Evaluation of the Inservice Teacher Education Practice Project (INSTEP)

Publication Details

INSTEP was a research and development project aimed at improving the quality of inservice teacher education. The project, carried out by the Ministry of Education, set out to improve knowledge and understanding about effective inservice teacher education, develop greater consistency and coherence in the practice of inservice teacher educators (ISTEs) and trial approaches that would lead to improvements in their practice. This evaluation report offers insights into the way in which participating in INSTEP has contributed to bringing about shifts in knowledge, skills and expertise of ISTEs and identifies early indicators of change resulting from the project.

Author(s): Meenakshi Sankar, MartinJenkins. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: August 2009

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Introduction

In June 2003 government approved a strategy to improve quality teaching for diverse students which included the following components:

Component 1:
Gaining acceptance of the important contribution quality teaching can make
Component 2:
Building knowledge and understanding of effective teaching practice
Component 3:
Aligning efforts under a range of current policies, initiatives and programmes to draw on knowledge about effective practice
Component 4:
Implementing key new initiatives that will drive further development of knowledge about quality teaching and help improve teaching practice
Component 5:
Ongoing monitoring, evaluation and feedback to ensure continuous improvements.

 
The InService Teacher Education Practice (INSTEP) Project was designed in response to components 2 and 4 in the above strategy to help further understanding and knowledge about what constitutes effective inservice teacher education (ISTE) practice. The project was based on the understanding that the quality of inservice teacher education practice is a critical contributing factor to improving the quality of teaching. There is a widespread belief that investing in high quality inservice teacher education creates an environment where ongoing teacher learning is promoted and supported, thus improving quality of teaching leading to improved student outcomes.

Currently, inservice teacher educator (ISTE) practice is regarded as being highly variable and at times not felt to meet the needs of teachers in schools. Further there isn't sufficient level of cross-fertilisation or learning across the sector. This has restricted the development of a body of knowledge about good practice. For the purposes of this project, definition of inservice teacher educators included:

  • Advisers and facilitators working within School Support Services in the colleges of education within the six universities
  • Resource teachers, for example RT: Lits (Resource teachers of literacy), RTLB (Resource teachers: Learning and Behaviour), and RTMs (Resource teachers: Māori)
  • Facilitators working within private provider organisations
  • In-school leaders of professional learning.

Current context for INSTEP

Generating of knowledge about teaching and learning as a result of research done by teachers, teacher educators and theorists has been a recurrent theme in the literature on teacher research movement (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Zeichner & Noffke, 2001). Researchers in the field of teacher education have spent considerable time examining questions that can help deepen our understanding of teacher education practices and lead towards its improvement (Feldman, 2000; Noffke, 2001). The Inservice Teacher Education Practice Project represents an attempt and commitment by policymakers in the Ministry of Education in New Zealand and the sector leaders to strengthen the knowledge base around this area and to address a critical gap in educational research and literature about the practice and learning of inservice teacher educators.

Only about 5% of the teachers in any one year are first-year teachers. Most of the teachers in the school system have been teaching for more than one year and will still be teaching during the next 10 years. A significant part of the Ministry's efforts and investment to improve teaching quality therefore is directed towards the inservice professional learning of teachers. The Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (2007) concluded that little attention had been paid to identifying or developing ISTE knowledge and skills for working with teachers in ways that have positive outcomes for students. Yet the pivotal role of ISTEs in assisting teachers to improve outcomes for students was very evident. The synthesis identified that "the most powerful professional development for teachers involves them in an inquiry and knowledge building cycle that starts with the identification of students' needs, moves to develop the skills and knowledge teachers require to meet those needs, and then checks to find out if changes in teaching practice have achieved the desired outcomes".

The extent to which inservice professional learning opportunities bring about desired changes such as initiating and promoting ongoing teacher learning or to develop school-based conditions for sustainability is largely dependant upon the quality of inservice teacher education practice and the capacity of the school to sustain and build on the changes made. The absence of a coherent approach over the years, to developing and supporting the professional practice of inservice teacher education, has resulted in variability in the quality and effectiveness of the professional learning opportunities available to teachers.

