Self-Directed Professional Development: Success Mantra or a Myth?
Tika Ram Bhatta
EFL University, India.
Self-motivation and self-readiness are considered the sine qua non for teacher professional development since it does not just happen precipitately as soon as one gets involved in a profession. Self-directed learning therefore acts as a scaffolding device for a professional to augment his or her knowledge base and competency. Therefore, this article delineates how adoption of certain strategies assists teachers to gain professional development thereby making teachers self-directed. The strategies discussed in this article are more common to teachers teaching any subjects at any level; however, they have a great deal to do with English teachers in the Nepalese context where English is taught as a foreign language. The article begins with the introduction to professional development and self-directed learning and subsequently moves to introduce a few strategies for self-directed teacher professional development.
There are several factors that substantially enhance the knowledge base, skills, attitudes and competency of a teacher causing him or her to gain professional growth. These factors may embrace both formal and informal learning experiences which contribute to the continual enhancement and maintenance of the professional skills, competencies and experiences (Guskey, 2000). Therefore, teachers assuming the responsibility as professionals need to be equipped with motivation for continuous and career-long learning which enhances sustainable, intellectual and service-oriented maturity. In order for teaching professionals to keep abreast with change – renew and review their own knowledge, skills and attitudes – they need to involve themselves in a number of learning activities such as self-directed learning, collaborative learning, reflective practices and experiential learning. Such processes can lead them along their professional trajectory whereby they gain both vertical and horizontal professional development. However, this increment or development does not happen precipitately, instead it is a time taking process, and only happens gradually in a piecemeal approach.
Professional development, therefore, subsumes not only the facilitated learning opportunities but also self-motivation, intention, systematicity and many other relevant factors. In order to sensitize professional development in teachers, they should, therefore, be encouraged to incorporate conditions of specialized knowledge, self-regulation, autonomous performance and a large dose of responsibility (Darling-Hammond & Berry, 1988) for learner welfare. Teachers, among all the stakeholders, are the only on-stage actors whose behaviour directly affects learners’ progress and accountability. Learner accountability can be strengthened only if teachers are imbued with spontaneous and self-motivated readiness to assume their responsibility for their own learning and development as lifelong learners (Knowles, 1975; Dickinson, 1987). Teacher learning, in the pursuit of their professional development, is, therefore a cornerstone in their career path. In this respect, teachers look back at their past activities and compare them with those of present and bring necessary changes in their behaviour and thereby they update their knowledge, skills and attitudes. Therefore, teacher professional development is a self-reflective process (Head & Taylor, 1997), and it extensively demands the use of self-directed professional development strategies so that teachers not only become professionally sound but also near themselves to achieve true professionalism.
The use of strategies coupled with intrinsic motivation is momentous in developing a language teacher as a self-directed learner because strategies are the specific action plans (Oxford, 1990) which essentially help teachers grow as true professionals thereby teacher-learners become teachers par excellence. Such strategies can be both self-initiated and learnt from others. Self-initiated strategies may differ from person to person. However, some strategies of language teacher development such as developing teaching portfolios, peer observation and journal writing are commonplace strategies that teachers can adopt as self-directed strategies for their professional development. In this sense, self-directed learning corroborates lifelong learning which edifies language teachers about becoming dynamic and informed adults. Self-directed learning therefore is both a crucial gateway and an essential strategy for lifelong learning (Harvey et al, 2003).
1.2 Self-directed Learning
Self-direction, according to Dickinson (1987), “refers to a particular attitude towards learning, one in which … the learner is prepared to take responsibility for his own learning” (p. 12). Guglielmino (2008) further clarifies self-direction in learning stating that it “can occur in a wide variety of situations, ranging from a teacher-directed classroom to self-planned and self-conducted learning projects developed in response to personal or workplace interests or needs and conducted independently or collaboratively” (p. 1). Therefore, the self-directed learner, as Dickinson (1987) states, is one who retains responsibility for the planning, decision making and implementation of the decisions throughout the period of learning. It does not necessarily entail that the learner is autonomous but it can be done by joining a formal course too. Knowles et al (2005) state that there are two dimensions of self-directed learning prevalent in the literature: self-teaching and autodidaxy. They say that “self-directed learning is seen as self-teaching, whereby learners are capable of taking control of the mechanics and techniques of teaching themselves in a particular subject … [and it] is conceived of as personal autonomy, which Candy (1991) calls autodidaxy” (p. 185-86).
