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Approaching professional learning: What teachers want

Article (PDF Available) inMathematics Enthusiast 11(1):109-122 · February 2014with246 Reads
Abstract
Teachers do not come to professional learning opportunities as blank slates. Instead, they come to these settings with a complex collection of wants and needs. The research presented here takes a closer look at these wants across five different professional learning settings distilling form the data a taxonomy of five categories of wants that teachers may approach professional learning with. The resultant taxonomy, as well as teachers behaviours vis-à-vis this taxonomy indicate that we need to rethink our role as facilitators within these settings as well as the role that single workshops can play in the professional learning of teachers. © The Author(s) & Dept. of Mathematical Sciences-The University of Montana.
TME, vol11, no.1, p 109
The Mathematics Enthusiast
, ISSN 1551-3440, Vol. 11, no.1, pp. 109-122
2014©The Author(s) & Dept. of Mathematical Sciences-The University of Montana
Approaching Professional Learning: What teachers want
Peter Liljedahl1
Simon Fraser University, Canada
Abstract: Teachers do not come to professional learning opportunities as blank slates. Instead,
they come to these settings with a complex collection of wants and needs. The research presented
here takes a closer look at these wants across five different professional learning settings distilling
form the data a taxonomy of five categories of wants that teachers may approach professional
learning with. The resultant taxonomy, as well as teachers behaviours vis-à-vis this taxonomy
indicate that we need to rethink our role as facilitators within these settings as well as the role that
single workshops can play in the professional learning of teachers.
Keywords: Teacher beliefs; Mathematics teacher professional development; Taxonomy of teacher
wants
Introduction
Current research on mathematics teachers and the professional development of mathematics
teachers can be sorted into three main categories: content, method, and effectiveness. The first of
these categories, content, is meant to capture all research pertaining to teachers' knowledge and
beliefs including teachers' mathematical content knowledge, both as a discipline (Ball, 2002; Davis
& Simmt, 2006) and as a practice (Hill, Ball, & Schilling, 2008). Recently, this research has been
dominated by a focus on the mathematical knowledge teachers need for teaching (Ball & Bass,
2000; Ball, Hill, & Bass, 2005; Davis & Simmt, 2006; Hill, Rowan, & Ball, 2005) and how this
knowledge can be developed within preservice and inservice teachers. Also included in this
category is research on teachers' beliefs about mathematics and the teaching and learning of
mathematics and how such beliefs can be changed within the preservice and inservice setting
(Liljedahl, 2010a, 2007; Liljedahl, Rolka, Rösken, 2007). Some of the conclusions from this
research speaks to the observed discontinuities between teachers' knowledge/beliefs and their
practice (Cooney, 1985; Karaagac & Threlfall, 2004; Skott, 2001; Wilson & Cooney, 2002) and, as
a result, calls into question the robustness and authenticity of these knowledge/beliefs (Lerman &
Zehetmeir, 2008).
The second category, method, is meant to capture the research that focuses on a specific
professional development model such as action research (Jasper & Taube, 2004), lesson study
(Stigler & Hiebert, 1999), communities of practice (Little & Horm, 2007; McClain & Cobb, 2004;
Wenger, 1998), or more generally, collegial discourse about teaching (Lord, 1994). This research is
1 liljedahl@sfu.ca
Liljedahl
"replete with the use of the term inquiry" (Kazemi, 2008, pg. 213) and speaks very strongly of
inquiry as one of the central contributors to teachers' professional growth. Also prominent in this
research is the centrality of collaboration and collegiality in the professional development of
teachers and has even led some researchers to conclude that reform is built by relationships
(Middleton, Sawada, Judson, Bloom, & Turley, 2002).
More accurately, reform emerges from relationships. No matter from which discipline your partners
hail, no matter what financial or human resources are available, no matter what idiosyncratic
barriers your project might face, it is the establishment of a structure of distributed competence,
mutual respect, common activities (including deliverables), and personal commitment that puts the
process of reform in the hands of the reformers and allows for the identification of transportable
elements that can be brokered across partners, sites, and conditions. (ibid., p. 429).
