great advantage to me as I can begin to foster the skills and attitudes at this early stage. I have previously been involved in continual learning through my work within nurseries (as CLPL is a requirement of registration with the SSSC). Sadly however, I did not find this a very positive experience because often I was sent on training courses that were not particularly relevant to me. I also found that often the other course attendees were there simply because practitioners were required to be present for a certain number of hours per year, rather than because they are motivated and passionate about their own development. I was always disappointed in the limited amount of training possibilities and was not encouraged to take part in my own, individual learning.
I personally find continual learning and enquiry to be both exciting and challenging. I look forward to working alongside other, like-minded individuals in an environment of mutual passion and interest in the subject at hand. I feel that an attitude of enquiry will spur me to be open to new approaches and ideas while preventing me from ever becoming too ‘comfortable’.
Sources and further reading: