English Australia Journal : English Australia Journal Volume 33.2
Volume 33 No 2 14 English Australia Journal prepare for one class, she asked students to bring in pictures that represented their understanding of independence and then share their pictures and thoughts with the class. In my observation notes, I wrote, ‘ This is a great lesson, can we “bottle” it?’ Noticing that some of the students’ pictures were too small for the whole class to see, I also noted the idea of building up a bank of larger laminated pictures that teachers could use for this activity. In a reflection meeting, I suggested this to Mary Ann. She responded, ‘ Yes . . . but isn’t the point for the students to find the pictures?’ I still squirm a little as I remember this incident, because I instantly realised how ‘teacher trainer-y ’ my comment had been. To collaborate constructively, I understood, I would have to get inside the class teacher ’s perspective before opening my mouth. Challenging questions My third turning point came towards the end of the project in a conversation with the ELC Director of Academic Programmes, who had set up the professional development collaboration and regularly asked the participating teachers how it was going. The feedback, she told me, was that things were going well. What the teachers most appreciated, she said, was how I had asked challenging questions at each stage of the project. This surprised me, because I had not intentionally used questioning as a professional development strategy. Throughout the project, I had focused on the advice I should be giving, and not on the questions I should ask. But I recalled one conversation with Gamze in which I had repeatedly asked her how she thought a particular class involved independent learning. If my questions had been challenging, I realised, it was because they were genuine and emerged in the heat of trying to understand how her classroom practice matched her intentions. Now, I understood that the questions were more valuable than the advice that eventually followed. Although my own professional development was not originally a goal of this collaborative project, I realise now that I have, in fact, developed a great deal. Looking back on my turning points, I see that the process of development has been very much about resolving puzzles about my role as academic collaborator. It is standard practice that the academic in this kind of collaboration should observe, listen and question, rather than advise; in this sense, I had learned something I already knew. The exploratory practice approach, however, had helped me internalise that knowledge and become more comfortable with that role. For me, exploratory practice is essentially about maintaining a sustained focus on day-to-day life in the classroom, trying things out, asking questions, and trying to answer them from different perspectives. What emerged from this, in my case, was a depth of learning that is less a matter of knowledge than of learning to inhabit a certain way of being an academic collaborator in teacher professional development.
English Australia Journal Volume 33.1