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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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Part 1: Understanding the pre-INSTEP context for ISTE practice

This section describes the pre-INSTEP context and environment for inservice teacher educators to set the backdrop against which the value and merit of INSTEP can be meaningfully understood. While the background documents leading up to INSTEP mention the "lack of a strategic focus" and "variability of inservice teacher education practice across the sector", they do not sufficiently capture the conditions or the factors that have contributed to this state of affairs. In this section we paint a rich picture of what has led to the problem in inservice teacher education by exploring an ISTE's journey from being in a primarily teaching or management role to the role of an inservice teacher educator. We also describe the issues and challenges that this transition posed to them at that time. Effectively identifying these transitional issues and addressing them is the first step to enhancing the quality of ISTE practice and consequently they need to be better understood.

All ISTEs interviewed in the case studies indicated that they had entered the inservice teacher education field after years of teaching at either primary or secondary school levels. In the leadership and management area, most L&M advisors had been a school principal or a Head of Department in a secondary school and had spent five years or more in a leadership and management role in a school. For teachers and school principals, the shift to inservice teacher education was seen as a natural career progression and an opportunity to leverage their years of experience in the classroom to train others. The move away from the stress of the classroom was seen as an added bonus.

It is not that our current role is free from stress. But classroom pressures are quite different. You get completely bogged down and have no way of anticipating the workload, what is going to come through your door each day. You have no time to read and if you do, it is at your own time at night (ISTE).

However, when they first entered the 'profession' all ISTEs acknowledged that the transition to an inservice teacher educator role was challenging and one that they were not well prepared for. The aspects of their job that ISTEs found most challenging and difficult were:

Their Lack of Experience in Working with Adults:

In working with adults, ISTEs have noted that adult learning flows from a different set of assumptions (for example, adults need to be involved in planning and evaluating the professional development they receive; topics and themes that have immediate relevance are more engaging) and that this required ISTEs to invest more time and effort into understanding and unpacking these assumptions prior to any action. However, most ISTEs, particularly Resource Teachers of Literacy (RTLits) did not have sufficient experience in working with adults to appreciate this and in the early stages of their life as an ISTE they applied their experience and knowledge in working with children to adult interactions. Over time they realised that working with adults required different approaches and strategies and the professional development support available to them did not sufficiently address their skill gap in this regard.

Resource Teachers of Literacy (RTLits) interviewed in this evaluation faced additional challenges in that they were perceived by their management and schools as providing support to children with literacy needs. They were invited in to 'fix the problem' and were expected to work with the child to address the literacy needs of the child. Over the years their practice had developed on the basis of these understandings and expectations and they had 'lost' confidence in their ability to work with teachers. This direction to only work with students was at odds with the steer and direction set by the Ministry for RTLits. It could mean that the Management committee and the schools they work with have yet to fully accept and adapt to this shift in focus.

Adults bring a wealth of knowledge and prior experiences that needs to be acknowledged before you can move on and support them to make the changes that are needed. We need to work with them and not in isolation with only the child but schools do not often understand this. (ISTE)

We didn't recognise or deal with this in our induction very well and when advisers came in there was this expectation that because they were good classroom practitioners, they would be excellent facilitators. That is not true as working with adults requires different skills and ways of working. You cannot be dictatorial and you can be challenged at all times. This made some of us nervous. (Provider organisation)

There is a distinct difference between teaching and advising. (RF)

Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) involved in INSTEP said that they were uniquely positioned as the nature of the issues they dealt with, namely behavioural issues, required engagement from a wider group of stakeholders including the teachers, principals, parents, and the special needs coordinators. Therefore, whilst their involvement may be triggered by the referral of a student, their response strategy involved a more systemic approach and the learning and behavioural development plans developed were implemented through the teacher. However, this shift away from the child to a wider systems focus had occurred over the past few years and this was also reflected in the training for RTLBs which had an explicit focus on facilitation and collaboration.

We take referrals in and will meet with the student initially and assess the needs through observations and conversations with the student. Then we will meet with the teacher to find out what are the in class behaviours and other challenges they face in dealing with the student. We will also meet with the families, special needs coordinator and the principal as they all need to agree to the intervention. It has to be a collaborative process and more importantly, it is the teacher that will finally be implementing the intervention in an ongoing way. So we work through the teacher and our role will involve facilitating change in the way she/he approaches teaching, we may offer new ideas for facilitating learning for the student. (RTLB as ISTE)

The schools expectation is that our role is to fix the child. So from the management perspective, the direction we get is take the child away and fix the child. This is because the student is not working or behaving to the capacity that the teacher expects them to or would like them to. Unless they are prepared to do something differently, I think we cannot achieve sustainable benefits for the child. They need to look at the problem as not limited to the student, and see how their expectations or their management of the student may be the real issue. Therefore we take a holistic view and deliver through the teacher. (RTLB as ISTE) 
Output-driven Nature of Advisory Work:

Advisors working within the School Support Services contract felt that their work and delivery of professional development were shaped by the output areas within the contract. As a result, when they were inducted into their role most ISTEs received training about the 'nuts and bolts' of their job which mainly related to clarifying their roles and responsibilities around the outputs. This focus on outputs was also felt to result in a siloed approach and did not encourage sharing of teaching and learning practices across advisors.