Finally, work classified under effectiveness is meant to capture research that looks at changes in
teachers practice as a result of their participation in some form of a professional development
program. Ever present in such research, explicitly or implicitly, is the question of the robustness of
any such changes (Lerman & Zehetmeir, 2008).
As powerful and effective as this aforementioned research is, however, it can no longer ignore the
growing disquiet that somehow the perspective is all wrong. In fact, it is from this very research that
this disquiet emerges. The questions of robustness (Lerman & Zehetmeir, 2008) come from a
realization that professional growth is a long term endeavour (Sztajn, 2003) and participation in
preservice and inservice programs is brief in comparison. At the same time there is a growing
realization that what is actually offered within these programs is often based on facilitators (or
administrators or policy makers) perceptions of what teachers need as opposed to actual knowledge
of what teachers really want (Ball, 2002). But not much is known about what teachers really want
as they approach professional learning opportunities.
The research presented here provides some answers in this regard.
Methodology
As articulated in Liljedahl (2010b), working in a professional development setting I find it difficult
to be both a researcher and a facilitator of learning at the same time. As such, I generally adopt a
stance of noticing (Mason, 2002). This stance allows me to focus on the priorities of facilitating
learning while at the same time allowing myself to be attuned to various phenomena that occur
within the setting. It was through this methodology that I began to notice that there was a distinct
difference between the groups of teachers that came willingly to the professional development
opportunities that I was leading and the teachers that were required, often by their administrators, to
attend. This was an obvious observation. Nonetheless, it was as a result of this observation that, I
began to attend more specifically to what these differences were. In doing so I began to notice,
subtly at first, that the teachers who came willingly came with an a priori set of wants. With this
less obvious observation I changed my methods from noticing to more directive research methods. I
began to gather data from five different professional learning contexts over a period of two years.
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Master’s Programs
Teachers in this context are practicing secondary school mathematics teachers who were doing their
Master's Degree in Secondary Mathematics Teaching. This is a two year program culminating in
either a comprehensive examination or a thesis depending on the desires of the teacher and the
nature of the degree that they are seeking. From this group I collected interview data and field notes
during two different courses I taught in the program.
Induction Group
This group began as an initiative to support early career teachers (elementary and secondary) as
they make the transition from pre-service teachers to in-service teachers. In truth, however, it also
attracted more established teachers making it a vertically integrated community of practicing
teachers of mathematics. Although this group now meets every second month for the duration of the
study we met monthly. From this group I collected interview data, field notes, as well as two years
of survey data.
Hillside Middle School
Hillside (pseudonym) is the site of a longitudinal study. For the last five years I have meet with a
team of three to six middle school teachers every second Wednesday for an hour prior to the start of
the school day. This group began as an administration led focus on assessment of numeracy skills,
but after the first year took on a self-directed tone. The teachers in this group lead the focus of the
sessions and look to me to provide resources, advice, and anecdotal accounts of how I have seen
things work in the many other classrooms I spend time in. For the two year period that constitutes
the study presented here I collected field notes and interview data.
District Learning Teams
Very much like the professional learning setting at Hillside, district based learning teams are self-
directed. Teachers meet over the course of a year to discuss their classroom based inquiries into
teaching. This inquiry runs throughout an entire school year, but the teams themselves only meet
four to six times a year. The data for this study comes from three such teams that I facilitated in two
different school districts. One of these teams ran during the first year of the study, the other two
teams ran in the second year of the study. Like at Hillside my primary role is to provide resources,
advice, and insights into their plans and reported classroom outcomes. The data from these teams
consisted of field notes, interviews, and survey results.
Workshops
During the two years that I collected data for this study I was also asked to do a number of one-shot
workshops. These were workshops designed around a variety of different topics either decided by
myself or the people asking me to deliver the workshop. They ranged in time from 1.5 hours to 6
hours with no follow-up sessions. Data, consisting of field notes, comes from six such workshops.
Data from two additional workshops consists of field notes and survey results.
