Teachers’ professional development at VET – reflections in professional learning communities

Henriette Skjærbæk Duch, Karen Andreasen

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftAbstraktForskningpeer review


Introduction As described by educational researcher and theorist Andy Hargreaves, communication, dialogue, and reflection are some of the key factors in teachers’ professional development and therefore also play an important role in school improvement. Recent decades have been characterized by constant and extensive demands for changes in VET education in most European countries (e.g. Cedefop, 2019). In particular, the situation in Danish VET has been characterized by reforms requiring teachers to change their teaching and pedagogy as well as their understanding of the students and the academic content (Regeringen mfl., 2018; Regeringen, 2014). Teachers in Danish VET are met with high demands in adapting their pedagogy and practice to meet the requirements of such new legislations, new pedagogical ideas, and new ways of teaching and cooperating with colleagues. However, the everyday life of teachers in Danish VET is also characterized by business and a lack of time; in other words, teachers are often not left much time to reflect on their practice or on how to implement the required changes. This condition thus represents a challenge to the success of implementing such changes. In this presentation, we will address the question of how to create environments to support teachers’ reflection and their professional development in VET. The presentation focuses on findings from a research project related to development work carried out in 2018–2019 at a Danish social and healthcare college. The aim of the development work in question was to support and create space for teachers’ reflection, learning, and professional development. This was done by implementing activities based on the idea of professional learning communities (Albrechtsen, 2010; Hargreaves & O’Connor, 2018; Marzano et al., 2016; Wenger, 2004). However, as described by Andy Hargreaves, implementing professional learning communities can also be challenging. For example, Hargreaves argues that forced change can have a negative impact on motivation (Hargreaves & O’Connor, 2018; Hargreaves, 1998). He points out that teaching is not only an intellectual or cognitive phenomenon but something that educators engage with and therefore respond to emotionally when they experience pressured working conditions and stressful conditions for realizing change requirements. This can cause demotivation and a loss of commitment and joy, which can occur if teachers are not given the necessary conditions for change (Hargreaves, 1998). It creates inefficiencies as well as poor conditions for skills development. From October 2018 to April 2019, the project in question created room for teachers’ development in teams of 15 at a Danish social and healthcare college. Six meetings of 2 and 4 hours were held for the team. These included teacher activities with exercises and reflective dialogues about the development of pedagogy, with a special focus on differentiation. The cooperation in groups was based on democratic processes and forms of dialogue (Madsen, 2010). The content of the joint meetings was developed in an ongoing dialogue with the management, and teachers. Based on our experiences with the project, the paper discuss and analyses what characterizes a professional learning environment and what plays a role for professional development. Using empirical data from the project, we take a closer look at the challenges and contradictions that appear in such processes. The theoretical framework is inspired by Andy Hargreaves’ discussions of professional learning environments (Hargreaves & O’Connor, 2018; Hargreaves & O’Connor, 2017; Thompson et al., 2004). It incorporates research data from the development project, which includes teaching observations and interviews with the participants. Methods The project was designed as an action research project. The teachers and leaders participated with an interest in improving their pedagogy and trying to understand the problems and challenges of implementing pedagogical changes to their teaching (Dick, 2015; Wilson, 2016; Rowell & Hong, 2017). Thus, it was designed to support their involvement and influence on the activities of the project (Brydon-Miller & Aragón, 2018). The research is inspired by ethnography, and the data are collected using qualitative methods. These included observations of the participating teachers when they were planning their teaching and activities in their teams and teachers when they were teaching in their classes in VET (Dick, 2015). During observations, field notes were taken. These were shared with the observed teachers, who commented on them, and the observations formed the basis of dialogues with the participating teachers about their interests and shared reflections on what was observed. Some of the teachers also used the field notes more specifically in relation to the improvement and development of their teaching. In observing teaching, the observer took a position without participation (full observer position), whereas in relation to meetings and joint planning, the position varied between full participation and full observer (Gold, 1958). During the 7 months of the research project, the observer regularly visited the school, thereby gaining a broad knowledge of the school and its culture. Activities