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Professional development in the field of education

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Jeanne L. Hager Moore
Abstract:
The process of continual growth and development in the teaching profession represents a common value among education professionals. Federal and state laws maintain that teachers must continue to study. These mandates, pronounced at federal, state, and local levels to create high academic standards for students, must be met through quality instruction. Both the profession and the public expect that teachers have the willingness and the ability to engage in continuous learning that will impact instruction. The process by which educators keep their knowledge base current typically is referred to as professional development. Professional development is an ongoing process of continuous improvement, not an isolated event or series of events. The culture of the school must support continuous inquiry and reflection on the protecting and nurturing of research-based approaches to ensure that all students will achieve. If the goal of high academic standards and achievement for all students is to be realized, effective continuous professional development must be maintained as a systemic process. Although professional development influences the organizational context in which it takes place, it also impacts the individual learner. Effective models of professional development must consider current knowledge of adult learning. Adults need to know that their efforts will result in the opportunity to achieve competency and that the process will respect their intellectual potential and capacity. Educators must have the opportunity to self-regulate their learning opportunities enabling participants to engage in mindful, intentional, and thoughtful behaviors. The purpose of this study is to evaluate facilitators and barriers to educators' participation in professional development and to assist in developing quality learning opportunities for educators. This report (1) summarizes the perspectives that teachers place on professional development; (2) discusses the possible facilitators and barriers, based on teachers' perceptions, to educators acquiring the skills and engaging in the activities that characterize quality professional development, and (3) identifies a general approach to addressing the delivery of quality professional development. According to the survey analysis used for this study, the data clearly reports that high percentages of teachers view themselves as continuous learners. Collaboration and collegiality are themes that the pilot study identified as strong, quality characteristics of professional development. Teachers' responses to the survey indicate that learning in groups is a facilitator to learning, along with attending conferences, strong information seeking skills, enjoyment and change of pace, easy access to learning opportunities, encouragement from family members and other teachers, and application to classroom and student achievement. The most highly named barriers are time, financial obligations, family responsibilities, and professional choice in programming. The study offers recommendations for learners and providers of professional development opportunities. Educators have a responsibility to encourage and nurture their own love of learning, and educational organizations have the responsibility to create conditions and provide tools and procedures for helping teachers experience learning situations. There is also a call for additional research on the topic of participation in professional development.