Field notes in the aforementioned settings consisted primarily of records of conversations I had with
individual teachers during breaks as well as before and after the scheduled sessions. I used these
Liljedahl
times to probe more specifically about the origins of questions asked, motivations for attending,
querying about what they are getting out of the session, and if there is something else they need or
want. This sound very formal and intentional, but in reality, this was all part of natural interactions.
In all, I collected notes on over 70 such conversations.
More directed than these natural conversations were the interviews. These were much more formal
in nature and provided an opportunity for me to probe further about the conversations we had
previously had or the things I had observed during our sessions together. Each interview lasted
between 30 and 60 minutes. In all, 36 interviews were conducted over the course of the two years,
resulting in 26 hours of audio recordings. These recording were listened to as soon as possible after
the interviews and relevant aspects of the recording were flagged for transcription.
The survey used with the Induction Group, The District Learning Teams, and two of the Workshops
consisted of an online survey instrument that was sent to the teachers prior to professional learning
session. The survey contained five questions:
Name?
Where are you in your teaching career? Are you in PDP (please specify semester), a TOC (how
many years), on a long term TOC placement (for how long), or do you have your own classroom
(for how long)?
If relevant - what grades/subjects are you teaching right now?
What do you hope to get out of our next session together? You can ask for understanding of
mathematical concepts, teaching strategies, resources, lesson ideas, ideas about classroom
management, networking opportunities, specific lesson plans, etc. In essence, you can ask for
anything that will help you in your teaching or future teaching. List as many as you want but please
be specific.
Please list something from a past session that you found particularly useful.
The last two of these were of obvious relevance to the study. However, as will be seen later on,
question two contributed data that became relevant to the analysis.
The field notes, interview transcripts, and survey data were coded and analysed using the principles
of analytic induction (Patton, 2002). "[A]nalytic induction, in contrast to grounded theory, begins
with an analyst's deduced propositions or theory-derived hypotheses and is a procedure for
verifying theories and propositions based on qualitative data" (Taylor and Bogdan, 1984, p. 127
cited in Patton, 2002, p. 454). In this case, the a priori proposition was that teachers come to
professional learning settings with their own wants in mind and that these wants are accessible
through the methods described above. With a focus on teachers' wants the data was coded using a
constant comparative method (Creswell, 2008). What emerged out of this analysis were a set of
themes specifically about the wants expressed by teachers as well as a broader set of themes that cut
across these wants. In what follows I present these themes in two distinct sections. The first section
is a taxonomy of five types of wants. The second section are the themes that cut across this
taxonomy.
TME, vol11, no.1, p 113
Results - WANTS
As mentioned, one of the things that emerged out of the aforementioned analysis was a taxonomy of
five distinct categories of wants that teachers come to professional learning settings with. To these I
add a sixth category. Although not a want per se this sixth theme deals with the resistance with
which some teachers engaged in some of the professional developing opportunities. In what follows
I present each of these categories in turn, beginning with resistance and following it up with each of
the five categories of wants.
Resistance
In the course of the two years of the study I collected data on a number of teachers who were flatly
opposed to being part of the professional development setting I was working in. All of this data
consisted of observation and conversations and came solely from the workshops and learning team
settings. To a person, these teachers were participating in these settings at the bequest of an
administrator or a department head. Left up to them, these teachers would choose to not attend.
Their want was that they didn't want to be there.
First, these resistant teachers were present and they did participate in the sessions. They engaged in
the activities, they asked questions, and they collaborated with others in the room. But this
participation was guided by their reluctance at being there. As such, their contribution to the group
was often negative, pessimistic, defensive, or challenging in nature. They would say things like
"that will never work" and "I already do that". This is not to say that these teachers were the only
ones to utter these types of statement, but rather that they only uttered these types of statements.
Their questions to me were always challenging in nature with greater demands for evidence,
justification, and pragmatism. These challenges were welcomed as they often provided others with
an opportunity to engage in the content more critically. The call for pragmatism, in particular, was
not unique to resistant teachers, but the goals for making that call were clearly different. When they
challenged ideas based on their infeasibility the goal seemed to be to detract from the value of what
was being offered; to invalidate it. When non-resistant teachers made the same call it seemed to be
motivated by a goal to try to navigate the space between the ideal and the feasible; to find a way to
make it happen.
