This interview was conducted with Samantha (Sam) Cook, recipient of the 2015 Jeff Thompson Award* for her study entitled Perceptions of International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme teachers on factors influencing their development as PYP educators (the executive summary is available here ). This study was completed as part of a dissertation for her graduate studies at the University of Bath. Sam is currently the Elementary Vice Principal at the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
What was the aim of this study?
The study was provoked by my experiences as a workshop leader – I was curious about how much of what was learned in workshops made a long term difference to teachers’ practice, and what the other factors were that helped influence their development. I reviewed the literature on effective professional development and discovered that there is much evidence to indicate the limitations of workshops, and a growing focus on context-embedded, collaborative opportunities to develop. My research questions aimed to discover which Professional Development (PD) opportunities were considered most effective, but also how much change practitioners felt was required to become an effective PYP teacher. I surveyed PYP teachers around the world through an online survey, and was delighted to receive over 300 responses. The most significant findings were that practitioners find the PYP complex and challenging, and that learning on the job and collaboration are the most influential factors in their professional development.
What is the top lesson that you think PYP schools can take away from your study?
I think the top lesson is that schools should not underestimate the challenges that teachers are takling to develop as effective PYP practitioners. An overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that they found the PYP complex and challenging to work with, and that it had required significant change in their practice. Areas teachers found challenging were often to do with the pedagogy of the programme: inquiry, concept-based learning, or transdisciplinarity; as well as the practicalities of a new way of working: the heavy emphasis on collaborative planning, or using the PYP planner to develop conceptual units of inquiry. Teachers need context embedded and ongoing support for these challenges – while a workshop on inquiry or collaborative planning might kick-start teachers’ thinking, survey respondents indicated that learning on the job, collaboration and reflection are what help teachers understand and develop their practice in these areas. These influences are embedded in the school context, placing the onus on schools to exploit these opportunities.
What can schools do to improve the professional development of PYP teachers?
When asked how they overcame challenges in their development, respondents frequently referred to experimentation, experience, implementation, practice and reflection, clearly reinforcing the necessarily job-embedded nature of PD for PYP educators. As one respondent put it, “… the classroom is the real testing ground of the theory that we learn at workshops… and to be able to apply it successfully, validates its authenticity, develop our own conviction and thereby, strengthening the understanding (sic).” The influence that schools have over teachers’ development cannot be left to chance. Schools need to work actively and intentionally to provide on-going, job-embedded opportunities to observe, model, discuss, reflect on and practice those instructional practices that support high quality PYP teaching and learning, in a supportive, collaborative environment. Professional learning communities, or PLCs, were identified in one focus group as highly influential and effective for teacher development, contributing to a “sense of unity, coherence, common purpose and ownership of the programme.” (Kong and Sperandio, 2014:6)
What issues did this study raise for you that you think are worth further exploration?
I’d like to explore further the power of adults learning in a social, job-embedded context. One finding that resonated for me was how many respondents described the impact an influential colleague, leader or peer, using powerful and emotional language (privilege, partnership, inspiration, passionate, profound impact). I’m currently participating in a Harvard online course about Making Learning Visible, where the power of forming intentional learning groups with shared passion and meaningful tasks is stressed as powerful for adults as well as children. The myriad of creative ideas for developing a community of learners and learning on the job (inquiry groups, study groups, professional conversations, professional learning communities, mentoring, and cognitive coaching, among many others) could usefully be further explored to identify those that best enhance teacher development. How to fully exploit the potential for learning on the job is also worth further exploration: what structures for seeing, sharing and reflecting on practice are schools effectively developing and embedding into their learning culture?
*The Jeff Thompson Award
This study was funded through a Jeff Thompson Award. The IB is dedicated to encouraging and supporting independent school-based research to better inform the IB community. The Jeff Thompson Award provides IB World School practitioners with incentive funding to support research conducted on IB programmes. Individual awards are granted up to a maximum of USD $5,000 each.
There are two application deadlines per year. The first deadline will be 31 March 2015 and the second will be 31 October 2015. To access the application and policy and procedures, please visit the Jeff Thompson Research Award pages. If you have any questions, feel free to contact IB Global Research at firstname.lastname@example.org.