Table of Contents

ABSTRACT ii

DEDICATION iv

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v

Table of Contents vi

List of Tables ix

List of Figures x

CHAPTER ONE 1 Becoming a Lifelong Learner 1

Introduction 1

Problem Statement 5

Purpose of the Study 7

Need for the Study 9

CHAPTER TWO 15 Literature Review 15

Characteristics of Continuous Learning 15

The Requirement of Professional Development 17

Quality Characteristics of Professional Development 19

Pilot Study: Looking at Quality Characteristics of Professional Development 23

CHAPTER THREE 28 Design Method 28

Participants 31

Instrumentation 37

Procedures 37

Timelines 37

Surveys and Interviews 38

CHAPTER FOUR 40 Findings and Discussion 40

Introduction 40

Demographic Profiles of Respondents 40

Objectives 46

Limitations 47

Data Collection 49

Statistical Analysis 51

Attributes of Continuous Learner 51

Facilitators to Learning 56

vii

Negative Attributes of Continuous Learners 62

Barriers to Learning 63

Characteristics of Professional Development 74

CHAPTER FIVE 79 Conclusion 79

Summary and Discussion 79

Teachers’ Perceptions Regarding Professional Development 80

Facilitators 81

Barriers 84

Conclusions and Recommendations for Education 86

Learners 89

Educational Organizations 90

Presenters 90

Recommendations for Future Studies 91

RESOURCES 94 APPENDIXES 99 Appendix A 99

Confirmation Letter to Superintendents 99

Appendix B 100

Survey Invitation 100

Appendix C 101

Survey Introduction 101

Appendix D 102

Survey Questions 102

Appendix E 107

Survey Closing 107

Appendix F 108

Interview Invitation 108

Appendix G 109

Interview Introduction 109

Appendix H 110

Interview Questions 110

Appendix I 111

Attributes of a Continuous Learner 111

Appendix J 113

Facilitators 113

Appendix K 115

Negative Attributes of Continuous Learner 115

viii

Appendix L 116

Barriers 116

Appendix M 118

Characteristics of Professional Development 118

VITAE 119

ix

List of Tables

Tables

1 Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics ……………………………………………………24 2 Characteristics of Professional Development Identified in Literature Review … 25 3 Characteristics of Participating School Districts ……………………………..…32 4 Ethnic Backgrounds of Students …………………………………………….…. 34 5 Household Income Distribution ……………………………………………….. 34 6 Definitions of Locales …………………………………………………….…… 35 7 Pseudo Names of Interviewed Teachers ………………………………………. 36 8 Categories of Survey Questions and Interview Questions …………….…….… 39 9 Gender of Participants ……………………………………………………….…. 41 10 Levels of Education ……………………………………………………………. 41 11 Years of Teaching ………………………………………………………………43 12 Years in Current Building ……………………………………………………… 44 13 Grade Levels or Departments ………………………………………………….. 44 14 Grade Levels and Departments with Level of Education …………………….. 46 15 Learning Style Description and Gender …………………………………………63 16 Financial Obligation and Level of Education …………………………………. 68 17 Financial Obligation and Gender ………………………………………………. 68 18 Time Spent on Psychological or Social Problems …………………………….. 73 19 Collaboration and Gender Differences ………………………………………… 75 20 Collaboration and Years in Current Building versus Years of Teaching ……. 76

x

List of Figures

Figures

1 Levels of Education by Gender ………………………………………………………… 42 2 Professional Development Requirements and Neutral Responses ……….……………..49 3 Identifying Goals ………………………………………………………………………. 52 4 Required Hours and Level of Education ………………………………………………. 52 5 Research Participation and Levels of Education ………………………………………. 53 6 Location and Gender ………………………………………………………………….... 60 7 Belief in Career Advancement and Years of Teaching ………………………………... 61 8 Learning Styles and Gender …………………………………………………………… 61 9 Time and Gender ……………………………………………………………………… 65 10 Outside Demands of the Classroom and Years of Teaching ………………………….. 65 11 Financial Obligations and Years of Teaching ………………………………………… 66 12 Financial Responsibilities and Years of Teaching ……………………………………. 67 13 Family Obligations and Years of Teaching …………………………………………… 69 14 Family Obligations and Level of Education …………………………………………… 70 15 Job Constraints and Gender ………………………………………………………… 71

1

Becoming a Lifelong Learner

Introduction The purpose of this study is to investigate the quality of education through developing professionalism and capabilities of teachers. The study will review the range of factors that are characterized as quality attributes of professional development. Further, the research will attempt to interpret the perceptions of teachers and render explicit their processes to understanding through reflexive interpretation of their experiences with learning opportunities.

As I reflect on my own journey toward becoming a lifelong learner, I will use an autobiographical format throughout this dissertation. I will use italic text to reveal the autobiographical comments. I will use regular font when referencing the literature and to discuss the study design. My intention is to make the readability simpler for the reader to comprehend. Nel Noddings (1986) viewed autobiographical research as one in which all participants regard themselves as part of a community. She wrote: “we approach our goal by living with those whom we teach in a caring community, through modeling, dialogue, practice, and confirmation” (p. 502). Elbaz (1990) argues that narrative, autobiographical texts provide the best means for teachers to reflect upon their experiences. Some experiences focus upon critical incidents, or ‘key events in an individual’s life, and around which pivotal decisions revolve’ (Tripp, 1993). These critical incidents provoke the person to select particular kinds of actions, which lead in particular directions (Sikes et al., 1985, p. 57). By conducting research in my own field of practice, I aim to improve the performance of teachers with the intention of assisting educators by identifying quality characteristics of professional development that help lead to learning within the field of education. By using an autobiographical text, I hope to extend my grasp of becoming a lifelong learner to those in the field of education for whom it forms part of their daily lives. This narrative attempts to bring teachers’ voices to the center of the debate on developing through professional experiences. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1996) note that what is missing from the knowledge base for teaching are the voices of teachers themselves. I will attempt to interpret the perceptions of teachers and Chapter One

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render explicit their processes to understanding through reflexive interpretation of their experiences with learning opportunities. In this narrative, I seek to understand the contribution that academic studies make to my own understanding of my life, and how understanding my life contributes to my academic studies. A structure of meaning, which results from past experiences, can also present images of possible futures, like playing school with my sisters in my early childhood. The coherence is the journey of what has been, what is now, and what will come.