Brockett and Hiemstra (1991), on the other hand, state that “self-direction in learning is a way of life” (p. 16). However, they further argue that it has been misinterpreted by some people. For example, it has been equated with self-planned learning, self-teaching, autonomous learning, independent study and distance education. But all these terms vary and are subtly different from each other. The early view of self-education is that it was thought to have been denoted as an achievement made by a learner without a teacher. Therefore, it needs to be taken as a lifelong perspective. This means that learning takes place across the entire lifespan. This can be made clear by comparing it with the formal education being acquired in the institution where the learner has no control over the objectives or means of their learning but in self-directed learning learners control both the objective and the means. In other words, self-education occurs outside of formal institutions but self-directed learning can occur within the formal setting too. Self-directed learning, according to Knowles (1975), describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies and evaluating learning outcomes.
Self-direction in learning can be taken as an umbrella concept because it refers to “activities where primary responsibility for planning, carrying out and evaluating a learning endeavour is assumed by the individual learner” (Brocket, 1983b, p. 16 as quoted in Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 24). It refers to a process in which a learner assumes primary responsibility for planning implementing, and evaluating the learning process where an education agent or resource often plays a facilitating role in the process. It centres on a learner’s desire or preference for assuming responsibility for learning. Therefore, self-direction in learning refers to both the external characteristics of an instructional process and the internal characteristics of the learner where the individual assumes primary responsibility for a learning experience.
In this sense, the self-directed learner is one who takes responsibility for the management of his or her own learning being autonomous in all the processes without assistance. Self-directed learning, as Dickinson (1987) posits, is an attitude of mind towards learning rather than any particular techniques or activities. Self-directed adults are more frequent but are probably still a minority of learners. However, “it is not the case for the school children that they are the paragons of virtue who will learn a language unaided, but that it is possible to teach them to be self-directed” (Dickinson, 1987, p. 5). He further states that Self-directed learners have many of the qualities of good language learners. So, by promoting self-directed learning one is improving proficiency in learning in general and language learning in particular. The manifestation of self-directed learning differs according to the context, i.e. how far the context has been especially arranged to allow self-direction. Self-directed learning very well fits with autonomy individualized instruction auto didaxy and self-access. The distinction between them is made by their focus upon a learner or the material. Autonomy is one possibility within self-directed learning in which the learner undertakes all of the management tasks associated with his own learning.
1.3 Self-directed Professional development
Professional development is a process of continuous growth of teacher professionalism and behaviour which they gain by actively participating in various programmes, activities, conferences and workshops, designed in order to enhance their knowledge, skills, competency and attitude, both individually and in groups. Therefore, in many countries like Nepal, a number of days of work for teachers are included in the operation calendar of the school for developing teachers professionally with no loss of instructional days for students. During these days, teachers are provided with trainings, seminars, workshops and many other professional development activities in order to hone their skills, improve practice, and stay up-to-date with changes related to teaching and learning. However, self-directed professional development not only provides an opportunity to determine his/her own learning goals but also helps to identify activities and resources required to pursue these activities. It also helps teachers to reflect on their learning experiences in order to augment their own professional expertise. The well-planned and continual self-directed professional development yields more effective professional learning than one-shot workshops and conferences. Teachers, since they have intrinsically initiated such activities of development, get involved in them wholeheartedly thereby recognizing the necessity of continuous learning and reflective practice.
Self-directed professional development enhances teacher self-reflection whereby teachers have control over their professional experiences and are motivated by tasks or problems that they find meaningful. Because teachers are already aware of their strengths as well as needs, they create a self-directed professional development plan for them. These plans can be meant to be fluid, with the ability to grow and change over the course of the professional life in response to experiences and opportunities encountered. Self-directed professional development activities may include both collaborative and entirely individual activities whereby teachers, with or without the consultation of teacher educators attempt to diagnose their needs and solve them by themselves. The other forms of self-directed professional development activities may include action research, collaborative learning teams, peer mentoring and coaching relationships or lesson studies. In this way, self-directed professional activities are listless. It can include professional reading or the discussions with colleagues or may be attending conferences either being a sponsor teacher or mentoring a beginning teacher. The development of innovative programmes for use in the classroom either individually or by joining a teacher-research-group can also be coupled with exploring resources through internet in order to hone their professional knowledge and skills. Teachers can also participate in curriculum development they can write a subject related course or maybe they can visit the subject related bookstore or a university library and the like.