The second reason I include this theme is that these teachers did not always remain resistant. There
were several cases in my data where teachers who initially approached the setting with resistance
softened their stance over time. In the workshop settings this was marked by a shift in the types and
ways in which they asked questions, the ways in which they engaged in activities and interacted
with their peers, and in the parting comments and conversations I recorded. In the learning team
settings this was marked by the fact that between meetings, these initially resistant teachers,
reported back at subsequent sessions about efforts made, and results seen, in their own classrooms.
Liljedahl
The third reason for including this theme here is because I want to differentiate between the
resistance a teacher may have to an idea in a professional learning setting and the a priori resistance
a teacher may approach that setting with. In the former case I am talking about a healthy form of
scepticism that, as mentioned, allows teachers to negotiate the space between the ideal and the real,
between the theoretical and the practical. The later, however, is a stance that can prevent the uptake
of good ideas and helpful suggestions. It can act as a barrier to learning and professional growth.
In all, out of the 70 conversations that I made notes on, 10 were with teachers who were, at least
originally, resistant to being in the setting. Of these, four changed their stance over the course of the
setting. However, my field notes record observations of many more such a priori resistant teachers
as well as observed changes in some of them.
Do Not Disturb
This category of wants characterizes those instances where a teacher engages in professional
learning because they want to improve their practice, but is reluctant to adopt anything that will
require too much change. Ideally, what they want are small self-contained strategies, lessons,
activities, or resources that they can either use as a replacement of something they already cleanly
insert into their teaching without affecting other aspects of their practice. Such wants were rarely
stated outright. Instead, they manifest themselves as overly specific statements of what it is they
seek.
"I was hoping to learn a new way to introduce integers".
"I want something to do for the first 10 minutes of class."
"A different way to do review."
All of these are indicative of situations where the teacher is looking to improve one thing about
their teaching. The "don't let it affect anything else around it" is implicit in the specificity of the
statement. In conversations or in interviews, however, this can sometimes come out more explicitly.
"I'm happy with the rest of my fractions unit. It's just division of fractions that messes me up. I was
hoping that you could show me a better way to explain it."
Delving deeper it became clear that in many of the instances where concern over disturbance and
tight control over impact was important there was an underlying anxiety, most often around the
deconstructing what they have worked hard to build up.
"I've been teaching for seven years now, and I'm really happy with the way things are going. After
the last curriculum revision and with us getting a new textbook I have worked really hard to
organize all of my lessons and worksheets in math. I don't want to mess with that. So, please don't
tell me anything that is going to mess me up. I really just want to know if there is a lesson that I can
do using computers that will be fun and that I can just sort of insert into my area unit."
Less often this anxiety is around what they have worked hard to understand.
TME, vol11, no.1, p 115
"When I started teaching I was fine with math. But when I was given a grade seven class this year I
sort of panicked about math. Especially the unit on integers. I had never understood it when I was in
school and it took me a long time to teach it to myself. So, I don't really want to learn anything new
that will rock the boat for me."
In other instances there didn’t seem to an underlying anxiety, but just a pragmatic disposition that
small change is good. The teachers with this disposition came to the professional learning settings
with a want to learn new things and a willingness to make changes, so long as these were small
changes. Although only one teacher spoke directly about this "less is more" disposition there was
lots of evidence of it in the way teachers spoke about what they got out of the sessions. For
example, in an interview after a session on formative assessment, one teacher told me that she had
learned "I am not going to give out zeros anymore". Although important, in relation to the larger
conversation of the difference between formative and summative assessment this is a by-product of
a shifting assessment philosophy, not a change unto itself. However, when probing further it
revealed itself that for this teacher "no zero's is something I can start doing on Monday". This was
something that she could cleanly insert into her practice.