Description of INSTEP

The INSTEP project was designed to respond to the issues identified in current practice and to build a more strategic and coherent focus on teacher education practice across the system. By drawing together a national group of practising inservice teacher educators from university and private settings, reflecting critically on their expertise and experience and piloting and refining approaches to professional learning through inquiry based research projects, INSTEP aimed to contribute to a body of knowledge about what constitutes effective ISTE practice. The project had the following three strategic objectives:

  • To explore and develop effective approaches for the professional learning of inservice teacher educators
  • To strengthen and promote evidence-based inservice teacher education practice
  • To support professional leadership and ongoing improvement within the inservice teacher education sector.

Ultimately, it was intended that the learnings from INSTEP would contribute to approaches to building the capacity of inservice teacher educators that are owned and operated by inservice teacher education professionals.

To achieve these objectives INSTEP employed a unique project design and while the project plan provided a description of key outcomes against the strategic objectives, the project has evolved and there has been a shift in emphasis towards establishing an evidence base about the processes used to achieve these outcomes and objectives.

INSTEP as a R&D project

INSTEP was deliberately set up as a research and development project. This decision was based on the belief that changes in practice will be achieved by providing opportunities for systematic and sustained engagement with problems of practice (Spillane et al, 2002) and "iterative cycles of inquiry-based research to inform feedback for improvement" (Alton-Lee, 2005). In addition, it reflected a method of inquiry that involved:

a process of systematic, rigorous and critical reflection about professional practice, and the contexts in which it occurs, in ways that question taken-for-granted assumptions. Its purpose is to inform decision-making for action. Inquiry can be undertaken individually, but it is most powerful when it is collaborative. (Reid, 2004).

The intent of INSTEP was to promote and strengthen the quality and consistency of professional learning provision in New Zealand. There was also a strong need expressed by the Ministry of the need to build a shared sense of purpose and common understanding across the sector and practitioners working in different contexts. In keeping with these objectives, a national facilitation team (NF) was set up that drew together from across the country a group of inservice teacher educators who were contracted for the duration of the project. The project involved a mix of private providers and public providers from across the country as part of this project. This national team was the main conduit through which the Ministry and the INSTEP project team aimed to effect change in the ISTE sector and to build a sense of coherence around ISTE practice.

Each NF worked with five Regional Facilitators (RFs) who in turn worked with five inservice teacher educators in their own contexts. In this way, the project evolved over time to include a wider pool of practitioners to engage in critical reflection about their practice. The inquiry-driven and learning approaches were manifested in the following ways:

  • The project emphasised explicit learning. It encouraged ISTEs to draw on a wide knowledge base including theoretical frameworks when responding to problems of practice; the process of inquiry often began with deconstructing practice thereby identifying inconsistencies between beliefs and current practice and so initiating change.
  • There was some variability between project design and implementation. In the initial stages the project was defined quite tightly, particularly the timeline, resources, and the intended roll-out. However, the project design was adapted as implementation occurred owing to different interpretations of the intent and as participants had opportunities to clarify meaning as project activities unfolded.
  • A forum for discussion on problems of practice. The monthly forums for National Facilitators and the meetings of their own particular clusters offered an opportunity to discuss, debate, and challenge each other's understanding of ISTE practice thereby developing a shared understanding and language around key concepts. Therefore there was an explicit recognition of the value of creating an environment of trust, respect and reciprocity for the debate and discussion to unfold. In this way, small ISTE communities of practice were encouraged to develop a level of coherence and consistency that was currently lacking within the wider ISTE community.
  • Changing the status quo. Through inquiry into personal beliefs and assumptions, asking hard questions of one's own practice and critically reflecting on interpretations of 'evidence', ISTE providers and institutions engaged in INSTEP were exploring new and effective ways of working.

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