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Effect of Institutional Approach to Professional Development on Teachers’ Abilities to Develop 21st-century Skills of Students

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Research Title:  An Action Research into how the individualized and institutional approach to professional development can impact teachers’ abilities to enhance and develop the 21st-century skills of their students.

Focus: Teachers, Professional Development, ICT, 21st-century skills, transformation

Introduction

Teaching and learning are geared to prepare the future entrepreneurs, educators, politicians, employees and professional practitioners to meet the challenges of the there ever-changing global environment.  In this 21st century world, the way of performing the daily task in every profession has evolved to utilizing technology to make projects and tasking easier to implement and manage.  The job market of the 21st century has changed compared to the 19th and 20th century where the task is now more automated, innovative with fewer constraints (Bachman, 2016).   The key element in this transformation is the integration and advancement of technology.  However, are our schools changing at the same pace as the rest of society?   In Antigua and Barbuda, students are still taught in an environment where they are the consumers of their teachers’ knowledge where they are neatly seated in rows and the teachers at the front of the class as the authority on what should be taught.  This is an arcade method of teaching and learning that fails to address the diverse digital native in our learning institutions.  As a Professional Practitioner and an agent for change, this researcher believes that schools should be transformed to address the diversity of their learners and develop their 21st-century skills which can only be achieved if the teachers are equipped with the requisite skills and knowledge (Nicolae, 2014; Smit & Humpert, 2012).  However, for education to be effective for all students we need to focus on educating their teachers (Tom Whitby, 2016).

Hence, the purpose of this study is to advocate for a transformation of teaching and learning practices through individualised institutional professional development for teachers and the integration of technology.  However, to accomplish this transformation there are some factors to consider which are;

  • a shared vision for education by all stakeholders,
  • pedagogical approaches in the classroom,
  • technology tools available to teachers and students
  • skills and knowledge of teachers to integrate the available technology resources to guide students and facilitate learning
  • roles of the teachers and learners in the teaching/learning process
  • the openness of educators to new approaches and strategies within the teaching domain,
  • policies that guide teaching /learning process and domain
  • approach to the training and professional development of the teachers

Research Context

In Antigua and Barbuda schools are categorized as public or private, primary or secondary.  The public schools operated by the government are obligated by law to educator all students between the ages of five and sixteen (Government of Antigua and Barbuda, 2008).  There are a total of sixty primary and 24 secondary institutions in Antigua and Barbuda (Ministry of Education, 2016).  The Ministry of Education is charged with overseeing the operations of the thirteen secondary and twenty-eight primary public schools.  In addition, the ministry of education also set policies to guide the teaching and learning process in both public and private schools and are also responsible for the training and professional development of the public teachers.  Presently the ministry engages in two paths for training teachers the first option is teachers are enrolled in the Department of Teacher Education of the Antigua State College for two year period for teachers without degrees or a one year period for degree holding teachers.  The other is the Educators Summer Institute held during the summer.  Additionally curriculum officers in the Ministry of Education also conduct training with their teachers at intervals throughout the academic year. The present training method focus on a holistic approach with a one size fits all approach with little consideration to access to tools, the infrastructure of the institutions and the teachers’ skills.  There is a broad assumption that once the teachers attend the training sessions that they would automatic return to their classrooms and implement.  However, from the perspective of this researcher the assumption is flawed and from observations, there are limited trickle-down effects of the training received.

In Antigua and Barbuda, there are several initiatives to improve teaching and learning.  However, the effectiveness of many of these initiatives is yet to be evaluated to measure their impact on the education system.  Similar there are also large investments in technology resources to include one laptop per teacher, tablet and eBooks to students and again no assessment on how these devices are used and what is the impact on students learning based on this investments.  As an Education Officer with the responsibility of visiting schools, observing and evaluating teaching and learning practices and also a facilitator of many professional development sessions it has become evident that many of the teachers have not effectively utilized the resources and the training received.  Clearly, a change in approach is necessary to ensure that not only the tools but the training and professional development sessions have a positive impact in the classrooms.

