Colm Dooley, School Principal, Our Lady's Grove Secondary School

Dr. Colm Dooley is a school leader, teacher, teacher educator, student, and researcher. His primary research interests are in curriculum and teacher education with a specific focus on pedagogy. He was the 2020 inaugural recipient of Maynooth University School of Education’s Professor John Coolahan Scholarship Award and completed his doctoral studies in late 2021. He has also conducted diploma and Masters’s studies in education with a particular focus on Curriculum and Pedagogy. Colm is now in his eleventh year as a second-level school leader and is based in Goatstown, an area of Dublin, Ireland.

An exploration of the documented pedagogical understandings and practice of a cohort of PST students in an ITE program in Ireland

A generation of policy publications focussed on lower secondary education in Ireland is now operational for several years. They include Framework for Junior Cycle, LAOS, and Cosán, amongst others. These policies describe the role of pedagogical understanding and practice sought from Irish classroom teachers at this level. This research established the origin and intent of these policies/frameworks with the aim to uncover how central the development of teachers’ pedagogical reasoning is in their hoped-for authentic implementation.

Initial Teacher Education (ITE) has often been lauded as the stage in the teacher education continuum which permits the highest level of attitudinal and practice change in teachers. For this reason, this research explored the levels of pedagogical understanding and practice amongst a cohort of PST teachers in a sample Irish ITE program. This exploration took the form of an extensive Qualitative Content Analysis of the student teacher’s reflective portfolios and a semi-structured focus group.

The analysis framework that was created for this research was constructed from L.S. Shulman’s revised Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) construct (2012) and John Loughran’s PCK enactment mechanisms. This new innovative construct formed an investigative focus for both the policy and portfolio analyses of this current research. Its main function is to uncover PCK (pedagogical Content Knowledge) which is internationally lauded as a construct for increasing pedagogically rich reasoning and practice in teaching.

The findings of this research suggest that the practitioner role sought by Irish policymakers is one that requires a significant change in teaching practice in our education system. The history of pedagogical reasoning in Ireland provides an even more challenging context for this policy implementation. In general, the Irish teaching profession has been described as conservative, with transmission style and overly examinations focussed by external organisations such as the OECD.

A range of additional factors such as personal worries, ITE structures, personally held values and beliefs, observed values and beliefs from fellow professionals during school placement, the dominance of textbooks and PowerPoint, high stakes assessment act as barriers to the authentic implementation of the pedagogical aims of this generation of policies, according to the PME respondents (N=15) to this research. They also complain that in their experience there is a dearth of opportunity to enact this policy sought pedagogical reasoning during their learning-to-teach process.

Shulman claimed that clinical practice reasoning should be at the centre of powerful teacher education programs. In his day (the 1980s) he referred to it as teacher education’s ‘blind spot’. This blind spot still remains prevalent in teacher education programs today. A prioritisation of teacher pedagogical reasoning requires a recalibration of the learning-to-teach process where learners engage with approximations of practice that pose quandaries and dilemmas in the everyday practice of teaching. These sessions require facilitation and orchestration from teacher educators who are theoretically robust and practically informed about the genuine realities of current classrooms. This recalibration may stimulate a change in the teaching profession from one that generally follows waves pedagogically to one that instead charts courses.

In the in-career stage of teacher education, we are an anomaly as a jurisdiction in that we do not have a structured system for teachers to be promoted as teachers, and for teaching. Of course teaching and learning are comprehended by the middle leadership structures and senior leaders are expected to be primarily leaders of teaching and learning, but reality can often impinge on those aspirations. Pedagogical development in Ireland would benefit from a structure similar to that which educational leadership has with the Centre for School Leadership (CSL). A centre for pedagogical advancement, which would offer certification on advanced pedagogical reasoning for practicing teachers who in turn could use the certification to attain teaching promotion in school, would be a statement of seriousness by the DES in this matter. Those promoted practicing teachers would then take on an additional dual role, formally leading subject departments and in-school professional development, and being a link person between the Initial and Induction phases of teacher education. This latter role would be crucial in aligning the triumvirate of policy intent, academic theory, and in-school practice.

Throughout this explorative study, efforts were made to construct artifacts, concerned with this promotion of pedagogical development in ITE and all stages of teacher development. The resultant resources are included as appendices at the end of the study. They include a reflection of experiences on a personal journey from the transmission to constructivist teaching styles, a new framework for pedagogical reflection in the learning-to-teach process, and a planning suite to facilitate the translation of specification detailed learning outcomes into learning intentions and engaging contextualised learning experiences for young post-primary learners.

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