DOINGS: Arrangements of actions and activities to support interactions
This dimension of the model (see Figure 1 above) focuses on the creation of school structures that support the systematic reflection and dialogic interactions for successful teacher mentoring. These ‘doings’ involve setting up dedicated space, time, tools, processes or people required to sustain mentoring. Such systematic approaches to mentoring provide structured opportunities for collective, purposeful and cumulative talk and build a culture of reflection that impacts on both teacher and student learning. Systems for building sustained mentoring relationships include cycles of learning and action, team teaching and action learning, and lesson study.
Cycles of learning and action
There are numerous approaches to structuring cycles of learning and action but all involve a cycle of planning (collecting evidence, deciding on a focus and planning actions), acting, observing (observing practice and collecting data) and reflecting (analysing observational data, and deciding next steps).
A whole-school program of action learning: A team of grade teachers have participated in the Teaching English Language Learners (TELL) whole school professional learning program. As part of the course teachers participate in action research to explore an aspect of the course as it applies to their student cohort. School A wants to investigate the potential for oral interaction to improve writing. With the mentoring support of their EAL/D regional consultant, they collect evidence of student interactions and samples of student writing as baseline data. Drawing on knowledge gained through the TELL course, they develop a number of teaching sequences to scaffold student interaction and create more opportunities for purposeful student talk. The external EAL/D consultant is engaged to work with the team to observe, reflect on and revise lessons sequences. With strategic questioning the consultant prompts teachers to reflect on the course learning in relation to their own learning goals. The action research is completed only after the team presents their research findings – a process that helps them analyse their evidence and articulate their learning.
School clusters in action learning: Instructional Leaders in a local cluster of schools identified shared concerns about learners in the early years who did not seem to be progressing as expected. The Instructional Leaders, acting in a mentoring role, planned a collaborative program of action research involving teams of Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 teachers across their schools. While the professional learning was jointly negotiated and the learning goals and theoretical underpinnings were identical, the initiatives undertaken were particular to each school team. The resulting learning from the action research was richer because of the quality of the interactions between the high number of participating teachers and instructional leaders.
Sustaining action learning (Handover): The University of Western Sydney’s Fair Go Project supports schools through a process of action learning to increase student engagement. It is implemented over a series of action learning cycles aiming to gradually build capacity of the school team towards increasing independence. In its first iteration an academic acts as a critical friend, developing the knowledge base and the system of action learning. As the action learning is implemented, teachers in the same school ‘shadow’ the mentor so that the action research can be expanded to other teams across the school for sustained whole school change.
Team teaching and action learning
Team teaching partnerships have the potential to evolve into effective mentoring relationships strengthening both teachers’ expertise and student learning. Davison (2006) argues that collaborative teaching that engages in cycles of action learning strengthens the mentoring relationship and builds a culture of learning in the classroom.
In School B team teaching was typically seen as a way of integrating the specialist EAL/D teacher and subject or class teacher expertise to effectively teach language in the context of curriculum learning. An action learning process was introduced by the instructional leader as a way of supporting the mentoring relationship between the EAL/D teacher and the Stage 1 class teacher. The teachers collaboratively implemented an action research process and after observations and data analysis decided to focus on developing students’ oral language to improve literacy skills. With this as a shared goal, their teaching became more purposeful, focusing each lesson on observing student interactions and progress. Their planning time was used to analyse work samples, reflect on their teaching practice and plan next steps to refine practice. Over time they were less focused on their separate roles and separate expertise and more focused on their shared learning. It was the shared goals and reflective practices of action learning that built a strong two-way mentoring relationship.
Lesson study applies to the process and principles of action learning at the micro level of the lesson. After initial discussion, teachers collaboratively identify a pedagogical focus and together design a lesson to realise their learning goals. The lesson is taught collectively and evidence collected and analysed. The group refines the lesson on the basis of the shared analysis, engaging in critical questioning and joint reflection. To extend the richness of learning from the lesson study process expand to teachers in other local schools. When sustained over time, lesson study provides another structured opportunity for collective, purposeful and cumulative talk.
Example 12 Source: NSW Department of Education and Training (2009)
A whole school model for teacher action learning
‘Teachers as researchers’ was the name of a whole school initiative established to engage all teachers in a process of action learning. The structure of regular stage team meetings provided targeted time for each team to engage in action learning cycles. Stage teams came together in whole school meetings dedicated to action learning. In the whole school meetings teachers reflected on common learning goals for students and realised the collaboration across teams deepened their understanding of teaching practices and strengthened the culture of learning in the school.