Project Description

The focus of this study would be individualized institutional professional development training for teachers to effectively integrate ICT tools and strategies to promote the development and enhancement of students’ 21st-century skills.  The research is geared towards guiding teachers to facilitate an active student-centred teaching/learning environment through the integration of technology tools and strategies.  The goal is to inspire, mentor and motivate the teacher to enhance their learning environment to:

  1. Ensure the students are equipped to meet the challenges 21st-century global environment.
  2. Ensure the critical thinking, innovative, problem solving of all learners are addressed.
  3. Provide the teachers with the skills and strategies to cater to the diverse needs of all students
  4. Ensure all learners receives a quality education

The researcher has also engaged in conversations with teachers who participated in numerous professional developments some of which were facilitated by the researcher to determine the factors that contribute to the limited implementation of the training.  The main issues posited by the teacher engaged includes

  1.  lack of confidence in their ability to effectively implement the training
  2. The uncertainty of how to transfer what they learnt to their classroom
  3. The lack of resources (both student and teacher resources) at their school to integrate some of the strategies
  4. The fear that making the changes would take away time from completing the curriculum
  5. Their focus is on getting the student ready for the test
  6. Unreliable internet access to introduce some technology-based tools and approaches

Hence the researcher has determined that for the training to be impactful and effective for the transformation of the teaching and learning domain the approach to professional development and training needs to change since the present format of teaching training and professional development is not heavily impacting our education system to propel our system into the 21st century.  Hence this practitioner in pursuit of a Doctorate in Educational Change and Leadership will undertake an Action Research to transforming teaching and learning through the professional development of teachers to enhance and develop the 21st Century skills of their learners.

The main aim of this research is to establish if teachers who receive school-based training are more likely to utilise their skills and knowledge to transform their classroom practices.  Therefore, the objectives of this research are to:

  • Determine if school-based training make the teachers more confidently in their knowledge and skills to transform their practice
  • Identify how the teachers had employed the knowledge of their previous training
  • Identify how teacher deploy ICT tools and strategies to engage their students
  • Identify the challenges experienced by the teachers to engage with technology
  • Determine how effective is ICT tools being used to engage learners
  • Identify the changes in the teacher’s practice after engaging in school-based professional development and training
  • Determine how teachers can effectively integrate the use of technology to complete the requirements of the curriculum and promote the 21st-century skills of their students

Literature Review

The school-based approach is based on a constructivist view of learning.  A constructivism approaches emphasis interaction to generate knowledge and facts (Bell, 2011).

The most significant school-related factor that impacts student achievement is an informed teacher (Edutopia, 2008).  The dynamics and complexity of schools require teaching styles to be reflective of a teacher as a social mediator, facilitator of learning and reflective practitioner (Larrivee, 2000).  Notably, the teaching profession changes with the influence of technology, development of new approaches, pressures of economics and society (TESS-India, n.d.).  Hence, it is important for educators to improve their skills to be better equipped for their job to ensure the best learning outcomes for their students  (Queen University, 2018).  Unfortunately, many professional development sessions focus on how and what to change instead of professional learning to transform practices (Cole, 2004).   A major challenge for any effective professional development training is deciding the right balance between offering a one size fits all and “every teacher is different” approach (Jayaram, Moffit, & Scott, 2012).  Although a holistic approach can positively affect teaching and learning an individual and school-based approach can offer many benefits such as addressing the individual gaps of the teachers and the needs of the school, provide immediate feedback and make it easier for teachers to build capacity and skills (TESS-India, n.d.).   The school-based approach to professional development advocates as a remedy to the deficiencies of the traditional approach since it is at the school level teaching occurs, techniques are developed and gaps are identified (Adu & Boaduo, 2010).

Researchers have posited that the use of technology has changed how we confront and expedite learning  (Valiandes, 2015; Nicolae, 2014).  The demands of the classroom, the challenge to complete the curriculum and need to prepare the students for the 21st-century world can be addressed with the effective use of technology (Hobgood & Ormsby, 2011).  However, as the teacher is critical for the students learning it is important that the teachers are confident in their skills and abilities to effectively engage with technology (Hobgood & Ormsby, 2011). The action of immersing technology strategies in the learning environment allows students to maximize their potential (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000a)   and encourage students as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and independent lifelong learners (Valiandes, 2015).  The goal of any education system is to create a culture of learning that is inclusive in an atmosphere that promotes life-long learning and establishes learning goals.  An inclusive system is only achievable through a collaborative approach of both general and specialised teachers to assure all students are immersed and engage throughout the teaching-learning process (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000b).  In a 21st-century classroom students should be motivated, problem-solvers, critical thinkers equipped to communicate and collaborate (Lim, Zhao, Tondeur, Chai, & Chin-Chung, 2013) to meaningfully engage in their global community.