Self-directed professional development encourages self-reflection, commitment and responsibility with higher motivational attitudes and thereby increases staff satisfaction. Since teachers are cognizant of their needs and strengths, and also they have freedom to interpret and pursue interests and what they consider important, it increases contingencies of personal responsibility for their ongoing professional development. The role of the institution, administrators, supervisors, teacher educators is also crucial in this respect. They should facilitate the teachers with whatever the way it is feasible for them because objective feedback is an important gateway for successful acquisition of self-directed professional growth. Pierce and Hunsaker (1996) described self-directed professional development as a model of professional development for the teacher, of the teacher and by the teacher. This model is known as the School Innovation Through Teacher Interaction (SITTI) model. In this model the teachers agree on how they would like the school to look and be then they complete a needs assessment involving administrators in the process in order to decide on who will be the experts (from within the school) on the topics chosen to work on, and elect people as team members who will participate in peer coaching. Subsequently, the team experts develop a module to address the needs and topics chosen by all those involved. However, this model has not yet found practiced. Easton (1999) described a model self-directed professional development as “tuning protocols” which was developed by David Allen and Joseph McDonald. In this model, “a teacher presents actual work before a group of thoughtful ‘critical friends’ in a structured, reflective discourse aimed at ‘tuning’ the work to higher standards” (Allen, 1995, p. 2 in Easton, 1999, p. 54), and after discussing with the group of colleagues all the positive and challenging aspects of the work, the presenter reflects on how the work could be improved.
1.4 Strategies for Self-directed Professional development
The word ‘strategy’ is derived from the ancient Greek term ‘strategia’, which means the art of leading an army in a planned campaign of the optimal management of troops. Therefore, it implies that the basic characteristics of the term strategy involve planning, competition, conscious manipulation, and movement toward a goal (Oxford, 1990). However, “[i]n a nonmilitary settings, the strategy concept has been applied to clearly nonadversarial situations, where it has come to mean a plan, step, or conscious action toward achievement of an objective” (Oxford, 1990, p. 8). Strategies have been “transformed into learning strategies” (ibid) in the educational setting. Oxford (1990) enumerated twelve features of language learning strategies, most of which can be incorporated into strategies of teacher learning as well. According to her, language learning strategies:
1. Contribute to the main goal, communicative competence.
2. Allow learners to become more self-directed.
3. Expand the role of teachers.
4. Are problem-oriented.
5. Are specific actions taken by the learner.
6. Involve many aspects of the learner, not just the cognitive.
7. Support learning both directly and indirectly.
8. Are not always observable.
9. Are often conscious.
10. Can be taught.
11. Are flexible.
12. Are influenced by a variety of factors.
The aforementioned features of learning strategies encourage greater overall self-direction for learners and, therefore, are applicable in adult learning as well. For instance, the learning teachers, in particular EFL teachers, have to deal with peculiar situations in the classrooms, also known as critical incidents, and they have to act quickly where they do not get any support of others like trainers and they should find the way out by themselves and hence use strategies for the solution or it can be that they want to develop themselves for achieving greater professional augmentation. Adult learners are self-directed because they seek out learning activities to enhance their own knowledge in order to meet their needs. Besides, the adult learner wants to draw on their rich personal and professional experiences. If the learners are involved in their learning rather than becoming merely passive participants they are more likely to master the information or concepts presented, apply them to their practice, and retain the information presented. Self-directed activities include a variety of activities before, during and after the learning experience to engage the participant in active learning. Self-direction, according to Oxford (1990), “is often a gradually increasing phenomenon, growing as learners become more comfortable with the idea of their own responsibility” (p. 10). This assists them to gradually gain greater confidence, involvement, and proficiency. Overall she talks about such strategies as cognitive, memory, compensation, metacognitive, affective and social strategies that a language learner employs while learning a language. However, Richards and Farrell (2005) examined that teacher learning has been shifted towards self-directed, more democratic and participatory forms of teacher development from an authoritarian organizational structure in schools shifting responsibility for professional development from managers and supervisors to teachers themselves. Similarly, the power of experiential learning and action-based learning has also been recognized in today’s teaching-learning environment and this has given rise to self-direction.
