The Theory and Practice Divide in Relation to Teacher Professional Development

The Theory and Practice Divide in Relation to Teacher Professional Development

Shelleyann Scott (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-780-5.ch002
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The 21st century is a time of rapid change and increasing accountability within education contexts and teacher professional development (TPD) is frequently perceived to be crucial in instituting reforms. This chapter explores the divide between theories of effective TPD and the realities of practice within educational contexts. Two case studies, one from Australia and the other from Canada are presented to illustrate the positives and negatives inherent within professional development approaches in these contexts. A number of key dimensions are identified, which when coalesced inform the establishment and sustainability of effective programmes. Online technologies present innovative ways to overcome the impediments to effective professional development. Online communities of practice utilising socialnetworking technologies provide new opportunities for initiating “webs of enhanced practice’ (Scott, 2009), where individuals around the globe can engage in collegial collaborations that enhance the passion of teaching.
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The 21st century has yielded a time of rapid-paced change – socio-political and technological - and this has resulted in even greater need for more effective teacher professional development (TPD) to ensure that our children, teachers and their leaders have access to the most productive learning environments. Since the 1970s onwards, there has been considerable research undertaken about TPD, establishing a solid knowledge base about what TPD processes work in effecting change in teaching behaviours in the classroom with the view to positively influencing student outcomes (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Goodlad, 1994; Guskey, 1986; Guskey & Sparks, 1991; Joyce & Showers, 1980; 1995; Lieberman & Miller, 2000; Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2008). Even so there are still poor and fragmented TPD proliferated within school systems. It is clear, therefore, that there is still a divide between the theory of effective TPD and the ‘reality’ of practice within educational systems. This chapter explores these theories and uses two international examples, one from Western Australia and the other from Alberta, Canada to illustrate that this divide still exists. With the world shrinking due to globalisation and innovations in technology, challenges within education show striking similarities regardless of geographical location. The professional responsibilities for the range of roles, such as, teachers, leaders, policy-makers and government are also discussed. A number of dimensions are presented which, acting in concert, can facilitate the establishment and sustainability of effective TPD initiatives, thereby bridging the gap between theory and practice. The final dimension discussed is that of innovations in TPD, particularly the potential inherent in online learning communities. Technology presents real advantages to supporting the development of communities of teachers, not only within their own school districts, but also across the globe. Scott’s (2009) “webs of enhanced practice” offer teachers greater opportunities to reduce their isolation and expand their knowledge about good practice, share resources and gain global insights.

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