Let me first introduce myself. When I was young, I wanted to try all the typical vocations that little girls dreamed about, for example nurse, secretary, store clerk, and teacher. My sisters and I often played make-believe games, like house, store, and school, allowing our imaginations to lead us through the roles of our possible futures. Joining the multitudes of other young graduates, I left high school with doubts and uncertainties about my future career.

Having little guidance, I often use the terms “young and dumb” to describe myself as I made educational and career choices. However, I have truly experienced a satisfying career, as opposed to ‘working at a job’ like some unfortunate individuals. My life-long journey has taken me through the positions of teacher of learning support, elementary, and gifted support, elementary principal, and professor of literacy studies and education. Throughout my years in education, I have continued to learn and to grow professionally, and after considerable reflection, I believe I have insight on some of the challenges and some of the supports, which have influenced me to become a lifelong learner.

Beyond the walls of the universities, I have spent hours and hours of training in professional development. I am referring to the conferences, the workshops, the in-services, and the professional readings. I learned to depend on knowledge to assist me in nearly every new endeavor. For example, before I purchased my first home, I took a three-credit class in real estate. If I could not gain information from a class or some other form of professional development, I eagerly searched the Internet for scholarly sources or sought out experts for scholarly advice.

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There were also challenges that could not be conquered with knowledge, like my fear of speaking in front of adults. I dominated those hurdles through experience and repetition. I also faced personal difficulties: divorce, single-motherhood, and financial burdens. Perseverance, diligence, and support of family and friends were often my saviors. Furthermore, as I entered a leadership role in education, I encountered the challenges of being a female in an authoritative position that was often held by a male.

Rudman and Kilianski (2000) report that gender authority within the workplace signify different status expectations for men and women. If males are more readily identified with authority than females, then females in these roles of leadership may be treated with negative attitudes. For example, Eagly and Karau (2002) established that when women display leadership behavior, like assertiveness, they deviate from expected gender-appropriate behaviors that are socially accepted, such as qualities of being nurturing.

I am reminded of the negative comments regarding the Presidential Election in November 2008, when Sarah Palin faced critics for her role as a Vice Presidential candidate. She was often condemned for taking such an active role in government when, some voters declared, that her expected role was to raise her family. I can attest that a strong woman learns to multitask. When in undergraduate school, I held two full-time jobs, one part-time job, and attended classes full- time. It was difficult, but it all fit together. Several years later, as a single-mother, I held a full- time job and attended classes for my principal certification. I also remodeled the apartment that we were living in after the children went to bed at night. The landlord reduced my rent in exchange for the work I did. Obviously, I have always been a hard worker. However, as I reflect on my past, I remember that I counted on education as my passageway to success. The hard work, the elbow grease, did no damage, but leadership and scholarship came as a result of my studies.

As I reflect on my own attributes, my memories reveal that I insisted on certain roles in my career. I was dating my husband by the time I was offered a principal’s position, and I remember that he discouraged me from accepting the post. I started the new position the next school year.

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Years later, when my children were away from home more than they were with me, I talked about returning to college for my Doctorate of Education. Again, my husband depressed my aspirations. This dissertation is evidence of my decision. My determination has changed my self- concept and allowed me to further my education and my career (and my husband never complained).

As I examine my academic journey, I can see that this led to that. I can see the cohesion in the people whom I have met, the choices that I have made, and the projects that I have worked on. I see myself as a reflection of others whom I have looked up to. For example, I have always had a strong work ethic, probably due to the fact that both my parents were raised during the years of the Great Depression, and therefore they worked diligently.