Wallace (1991) emphasizes the use of self-directed strategies stating that teachers ought to be encouraged to become ‘reflective practitioners’ and thereby self evaluation takes place and the teachers can become cognizant of their professional competence. He stated that “teachers should be flexible, capable of further independent study, able to solve problems in a rational way, able to combine speed of response with depth of understanding” (Wallace, 1991, p. 26). Richards and Farrell (2005) discussed the strategies of teacher professional development. These strategies include: “self-monitoring, journal writing, critical incidents, teaching portfolios and action research” (Richards & Farrell, 2005, p. 14) each of which is discussed below.
Self-monitoring is a strategy that a teacher can adopt for his or her professional development. Self-monitoring in teaching involves having a teacher record his or her teaching behaviour for the future reference so that he or she can go through it for self-appraisal. Self-monitoring can make the teachers aware of their current knowledge, skills and attitudes as a basis for self-evaluation. Teachers can therefore collect information regarding their classroom behaviour for future reference to bring about necessary changes. Richards and Farrell (2005) stated that self-monitoring refers to “activities in which information about one’s teaching is documented or recorded in order to review or evaluate teaching” (p. 34). According to them, there are three approaches to self-monitoring of language lessons: lesson reports, audio-recording a lesson, and video-recording a lesson. Self-monitoring provides an opportunity in order not only to better understand one’s teaching but also to review one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Therefore, a teacher, especially an EFL teacher, should garner information about teaching behaviour and practices objectively and systematically such that this information can act as a basis for making decisions about whether there is anything that should be changed.
Larsen-Freeman (1983, p. 266) further explicated Richards and Farrell’s view saying that teachers need the heightened awareness, a positive attitude and knowledge in order to make informed choices about their teaching. She stated that:
I cannot make an informed choice unless I am aware that one exists. Awareness requires that I give attention to some aspect of my behaviour or the situation I find myself in. Once I give that aspect my attention, I must also view it with detachment, with objectivity, for only then will I become aware of alternative ways of behaving, or alternative ways of viewing the situation, and only then will I have a choice to make. (Larsen-Freeman, 1983, p. 266 as quoted in Bailey et al, 2001, p. 23).
Similarly, self-monitoring or self-observation embodies a systematic approach to the observation, evaluation, and management of one’s own behaviour (Armstrong & Frith, 1984; Richards, 1995) in order to gain better understanding and control over the behaviour. According to Richards (1995) “self-monitoring refers to the teacher making a record of a lesson, either in the form of a written account or an audio or video recording of a lesson, and using the information obtained as a source of feedback on his or her teaching” (p. 118). According to him, self-monitoring not only complements but also replaces other forms of assessment, such as feedback from students, peer, or supervisors. Richards stated that “it can help teachers in at least four ways” (ibid, p. 119). First, the amount of time available for professional development is quite short when compared to the length of our teaching careers, even though professional development should ideally continue throughout our teaching lives. Second, self-monitoring can lead to critical reflection about the work. Third, it can help the teachers to better understand their own instructional process and thereby bridging the gap between what we actually do and what we think we do. Finally, it relocates the responsibility for improving teaching squarely with teachers as an individual.
Richards and Farrell (2005, p. 38-47) present some of the procedures that teachers can employ in order to carry out self-monitoring in their pursuit of professional growth. They say that teachers can prepare lesson reports or a written narrative to record the incidents that have taken place in the classroom. According to them a lesson report serves as a way of documenting such observations as a source of future learning. Similarly, a written narrative consists of a descriptive summary of the lesson, which a teacher can go through later and make improvements in the necessary areas. Audio and video recording of the lesson or the use of checklist and questionnaires can also help teachers to make a record of the account of the classroom activities.
Dickinson (1987) also talks about the self-monitoring as an effective self-measurement device. According to him, the learner can become self-directed by keeping records of his or her own progress. It can be in the form of simple checklist of the items covered or it may include a self-rating scale on each item.
