Current Research

The networks and associated practices of social learning amongst teachers engaged in practitioner research

By Lesley-Anne Johnson
A Research Proposal for Doctor of Philosophy (Education)

UniSA Education
Futures University of South Australia

This project uses a practice architectures framework to understand how social learning supports teachers’ knowledge construction and practice development as practitioner researchers for a ‘research-rich’ and ‘research-engaged’ profession (BERSA/RSA, 2014; Mills et al., 2021) in a large independent college in South Australia. The questions posed are, what are the networks and associated practices of learning amongst the participants in Trinity Research Institute activity, in particular the Professional Certificate of Future-Oriented Learning, and what are the practice architectures that shape and are shaped by these networks?

We do not know what the future holds, but we do know that careers are changing in nature at an ever-increasing rate (Bersin, 2017). The skills and competencies required by the workforce of the future are continuously evolving and this calls for a future-oriented school curriculum to develop the competencies of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and student agency (Bersin, 2017). Such a curriculum needs to be ‘facilitated’, for want of a better term, by an adequately skilled teaching profession. It cannot be implemented by a ‘notion of twenty-first century professionalism [which] is simply a revamped version of nineteenth century discipline techniques’ (Bourke et al., 2015). Overwhelmingly, traditional forms of professional development focus on the transmission of knowledge where a presenter professes the effectiveness of a ‘thing’ and participants might hope for a few tips and tricks to take back to their classrooms. The issue is that what can be termed ‘traditional professional development’ is insufficient and ineffectual as a catalyst for the type of sustainable change in practice that is necessary for a future-oriented curriculum. Teachers must be fluent in a number of complex competencies as opposed to possessing isolated skills (Bourke et al., 2015; Hargreaves, 2000; Lloyd & Davis, 2018; Sachs, 2003).

This project seeks to understand the networks, social learning practices, and the practice architectures that shape these practices, at work in Trinity College. The College has attempted to have teachers engage in ‘catalytic learning opportunities’ through the establishment of a loose suite of formal professional learning offerings, and the College’s offerings are a direct response to the discourse concerning teacher professionalism (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2021; McLaughlin & Wood, 2021; Mills et al., 2021; Mockler, 2020; White, 2021). One such offering is the Professional Certificate in Future-Oriented Learning, or PCFOL.

The PCFOL is a framework for teachers to explore a real innovation in their practice, informed by high quality research, that ultimately evolves their practice to meet the needs of the students and wider college community. The framework supports participants in considering the implications of change in an applied educational context and has them develop their identity as professionals within a highly complex system. The participants investigate a current issue within their practice and are supported in collecting and analysing data by the Institute and UniSA, with their findings then being shared with the wider educational community. The question remains, what are the networks and associated practices of learning amongst the participants of the Professional Certificate of Future-Oriented Learning at Trinity College, and what are the practice architectures that shape and are shaped by these networks?