Particular people have influenced who I am. I have to admit, I have always had an admiration for leaders, those in charge. I have been in awe of those who possess a great deal of knowledge, for example an exceptional teacher who never appears to ever refer to a manual, or one whose strong sense of spirituality makes one wonder what he really knows or how he became so confident with that wisdom. I look to leaders in the field of education as role models, linking my identity to some; even hearing myself occasionally say, “I can be you someday.” I never wanted to be the person that puts the stickers on bananas.

And finally, my experiences have defined me. My work with special education and with elementary, and my experience as a mother have made me a child advocate. My position as a principal has forced me to look at professional development. Learning, for me, has taken place through reorganization occasioned through experience, acquaintances, and social development. I have moved from familiar cultures to newly envisioned ones many times throughout my life. New learning, new knowledge, has been the catalyst to move me from one culture to another, for example from teacher’s aide to teacher, from teacher to principal, from principal to professor, and so forth. In cooperation of the learning community, I have attempted to make my journey unique.

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This research includes information learned from a pilot study that I conducted in 2008, which helped to identify parallels between the participating teachers and myself, as active learners. Contributing teachers validated their own achievements by the accomplishments of the students. A noticeable change in consciousness was evidenced by teacher commitment and teacher growth. The participating teachers continue to demonstrate that they value new knowledge. The group has quickly become leaders within the faculty group and is anxious to continue to learn.

As I looked back at my education and my career, I realized that I have become a Lifelong Learner. I recognize I have finally come to what I was seeking out. Finding it, I appreciate it. However, what I failed to realize was that I was different. “Of course all teachers are like me. Of course they all want to learn all that they can,” has been my argument. I did not comprehend and did not want to believe that many educators are reluctant learners or are complacent with what has already been achieved. What are the implications for schools if this is the case? How can mission statements that support lifelong learning be trusted? How can teachers promote lifelong learning to students when they have become comfortable with their own knowledge base?

As I contemplate these questions, I reevaluate myself. What critical incidents have led me to become one who yearns for more information in my career field? How did it happen? And, more importantly and pertinent to my role as educator, how do I influence others to become active learners in the field of education?

Problem Statement Do teachers consider professional development opportunities to be effective? Effective professional development programs must address the organizational, cultural, and systemic supports needed (the context); the way content-specific knowledge, pedagogy, skills, and attitudes are acquired (the process); and the content-specific knowledge, pedagogy, skills, and attitudes needed (the content) (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 2000). Learning the content of a subject must be accompanied by the process of learning, i.e. learning

6

how to learn, and by a realization that this process must be extended throughout an educator’s career. Teachers must continually improve in professional practice, and most states require a certain number of hours of professional development over a period of a distinct number of years. However, much of the learning that educators engage in is based upon traditionally presented staff development opportunities, usually selected by administrators. Much more unique are the self-initiated types of learning that might be characterized as self-regulated learning and may focus on the educator’s own needs and the needs of the students. The challenge is in the creation of an atmosphere that encourages such independence. The profession of teaching must reconsider the enduring principle of continuous learning and decide how to establish the belief as an operational principle. With the Federal and State Departments of Education requiring professional development, schools must ensure that the opportunities are valuable to teachers. In 2008, I conducted a pilot study as a qualitative research analysis to identify professional development characteristics that most strongly influence teachers to change instruction within their classrooms. I relied on the work of several theorists who look at stages of development, such as Ken Wilber’s Theory of Everything (2001), and Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics (2006). Beck’s work is based on a spiral, in which colors are used to describe stages (or memes) of values. The study clearly identified categories of quality characteristics of professional development as those within the Green Meme, which were Collegiality, Collective Participation, Common Purpose, Support, and Collaboration. These categories seem to be related to the culture of a school and include the social component reinforced by research (Bednar et al., 1991). The pilot study helped to identify parallels between the participating teachers and myself, as a lifelong learner. Some of the identifying characteristics from the study were collegiality, ongoing training, onsite feedback, and motivation from student success. Participating teachers validated their own achievements by the accomplishments of the students. A noticeable change in consciousness was evidenced by teacher commitment and continual teacher growth.