1.4.2 Journal Writing
In the pursuit of their professional development, teachers can keep a teaching journal as an effective device. Richards and Farrell (2005) explained that a teaching journal is “an ongoing written account of observations, reflections, and other thoughts about teaching, usually in the form of a notebook, book, or electronic mode, which serves as a source of discussion, reflection, or evaluation” (p. 68). Such journals are sometimes called teaching logs or teaching diaries, and, can be used as an important reflective device or the self-directed strategy for the professional development of a teacher. Journals are more elaborate and systematically written in their nature and therefore can work as an aid to “reflection on action” (Schon, 1983). A teaching journal enables the teachers to go back and see their thinking whereby creating a lasting record of thoughts that provides evidence of the teachers’ self-development. According to Blake (2005, p. 2), the goals and benefits of journaling include: “ (1) discovering meaning, (2) caring for self, (3) making connections, (4) installing values, (5) gaining perspectives, (6) reflecting on professional roles, (7) developing critical thinking skills, (8) developing affective skills, and (9) improving writing” (Blake, 2005, p. 2 as quoted in Utley, 2011, p. 92). Utley (2011) also stated that “[r]eflective journaling also provides an avenue for integrative learning experiences” (p. 93). According to her, integrative learning expands the concept of critical thinking.
The teaching journal provides a record of the significant learning experiences that have taken place. Equally, it helps teachers to keep themselves abreast with the self-development processes that have been taking place for them. The journal also provides an opportunity to foster a creative interaction between the novice teachers and the facilitator or more importantly it increases collegiality among colleagues if it is done by the experienced teachers and finally proves to be useful in their self-development process.
Richards and Farrell (2005) explicated that “Journal writing enables a teacher to keep a record of classroom events and observations” (p. 69) without which teachers hardly make substantial recollection of what happened during the lesson. They say that the experience of successful teaching can be the source for further learning. It opens up the way for a teacher to question, explore, and analyze how teachers teach. It not only serves as a device to demystify their own thinking but also clears the way for exploring their own beliefs and practices. Journal writing, in this way, offers a simple way to conscientize teachers about their teaching and learning whereby teachers gain growth and development in their profession.
Bailey et al (2001) highlighted that journal writing paves the way in furthering professional development and thereby offering an opportunity to view teaching more clearly. It not only helps teachers to explore teachers’ own teaching practices but also proves useful at probing the sources of frustrations.
Similarly, Dowrick (2007) stated that journal writing is a “gloriously self-directed source of inner development, yet it also makes the world beyond your own self more real and more vivid” (p. 2). According to her, a journal can become a companion that supports without any assessment. It can be a source of discovery, of learning, emotional relief and insight. Similarly, Stevens and Cooper (2009) define journal as a “sequential, dated chronicle of events and ideas, which includes the personal responses and reflections of the writer (or writers) on those events and ideas” (p. 5). According to them a journal has six defining characteristics that: the journal is written, dated, informal, flexible, private and archival. The journal appears in the written form consisting of information, ideas, thoughts, and questions and the like. All the journal entries are dated in a sequential order and are usually informal. Thus, teachers can write whatever they feel like in their journals because it is private and for a personal use such that they can archive information in the later phases as required.
1.4.3 Analyzing Critical Incidents
A critical incident is something we interpret as a problem or a challenge in a particular context, rather than a routine occurrence. It is a short description of an event that has taken place over a certain period of time. It can happen to anyone and anywhere in a real-life situation too. The incident is critical because it is important, essential or valuable in a way that it has some meaning. Critical incidents are based on real-life situations and typically involve a dilemma where there is no easy or obvious solution. The objective of critical incidents is to stimulate thinking about basic and important issues which occur in real-life situations. Tripp (1993) stated that “… a critical incident is an interpretation of the significance of an event. To take something as a critical incident is a value judgement we make, and the basis of that judgement is the significance we attach to the meaning of the incident” (p. 8). Tripp believes that incidents happen but critical incidents are created because of their importance. Therefore, for Tripp any lesson can be critically analysed and a particular event made critical by our reflection on it. In making incidents critical, one needs to ask not only what happened but also why it happened. This should then be situationalized for the future reference.
Critical incident in teaching refers to a particular occurrence that has taken place during a lesson. Teachers make it critical because they think it important and want to utilize it for future reference. Richards and Farrell (2005) stated that “a critical incident is an unplanned and unanticipated event that occurs during a lesson and that serves to trigger insights about some aspect of teaching and learning” (p. 113). They say that critical incident analysis refers to the documentation and analysis of teaching incidents in order to learn from them and improve practice. Such incidents compel teachers to ruminate the long-term implications they may have. This process of documentation and reflection provide opportunity for teachers “to learn more about their teaching, their learners, and themselves” (ibid, p. 114). Like Tripp (1993), Richards and Farrell (2005) also opine that the majority of critical incidents that happen in classrooms are commonplace events that are critical in the sense that they reveal underlying beliefs or motives within the classroom. At the first appearance, these incidents seem to be insignificant but soon they become critical when they are subject to review and analysis since they trigger a sense of weird occurrence in that particular situation.