by the end of the course included focus group interviews, with the team divided into two groups with six participants in each, in order to discuss their experiences of the course’s activities and the strengths and challenges of this in their professional development. In addition, three managers from the school were interviewed: a staff manager for the team, another manager at the same level, and a manager with a more senior management function (Barbour, 2007). The data from the research formed the basis of an analysis, and certain findings from this analysis led to further reflections that are particularly focused on in this presentation. Conclusion The analysis of the empirical data revealed that the teachers needed environments that supported and allowed them more time and space for professional reflection with colleagues. Reflections take time and require that you do not feel under pressure in order to, for instance, prepare for the next lesson, make an important phone call, attend a meeting, etc. A very high degree of diversity was observed regarding the themes and issues the individual teachers raised and wished to discuss. Thus, designing a learning space that matched all participants’ needs also required a high degree of influence and democracy (Rowell & Hong, 2017). However, the analysis also showed that the activities carried out created a framework and space for development and learning in a professional community for the participants. The activities initiated formed a context that supported many types of reflections, which the observations also showed resulted in specific changes. For instance, it supported teachers’ development of new understandings of the students and of their own teaching, which created or initiated changes in their educational practices. Thus, it supported processes of professional development. On the other hand, it also became clear that the teachers’ experience of continuously being exposed to demands for change is not only in itself perceived as extremely demanding but can also cause emotional reactions and may lead to barrier to changes and improvements. Such processes are important to address and can be prevented by ensuring that educators have the necessary space for reflections and for professional development to take place. The project was based on Hargreaves’ ideas of what he calls second-generation PLCs, which we, on the basis of the analysis’ findings, also make some further reflections on. References Albrechtsen, T. (2010). Professionelle læringsfællesskaber: - en vision for danske skoler? Dansk pædagogisk tidsskrift, 2010(3), 84–92. Barbour, R. S. (2007). Doing focus groups. Los Angeles, Calif.; London: SAGE. Retrieved at http://SRMO.sagepub.com/view/doing-focus-groups/SAGE.xml Brydon-Miller, M. & Aragón A. O. (2018). The 500 hats of the action researcher. In Bilfeldt, A.; Jørgensen, M. S.; Andersen, J & Perry K. A. Den ufærdige fremtid – Aktionsforskningens potentialer og udfordringer. Aalborg Universitetsforlag. Cedefop (2019). The changing nature and role of vocational education and training in Europe. Volume 7, VET from a lifelong learning perspective: continuing VET concepts, providers and participants in Europe 1995-2015. EU Publications, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2019 Dick, B. (2015). Reflections on the SAGE Encyclopedia of Action Research and what it says about action research and its methodologies, Action Research, 13(4), 431-444. Gold, R. L. (1958). Roles in sociological field observations. Social Forces, 36(3), 217–223. Hargreaves, Andy & O’connor, Michael T. (2017). Cultures of professional collaboration: their origins and opponents. In: Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 19 April 2017, Vol.2(2), pp.74-85 Hargreaves, Andy & O’connor, Michael T. (2018). Collaborative Professionalism: When Teaching Together Means Learning for All. Corwin Impact Leadership Series, June 2018. Hargreaves, A. (1998) The Emotions of Teaching and Educational Change. In: Hargreaves A., Lieberman A., Fullan M., Hopkins D. (eds) International Handbook of Educational Change. Kluwer International Handbooks of Education, vol 5. Springer, Dordrecht https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-011-4944-0_28 Marzano, R., Heflebower, T., Hoegh, Warrick, p. Grift, G (2016). Næste skridt i professionelle læringsfællesskaber. Dafolo. Regeringen mfl. (2014). Aftale om Bedre og mere attraktive erhvervsuddannelser (2014). Aftaletekst mellem Regeringen (Socialdemokraterne og Radikale Venstre), Venstre, Dansk Folkeparti, Socialistisk Folkeparti, Konservative Folkeparti og Liberal Alliance. Regeringen, Socialdemokratiet, Dansk Folkeparti, Radikale Venstre, Socialistisk Folkeparti (2018). Fra folkeskole til faglært – erhvervsuddannelser til fremtiden. Rowell L.L., Hong E. (2017) Knowledge Democracy and Action Research: Pathways for the Twenty-First Century. In: Rowell L., Bruce C., Shosh J., Riel M. (eds) The Palgrave International Handbook of Action Research. Palgrave Macmillan, New York Thompson, S. 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StatusUdgivet - 2020
BegivenhedECER 2020 Glasgow: Educational Research (Re)connecting Communities - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Storbritannien
Varighed: 25 aug. 202028 aug. 2020


KonferenceECER 2020 Glasgow
LokationUniversity of Glasgow


  • Uddannelse, professioner og erhverv
  • PLF
  • professionelle læringfællesskaber


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