For educators, there are several obstacles to achieving the goal of continuous learning. Some impediments may be related to school culture. The culture of the school must support continuous

7

inquiry and reflection on the protecting and nurturing of research-based approaches to ensure that all students will achieve. If the goal of high academic standards and achievement for all students is to be realized, effective continuous professional development must be maintained as a systemic process. Undoubtedly, creating the time needed to practice such learning is difficult, and there is a need to provide guidance, showing teachers how to locate and evaluate resources, and how to critically apply new knowledge in their classroom practices. Besides the professional difficulties, there also may be personal barriers to learning: family obligations, health issues, and the like. Therefore, this dissertation has several purposes. The study hopes to identify quality characteristics of professional development that will help learners acquire the skills needed to plan, monitor, and evaluate their own learning to empower teachers to regulate their own professional development. The study seeks to identify teachers’ perspectives of facilitators and barriers to their professional learning. Ultimately, the researcher hopes to answer the following questions:  Can the improved practice of providing quality professional development opportunities provide teachers with the opportunities to participate in learning activities?  What facilitators enhance teachers’ abilities to participate in professional development opportunities?  What barriers limit teachers’ abilities to participate in professional development opportunities?

Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is to investigate the quality of education through developing professionalism and capabilities of teachers. The study will review the range of factors that are characterized as quality attributes of professional development. Further, the research will attempt to interpret the perceptions of teachers and render explicit their processes to understanding through reflexive interpretation of their experiences with learning opportunities. This study

8

acknowledges that teachers’ motivation to learn is problematic, in that there are factors that encourage learning and features that discourage learning. Some of the more discouraging aspects may be in the context of the job or in teachers’ personal lives. For example, I have experienced both personal barriers and personal facilitators. As a single mother of two for eleven years, I had the burden of paying babysitters when I attended evening classes (a barrier). However, single motherhood also accelerated the desire to return to college for an advanced degree because I had hoped that through higher education, I would receive a promotion or could become more mobile, since an additional college degree offered more options (a facilitator). I have received encouragement to learn through the support of family and friends (a personal facilitator). Finally, the emotional strength that is mine through an increased knowledge base has been a powerful intrinsic personal facilitator. The nature of teaching demands that teachers engage in continuing career-long professional development. Teachers are understood to have ongoing professional needs that can be met through continuity and progression. Self-regulated learners seize these opportunities as a constant quest for improved performance. By listening to teachers’ voices, this researcher hopes to understand professional values and perspectives, which influence teachers to participate in learning opportunities or adversely, factors that hinder participation in learning. Teacher development must take into account the components of the substantive self of the teacher and the psychological and social settings that can encourage or discourage learning. Through evaluation of teacher perspectives of facilitators and barriers to educators’ participation in learning, this report will examine the relationship between school culture and professional development that attributes to continuous learning as well as the personal facilitators and barriers that affect teachers’ learning. Through teacher surveys and interviews, this dissertation will evaluate facilitators and barriers to educators’ participation in learning opportunities and will assist in identifying quality professional development characteristics. This report will (1) identify a general approach to addressing the delivery of quality professional development; and (2) discuss the possible

9

facilitators and barriers, based on teachers’ perceptions, to educators acquiring the skills and engaging in the activities that characterize quality professional development.

Need for the Study School districts are struggling to meet demands of No Child Left Behind (2001) by successfully attaining goals of proficiency on standardized testing. The teaching profession has generated useful information about successful practices, and research demonstrates that instruction has more impact on learning than any other factor. Providing quality professional development opportunities for educators is essential to meeting the demands of the classroom.

