Teachers Resist Professional Development – 1st Article Review

When do teachers resist learning!? Why would a teacher resist learning!? Isn’t that what they ask and solicit students to do every day. Is it simple hypocrisy or is there more to it? Is it a teacher thing or just an adult thing? As I read a research article in the Journal of Teacher Education that explores the underlying causes of resistance to learning found in Professional Development, I focused on answering these questions as I am planning to conduct my own professional development workshop for teachers in the coming weeks. I would like my learners to actually enjoy the experience and benefit tremendously from it.

In the article, Studying Teachers’ Sensemaking to Investigate Teachers’ Responses to Professional Development Focused on New Standards, it begins by saying,”Teachers’ prior knowledge shapes what and how they learn from professional development (PD)”. Consequently, this necessitates a constructivist philosophical orientation of teaching in which each person has their own prior knowledge and they are constructing a particular world view that encompasses and integrates what they knew and what they learned as a result. In short, prior knowledge impacts the interest in learning new knowledge, the ability to learn that new knowledge, and how that knowledge is received or interpreted. When an instructor recognizes this, he can create the lesson or learning experience in such a way so that he can understand the dynamics of the learner, including aspects of their prior knowledge, in order to create a truly transformative learning experience and solicit and captivate the interest of the learner.

The authors, Allen and Penuel, describe ‘Sensemaking’ as an investigative process by which you analyze the connection between theory and application. The link between the two can be ambiguous and while a professional development seminar can be appear to be successful at the surface level, the application of what was taught may not come into fruition in the classroom. ‘Sensemaking’ hopes to analyze the source of ambiguity and establish coherence. “Sources of ambiguity can include the presence of conflicting goals,
contradictions or paradoxes, limited resources available to perform actions demanded of external change agents, lack of clarity with respect to roles and responsibilities, or the absence of measures for judging the success of action (Weick, 1995)’.

The research focuses on the internalization and application of Next Generation Science Standards in two schools. They argue that, depending on the school, there are a lot of hidden factors that can influence a teachers willingness to learn and implement what they have learned. One factor may be if the administration believe in the standards and the practicality. Another factor may be if the teachers believe it is feasible to do in the classroom with the resources of their particular school. They basically identify what internal conflicts exist within the learners framework so that they can address those at the root. The idea is, if you treat those issues then the PD will become actualized. The teachers in this study were followed for 16 months and their PD responses were compared with physical artifacts of their teaching. The data expressed that ‘the most prevalent sources of ambiguity and uncertainty for the teachers in this study were conflicting goals, an absence
of measures, and limited resources’.

One of the best ways to resolve such conflict, which was cited in the article, was ‘Collaboration’. Collaboration within a school and between learners allows them to hash out their internal conflicts and questions and to sometimes find that others are just as stumped as they are. Implementing NGSS is no walk in the park and requires time, experimentation, and monitoring, with some feedback and follow up. Now, no one wants to be policed or monitored so attentively because it can be nerve wrecking, however, with collaboration and good leadership, informal means of observation and follow up can be very helpful.

Simply put, 1 professional development workshop is not enough to change your life forever unless you put what you learned into practice. While many people seem to have understood and benefited from the PD, it may not be actualized in any way shape or form and this is largely due to Sensemaking. Knowing this, one must adjust their PD in such a way that addresses these issues of ambiguity and create a means of follow up and support for the learners, be it by means of formal access to the instructor, or informal methods, like a professional group for people who have taken the seminar to collaborate. There are many other ideas as well to maintain follow up engagement and resolve ambiguities. As I go on to develop seminars and professional development workshops, I’ll definitely keep this in mind, and so should you!

Allen, C. D., & Penuel, W. R. (2015). Studying Teachers’ Sensemaking to Investigate Teachers’ Responses to Professional Development Focused on New Standards. Journal of Teacher Education, 66(2), 136-149. doi:10.1177/0022487114560646

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