Brookfield (2006) emphasizes the use of critical incident questionnaire (CIQ) in order to identify the feelings of the students regarding teaching out of which teachers can identify which incident is critical and which is not from the words of students. This activity can assist teachers to deal with similar incidents in the future. Brookfield (2006) stated that CIQ is a “quick and revealing way to discover the effects your actions are having on students and to find out the emotional highs and lows of their learning” (p. 41). Administering CIQ, according to him, is just a five-minute activity. The students are asked to write the answers to a few questions without putting their name on the form. If they do not know the answer, they can also leave the space blank. This is done on a weekly basis.
1.4.4 Teaching Portfolios
Teaching portfolios, often known as dossiers, are compilation of teaching materials and related documents that teachers employ during teaching and learning processes. Portfolios serve as tools for reflection, a way to thoughtfully document teaching practices and progress toward goals. Portfolio entries can inform professional growth plans. As actual artefacts of teaching, portfolios help teachers to systematically ponder over their practice, reflect on the problems they face, and learn from their experience. They provide direct evidence of what teachers have accomplished. Richards and Farrell (2005) defined teaching portfolio as “a collection of documents and other items that provides information about different aspects of a teacher’s work” (p. 98). The teaching portfolio not only exposes the teachers’ performance description but also facilitates professional development by providing a basis for reflection and review. The portfolios reveal how creative, resourceful, and effective the teachers are. They can also become the source of review and reflection and also they can promote collaborative work as well.
Teaching portfolio has been defined variously by various authors. According to Porter and Cleland (1995) teaching portfolio is “a collection of artifacts accompanied by a reflective narrative that not only helps the learner to understand and extend learning, but invites the reader of the portfolio to gain insight about learning and the learner” (p. 154). Similarly, Stronge (1997, p. 194) stated that “In its most basic form, a teaching portfolio is a collection of information about a teacher’s practice”. Seldin et al (2010) explicated that teaching portfolios offers an opportunity to reflect upon the teachers’ work and thereby they rethink strategies and methodologies, revise priorities, and plan for the future. Consequently, teachers get stimulated to hone and to improve their performance in a better way. They stated that:
A portfolio is a valuable aid in professional development for three important reasons: (1) the level of personal investment in time, energy, and commitment is high … and that is a necessary condition for change; (2) preparation of the portfolio stirs many … [teachers] to reflect on their teaching in an insightful, refocused way; and (3) it is grounded in discipline-based pedagogy. (Seldin et al, 2010, p. 8)
Portfolios offer a lot of opportunities for teachers for executing exercise of reflection. Therefore, apparently, portfolios and reflections go hand in hand. However, building automatized reflective skills is an arduous job; it requires huge patience in order to make reflection more natural. In this way, the most important use of portfolio is for self-reflection. Self-reflection encourages teachers to review their activities, strategies, and plans for their futures too. Broadly, the habit of keeping teaching portfolios empowers teachers with reflective strategies to help understand themselves as learners. Kerr (1999) explicated that portfolios are all about growing a person as learner. He said that “portfolio documents your growth in three areas: developing self-awareness, managing emotions, and building relationships” (p. 23). He further expounds that portfolio is all about both learning and making commitments.
1.4.5 Action Research
The application of research to educational problems in a particular classroom setting is known as action research. It is carried out not for the development of a theory or the generalization of the applications but it is done for the immediate application in order to find the solution of the problem. Therefore, it refers to “teacher-conducted classroom research” (Richards and Farrell, 2005, p. 171) that attempts to solve practical problems. Many teachers- whether deliberately or inadvertently- involve in conducting action research in their day-to-day classroom activities when they have to tackle a problem. Thus it is a crucial tool for a teacher for his or her self-development. Action research is, typically, a reflective process that allows for inquiry and discussion as a component of the research. Therefore, it also involves a cycle of activities such as problem identification, information collection, strategic plan, implementation of the plan and reviewing of the executed plan. Best and Kahn (2007) explicated that action research applies “scientific thinking and methods to real-life problems and represents a great improvement over teachers’ subjective judgements and decisions based on folklore and limited personal experiences” (p. 20).