Regardless of the motivation, the teachers who wanted to make only small changes know what it
they don't know, or don't do well, and want to learn new things to help change them.
Willing to Reorganize
A slight nuance on the previous theme is when teachers want very specific improvements and they
are willing to significantly reorganize their teaching and resources to accommodate the necessary
changes. Although specific in nature, these wants do not come with limitations. They are stated
with an implicit openness to the consequences that the desired improvements may necessitate.
"So, yeah. I'm looking for an improved way to have my students learn how to do problem solving.
Right now I do it as a unit in February, but it's not working. I've heard that other teachers do it
throughout the whole year and I'm hoping to get some ideas around that."
Further probing of this teacher, as well as the others who made similar statements, revealed that
they are not hampered by anxiety around invalidating existing resources or undoing things learned.
Like their counterparts in the previous category, however, they know what they don't know or what
they don't do well and they want to make changes to improve these things. The difference is the
scale at which they are willing to make these changes.
Willing to Rethink
Unlike the previous two categories, the wants that fit into this are much broader in scope and often
welcome a complete rethinking of significant portions of a teaching practice.
"I'm pretty open to anything. I mean with respect to differentiated learning."
From the interviews it became clear that for this teacher, as well as for those who expressed similar
wants, there exists something in their practice that they want to bolster. In many cases these
Liljedahl
teachers are wanting collections of resources that they could then organize and integrate into their
teaching.
"Anything to do with numeracy is good for me."
"I'm looking for new ideas about assessment for differentiated learners."
In some cases, however, these teachers are branching out into new territories and are looking for a
comprehensive package of what to do.
"I'm hoping to introduce the use of rubrics into my teaching and want to get the rubrics I should use
as well as instruction how to do it."
Either way, these teachers have a rough idea of what it is they want and are willing to rethink their
teaching in order to accommodate new ideas. They do not have the anxieties of disrupting already
held knowledge or resources that the teachers in the first category did and their wants are broader in
scope than the second.
Out With the Old
The wants in the previous category were characterized by a willingness to rethink significant
aspects of teaching practice. In the Out With the Old category, the wants are characterized by a
rejection of a significant aspects of teaching practice. Teachers with these wants come to
professional learning settings unhappy with something in their practice. This unhappiness goes well
beyond the awareness that something needs to be improved that was seen in the previous three
categories. For these teachers there is nothing to be integrated, there isn't a replacement of some
aspect of their teaching to be made. They have already rejected the current paradigm and are now
looking for something to fill the void that is left behind.
"My kids can't think for themselves in problem solving. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but it
doesn't matter. I just need to start over with a new plan."
"I can't stand the way group work has been working in my classroom. Or not working is a better
description. I have given up with what I've been doing and am looking to learn something
completely different."
This is not to say that these wants are coupled with blind acceptance of anything that fits the bill.
The teachers who express these wants are often hypercritical of new ideas, usually as a result of
their dissatisfaction with something that they have previously changed in their practice.
"I spent a whole year trying to teach and assess each of the processes [communication, connections,
mental mathematics and estimation, problem solving, reasoning, technology, and visualization] that
are in the curriculum. In the end my students are no better at estimating or communicating, for
example, than they were at the beginning of the year. My approach didn't work. I need a new way to
think about this."
This is not to say that they are closed minded, but rather that they exert a greater demand on me, as
the facilitator, to bridge the theoretical with the pragmatic.
TME, vol11, no.1, p 117
Inquiry
The final category consists of those wants which align with the ideas and ideals of inquiry (Kazemi,
2008). As such, these wants consist, most often, of a general desire to acquire new knowledge and
ideas about teaching. The teachers who express these wants are open to any new ideas and often
come to professional learning settings without an agenda.
"I'm not really looking for anything in particular. But, I'm eager to hear about some new ideas on
assessment."
This is not to say that these wants are flighty and unrefined. The teachers whose wants fall into this
category are often methodical in their change, pausing to ask exactly "what is it I am doing" and "if
it's working". And if it is working they question "what is it that is telling me it is working". They
want evidence of success, but they want it to come from their own classroom.