Methods and Methodology

This research is a small scale action research to be conducted in four schools (two primary and two secondary) among teachers with an interest in transforming the teaching and learning practices of their classrooms.   An action research will allow the participants to actively engage in the research to address the problems in their specific context  (Stringer, 1998).  This form of research is a powerful tool to impact change to improve teaching methods, learning strategies, evaluative procedures, attitudes and values, continuing professional development, management and controls (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2007) all of which are desired outcomes of this proposed research.  Therefore to capture the interest of teachers to engage in this empowering research, the researcher after receiving all necessary approvals will make a presentation to school principals and teachers to outline the problem the research is seeking to address along with the method and desired outcomes of the research.

The school-based approach to professional development and training is new to our system as the present method of professional development and training brings the teachers to a central environment for the training who then returns to their respective schools to implement.  In many instances, there is no follow up or support proved to the teachers throughout the process and therefore the strategies and skills gained are not reflected in their practice.  Considering that each institution has different resources and the varying skills and abilities of the teachers, this researcher proposes an action research that utilized a five-phase approach to professional development sessions at the institution level which includes

  1. An assessment of
    1. teacher and students resources available at each institution,
    2. the infrastructure and capacity to facilitate the use of ICT tools and strategies,
    3. teachers ICT skills
    4. teachers pedagogical skills and approaches

Presently training is conducted without actually assessing the skills and needs of the teachers.

  1. the development of a series of personalized training sessions that considers the findings of the assessment and based on the gaps identified.
  2. training at the individual and institutional level taking the training to the teacher in their environment instead of a holistic system-wide approach to training and professional development
  3. providing support and mentorship to the teachers as they transition to a student-centered approach is a critical element missing from the present approach to teacher training
  4. evaluate the teacher’s progress and changes implemented to assess the impact of the new approach and determine other weak areas that need to be addressed

At the end, the five-phase cycle the phase begins again to address other areas of the teaching-learning process that can be enhanced.  The difference in this proposed approach it is not engaging in a wholesale strategy of professional development and training but an individual institutional approach.

Limitations

Considering that the proposal seeks to take a different method to professional development presently undertaken in Antigua and Barbuda the researcher foresees the following challenges

  1. a resistance and fair of change by the teachers
  2. as a ministry of education official some teachers may feel compelled to participate in this research
  3. to get buy-in from the stakeholders (policy makers, principals, teachers, other education officers)
  4. unreliable internet access in many institutions
  5. limited local experts ICT integration for the transforming of teaching and learning

Project Timeline (Year 1)

The phases of this proposed action research will be conducted over a two year period. During the first year of the research, the researcher will engage in the following

  • meet with education officials and stakeholders to share the purpose, aims  and proposed outcome of the research
  • request the necessary permissions to conduct the research in schools from the Ministry of Education
  • research articles for a literature review
  • prepare  and validate approval and consent documents for schools and teachers
  • prepare data collection instruments for the assessment phase of the research
  • their buy-in and participation in the research
  • request permission from principals and teachers to engage in the research at their institutions
  • distribute and collect approval and consent documents from schools
  • conduct assessment of teachers skills, school infrastructure, and available resources
  • design training sessions based on the needs and capabilities of the teachers and institutions
  • implementation of the first series of school-based training
  • begin the observation of teachers implementation of training
  • engage a mentorship and support program for the teachers

Critical to any research is the creditability and validity of its findings (Crewell & Miller, 2000).  Therefore approvals to conduct this study will be sought from the relevant persons and authorities.  In addition, the research that full disclosure of the purpose and process is made to the participants and also protect their identity by confidential and securely guard their information.



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