The goal of action research is to improve the teaching and learning environment enabling teachers’ growth. Usually, action research is conducted in a small scale both individually and collaboratively. Rather than dealing with the theoretical aspects, action research allows practitioners to address those concerns that are closest to them, ones over which they can exhibit some influence and make change. Individual teacher research usually focuses on a single issue in the classroom or the teacher’s individual problems related to his or her professional development. The teacher, in this sense, may be seeking solutions to problems of classroom management, instructional strategies, use of materials, or student learning or his or her own professional development issues. Carr and Kemmis (1986) define action research as a “form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices and the situations in which the practices are carried out” (p. 162 as cited in Burns, 1999, p. 30). This critical definition of action research- though reflective in nature- goes beyond classroom to society. It may therefore have some connection with the unexamined aspects of educational system rather than investigating the immediate practices. Therefore, action research being a reflective practice follows a cyclical process of planning, action, observation and reflection in which if the outcome is negative then this process begins again with a new hypothesis.
Nevertheless, like many other researchers, Burns (1999) prefers action research to be a highly collaborative practice. She has presented “not so much of the cyclical processes of doing an action research but a series of interrelated experiences involving the following phases: exploring, identifying, planning, collecting data, analysing/reflective, hypothesising/ speculating, intervening, observing, reporting, writing, presenting” (p.35). Thus, action research can also be a collaborative activity among colleagues searching for solutions to everyday real problems experienced in schools, or looking for ways to improve instruction for better student-achievement. Additionally, it helps to develop professionalism among teachers should they be involved constantly in researching and educating themselves about their expertise. However, this is different from the study of more educational questions that arise from the practice of teaching.
Collaborative action research differs from the individual teacher research in that the individual teacher-researcher may not prefer sharing the outcomes and the processes with the others like colleagues or the principals. He or she may not go for a formal presentation of the outcomes or submit written material to a listserv, journal or a newsletter. The findings may not be publicized. On the other hand, collaborative action research is done to address a common problem or an issue shared by two or several colleagues; the outcome of which is later shared and discussed. There may be a discussion during the research too regarding the issues that they come across. Therefore, action research- whether it is carried out individually or may be done collaboratively- can become a form of professional development because research and reflection allows teachers to grow and gain confidence in their work. Action research projects influence thinking skills, sense of efficacy, willingness to share and communicate and attitudes toward the process of change. Through action research, teachers not only learn about themselves and their students but also about their colleagues and administrators and the other concerned authorities such that it assists them to determine ways to continually improve. If done collaboratively, it allows time for teachers to talk with others about teaching and teaching and learning strategies. In this sense, they can share their teaching styles, strategies and thoughts with others. In this way, action research can provide teachers with opportunities to evaluate themselves in schools. It serves as a chance to take a look at one’s own teaching in a structured manner. Teachers can investigate the effect of their teaching upon their students.
To sum up, the professionals possess knowledge and competence acquired from highly specialized training and formal education. Professionals have respect and trust of community and peers that leads to a degree of autonomy and self-direction. In this way, they hold a set of moral as well as ethical values that allow the performance of the job to become more service-oriented. Various types of people engage in professional development, including teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, pilots and the like. These individuals often have a desire for career longevity and personal growth. They are, therefore, willing to undergo the necessary training to obtain these goals. Teachers, as professionals, therefore, go through the process of reflection to examine where they are and where they want to be in order to gain professional development. This is indeed an ongoing process.
Teacher professional development, being a self-reflective process extensively demands the use of self-directed development strategies to keep teachers abreast with the changes such that teachers not only become professionally sound but also near themselves to achieve true professionalism. Strategies such as self-monitoring and journal writing are essential wheels for driving teachers towards the realm of self-directed professionalism. Self-direction is highly found in technical field such as medicine in most of the parts of the world. However, this can add a new dimension if practiced in teaching and learning in the Nepalese context because of the barriers that relinquish teachers from attending training and other professional development activities. Self-directed learning is entirely a new phenomenon in the Nepalese education system. If the concerned stakeholders pay attention to self-directed learning, the gap that has been created in the professionalization of teaching, particularly in ELT, can then be filled in easily.
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