Results – cutting across the taxonomy
As mentioned earlier, aside from the taxonomy of wants, there were also a set of themes that
emerged out of the analysis which can be characterized as cutting across the taxonomy presented
above. In what follows I present each of these themes.
Pseudo-Hierarchy
The aforementioned taxonomy of wants seems to form a hierarchy in the way each category
requires a slightly greater openness to change than the previous one. But this can be deceptive.
Although the teachers in the more longitudinal aspects of the study tended to have wants that
became more and more open as the study went on, there were still days later in the study when they
would come into the session wanting something as overly specific as a problem to do with the
students the next day. There was also evidence in the field notes of individual teachers changing the
scope of their wants within a single session. Sometimes this was a broadening of wants to ones that
were more open to changes in teaching practice. Other times they regressed to wanting easily
insertable resources, especially when the discussions shifted to tricks and best practices.
Two nuances of this theme are worth noting. The first one has to do with novice teachers. Almost
without exception, these teachers came to professional learning opportunities with wants that fit
into the willing to rethink category. Deeper probing revealed a very good reason for this – these
teachers do not have deeply seated practices to disrupt, they have not yet found things about
teaching that they wish to reject, and they have not yet routinized aspects of their teaching to the
point where they feel comfortable engaging in inquiry. What this leaves is the category of
rethinking practice. Except, with their newness to teaching this often became more of a willingness
to think about their practice than rethink their practice. Given that I met many teachers whose wants
were in the first two categories this means that time in the field can cause a regression regarding
openness to change. This was not surprising, but troubling nonetheless.
Liljedahl
The second point worth noting is the fact that although I can, at this point, sit back and challenge
the evidence regarding the hierarchical nature of the taxonomy of wants, the data indicates that as a
facilitator I was constantly trying to upsell teachers on their wants. That is, I was always trying to
create more openness and broaden the scope of what it is they wanted out of their work with me.
This was especially true of the teachers who came with wants in the first two categories. And, many
teachers did expand their wants as a result of these efforts. There was even evidence in the data my
efforts to, and success at, shifting the wants of resistant teachers; although to a much lesser extent
than those teachers who came willingly. Although not the focus of this article, this is an important
point in that it shows the potential effectiveness of a facilitator in fostering changes. But it also
speaks to the fact that teachers who come willingly to professional learning settings are already
engaged in thinking about change and, as such, are predisposed to changing.
Engagement
Something that emerged very clearly from the data was that the wants that teachers had coming into
a professional learning setting affected the way in which they engaged in the session. These types of
engagements can be seen as fitting into three categories.
First, the teachers who wanted to make minimal change tended to manage to extract things from
single sessions that spoke of small change. An example of this was presented above in the way one
teacher took away from a wide sweeping session on the differences between formative assessment
and summative assessment only the one small, and easy to implement, strategy of not "giving out
zeros". Other such examples include "having students tell the story of how they solved a problem"
as the only tangible thing that came out of a session on improving students' communication skills in
mathematics, or "not telling students if their answer is correct" out of a session on problem solving.
These examples, almost all coming out workshop settings, are solid evidence that a teacher who is
committed to making small change will find ways to make small change, even in the face of
complex and broad topics. However, as mentioned above, in the more longitudinal settings of the
District Learning Teams or among the teachers at Hillside there was a general trend towards more
openness.
The second category pertains to those teachers who approached these professional learning settings
already open to change. Unhampered by the need to restrict their changes these teachers were more
willing to take on ideas that went beyond the scope of the wants that they came into the professional
learning settings with.
"So, I wanted to understand why our district is saying that we can't use zeros anymore. I was
willing to make changes around this in both testing and homework if I could figure out what to do
instead. Now I realize that what I really need to do is change the way I collect information about my
students' performance. I need to get away from the collection of points and focus more on the
collection of data."
They were also more willing to walk away from professional learning settings with commitments to
make change in areas other than what they came in with.
TME, vol11, no.1, p 119
"I originally wanted to work on numeracy skills, but now I realize that I also need to work on my
students' group work and communication abilities."