The training we received was administrative and we were socialised into the administrative aspects of our job – how do we account for the hours and how do we fill in the schedules or type up our case notes etc. I never saw another advisor except for our team days or our get togethers and if I bumped into one in a school, I had no idea who they were. We were so far apart from each other intellectually. (ISTE)

The pressure to act, respond and be the 'expert' at all times

From the first day we were expected to jump in and start to deliver professional development programmes to schools. There was no time to think or plan or understand what was needed. We were given a map, the car keys and resources in our respective output area and were told to go out and meet schools. This made me very nervous as I didn't fully know or understand the areas I worked in eg assessment. (RF)

We were focused on fixing the problem. The moment the principal said something, we would immediately start coming out with our war stories. That is so unhelpful if you are the principal listening. What we need to do is work with them and strategise how we would deal with the current problem or issue we face. (RF)

Lack of Facilitation Experience:

Facilitation skills were identified as core to ISTE practice and most ISTEs involved in INSTEP felt that they did not have sufficient experience or expertise in this area. As a result, the professional development and learning they delivered to teachers were shaped by ISTEs' own decisions about how best to support teachers' or school leaders' learning. This resulted in teachers and/or school leaders disengaging from the learning experience. ISTEs tried to overcome this skill gap by engaging with schools that were familiar, which meant that some schools missed out.

Initially I tended to work with groups that I was familiar with and this gave me some comfort.

I was hesitant to go into schools where I did not know anyone. I was not sure how I would begin the conversation around professional development and felt that they would not listen to a newcomer. Also I was not confident of my ability to facilitate large group meetings and so preferred one on one contact with teachers. It is pretty scary when you are new. (ISTE)
Isolation:

In most instances advisors worked alone and the lack of opportunity to talk and share experiences was felt to be challenging, particularly in the initial stages of their settlement into the role.

Overall ISTEs acknowledged that they had to undergo a steep learning curve on the job and this has contributed to significant variability in their practice. The issues and challenges discussed also point to the fact that provider organisations did not have a sufficient grasp of the practice of ISTEs. Arguably, if they did, then they would have addressed these problems through a well designed, structured and contextually relevant induction programme, refocused their ongoing support for professional development and learning, and increased focus on understanding the teaching and learning of ISTEs. In the absence of such a response from the sector, INSTEP seems like a timely intervention.

Interestingly, private providers appeared to make the transition to the role of inservice teacher educator more easily and were supported by their organisational structures and systems to achieve this transition smoothly. We believe that this could be due to their narrow focus on delivering content knowledge, as well as their size (private providers tend to be very small organisations which allows for greater interactions and exchanges on a day-to-day basis).

These challenges combined with the mixed skill sets of the current pool of inservice teacher educators has led to some of the variability observed in ISTE practice. They also suggest that ISTE practice has evolved organically over the years and has possibly not kept pace with the changing demands and understandings of effective teacher professional development and learning. Areas of practice that suffered as a result were:

  • Quality of analysis, particularly data analysis – There is increasing emphasis in gathering, analysing and using data for designing teaching and learning strategies and this is evident in all Ministry contracts. However, ISTEs' own professional development and learning have not extended their skills in this area, resulting in data analysis exercises occurring in a vacuum.
  • Insufficient time spent on planning and diagnostic processes prior to designing the PD/PL 'intervention'.
  • Coaching and mentoring newer staff – Current professional development and learning models for ISTEs do not explicitly allow for mentoring and coaching of new staff. As a result new staff were often left to their own devices for developing their approach to their work and were unable to access the experience and tacit knowledge of current staff.
  • Investment in growing and developing networks and professional learning communities that support ISTE learning.
  • Developing and growing as reflective practitioners – While most ISTEs talk about relevant and value of reflection, they accept that they spent insufficient time in critically analysing their practice. 'Reflection on the run' was the most commonly heard response when asked about amount of time spent on reviewing, inquiring and reflecting on what is happening in a given situation. Reflection takes time, effort and a degree of openness and willingness to see things in new ways. This was not the dominant paradigm that ISTEs were operating from and, consequently, critical reflection came to be seen as a luxury.

This suggests that the INSTEP project was a timely and important intervention in terms of developing a national approach and focus on improving the quality of professional inservice teacher education practice.

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