When I survey the shelves and files in my office, I can identify an abundance of materials from professional development trainings in which I have participated in throughout my years in education. I learned that I could teach Science and Social Studies through children’s literature, only to find out later that I should teach reading through those content areas. I was educated in teaching the Five-step Writing Process, using hands-on manipulatives for mathematics and science, and trained in the use of Guiding Reading, Whole Language, and theme-based developments. Initiatives, like Reading First and Outcomes Based Education, and changes to laws, for example No Child Left Behind and PL 94-142 and IDEA, have required my attention at professional development sessions. Knowledge about Cooperative Learning Strategies and Student Assistance Programs has taught me to deal with social and emotional skills as related to academics. Data interpretation, pre-referral interventions, health and wellness, school safety, bully prevention, tolerance, special education changes, and inspired leadership are other matters needing consideration at professional development trainings. These are but a few of the numerous opportunities for learning that I have experienced, and the quantity of preparation is not unique to me. Teachers and educators continue to learn about teaching and school applications throughout their careers. Yet, as I contemplate on my early years of teaching, even my own childhood schooling, I don’t see vast changes in the classrooms of today. A recently retired teacher said to me, “I wish I would have recorded my words the first week of school, thirty-seven years ago, because I have said the exact same thing every day since then.” One may

10

contemplate on the familiar saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, after thirty-seven years of schooling, surely improvements were likely.

On the other hand, there are teachers who I have watched change dramatically in the classrooms, and I believe that I also have modified my own teaching style. When I consider the reasons for the changes that I can identify in the classrooms and through my own reflections, I attribute the transformations to quality professional development.

Why do teachers continue to participate in professional development if changes in the classrooms are not the goals? One answer is that many states mandate a particular number of hours of professional development to maintain certification; for example, in Pennsylvania, 180 Act 48 hours (Professional Development) are required every five years. Through my own experience, I believe a more accurate answer to the question is that teachers are looking for the magic key to instruction. Somewhere out there is a trick or a secret formula that will help instructors reach all students, not only the average and the above average students, but also those labeled or not yet unidentified as having Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Learning Disabilities, Behavioral Disorders, family dysfunctions, and other problems.

Full document contains 135 pages
Abstract: The process of continual growth and development in the teaching profession represents a common value among education professionals. Federal and state laws maintain that teachers must continue to study. These mandates, pronounced at federal, state, and local levels to create high academic standards for students, must be met through quality instruction. Both the profession and the public expect that teachers have the willingness and the ability to engage in continuous learning that will impact instruction. The process by which educators keep their knowledge base current typically is referred to as professional development. Professional development is an ongoing process of continuous improvement, not an isolated event or series of events. The culture of the school must support continuous inquiry and reflection on the protecting and nurturing of research-based approaches to ensure that all students will achieve. If the goal of high academic standards and achievement for all students is to be realized, effective continuous professional development must be maintained as a systemic process. Although professional development influences the organizational context in which it takes place, it also impacts the individual learner. Effective models of professional development must consider current knowledge of adult learning. Adults need to know that their efforts will result in the opportunity to achieve competency and that the process will respect their intellectual potential and capacity. Educators must have the opportunity to self-regulate their learning opportunities enabling participants to engage in mindful, intentional, and thoughtful behaviors. The purpose of this study is to evaluate facilitators and barriers to educators' participation in professional development and to assist in developing quality learning opportunities for educators. This report (1) summarizes the perspectives that teachers place on professional development; (2) discusses the possible facilitators and barriers, based on teachers' perceptions, to educators acquiring the skills and engaging in the activities that characterize quality professional development, and (3) identifies a general approach to addressing the delivery of quality professional development. According to the survey analysis used for this study, the data clearly reports that high percentages of teachers view themselves as continuous learners. Collaboration and collegiality are themes that the pilot study identified as strong, quality characteristics of professional development. Teachers' responses to the survey indicate that learning in groups is a facilitator to learning, along with attending conferences, strong information seeking skills, enjoyment and change of pace, easy access to learning opportunities, encouragement from family members and other teachers, and application to classroom and student achievement. The most highly named barriers are time, financial obligations, family responsibilities, and professional choice in programming. The study offers recommendations for learners and providers of professional development opportunities. Educators have a responsibility to encourage and nurture their own love of learning, and educational organizations have the responsibility to create conditions and provide tools and procedures for helping teachers experience learning situations. There is also a call for additional research on the topic of participation in professional development.