This was true irrespective of the nature of the professional learning setting. This willingness to take
on broader or different ideas than they initially came in with was seen even across very short single
workshops. Unlike the teachers who wanted small change, these teachers' openness to change is not
limited to what they know they don't know, but extends to what they didn't know they didn't know.
The final category pertains to those teachers who were resistant to participating in the first place.
Although there are a few rare exceptions, for the most part these teachers were unaffected by the
ideas presented in workshops. Their resistance to being present extended to their resistance to new
ideas. But as mentioned, they were still present and they did participate. However, their
contribution to the group was often negative, pessimistic, defensive, or challenging in nature.
Having said that, the two teachers who were required to be part of a District Learning Team did
change over time and both started coming to the sessions with expressed wants that broadened in
openness with time.
Autonomy
A final them that emerged from the analysis pertains to the autonomy of teachers. As mentioned
early on in the article the impetus for the research presented here grew out of the obvious difference
between teachers who want to be present and those who do not. This speaks greatly to the
autonomy I saw exercised not only in the participation on professional learning settings, but also in
the way in which the teachers participated. The teachers were free to take up new ideas, or not.
They were free to broaden their thinking on new ideas, or not. What drove this freedom was their
autonomy as teachers and as learners. Although I presented new things to them they got to decide
what they would do with them. They could reject them, they could think about them, or they could
act on them.
Among the teachers who I had repeated interactions with, this autonomy extended beyond the
professional learning settings and into their teaching. They were free to implement change, or not.
They were free to try out new ideas, or not. And again, they exercised this autonomy.
This autonomy is obvious and it didn’t take reams of data and deep analysis to see it. What the data
and the analysis showed, however, was that the teachers exercised their autonomy in ways that
redefined my role as a facilitator of professional learning. Although I was behaving as though I was
driving the agenda of professional learning the reality is that at every stage the teachers had their
own agenda, that they pursued this agenda, and that they used me as a resource in this pursuit. This
is not to say that I did not have influence or that I was not able to change agendas, but rather than at
every stage the teachers exercised the ultimate control; they could chose to learn or they could
choose not to, they could choose to agree, or they could choose not to. The strongest evidence of
this is what brought these teachers to the sessions, sometimes repeatedly. Each time they had a goal
for attending—a want they needed satisfied—and they saw me as a resource likely to satisfy this
need.
Liljedahl
Conclusions
Much can be taken from the results presented above. The most obvious is that teachers come to
professional learning settings with a variety of wants and needs. The results indicate that these
wants can be organized into a taxonomy with pseudo-hierarchical properties. More importantly,
however, is what the results say about teacher autonomy and the role that workshops play in the
professional growth of teachers.
It is a long held belief that single workshops are an ineffective means of creating professional
growth (Ball, 2002). Although the data indicates that this was generally true for teachers who are
either resistant to change or are only willing to make small changes, the results also indicate that
this was not at all true for teachers whose wants coming into the session were more open to change.
In settings where participation was voluntary this accounted for the large majority of teachers.
These teachers were quite willing to not only broaden their thinking on what they wanted out of the
session, but were also willing to take up entirely new ideas. These results nuances the way we
should view the effectiveness of workshops in facilitating teacher change.
Teacher autonomy, too, is something that needs to be taken into greater consideration. Coupled with
the taxonomy of wants the results of this study feeds into a new paradigm in which the professional
growth of teachers is seen as natural (Leikin, 2006; Liljedahl, 2010b; Perrin-Glorian, DeBlois, &
Robert, 2008; Sztajn, 2003) and teachers are seen as agents in their own professional learning (Ball,
2002). Teachers do not approach their professional learning as blank slates. They come to it with a
complex collection of wants and needs and use professional development opportunities as resources
to satisfy those wants and needs. Recognition of this has an impact on how we view our role as
facilitator in these settings. Working from the perspective of a resource we need to be much more
attuned to what it is that teachers want, even if that awareness of the taxonomy of what they could
want.
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  • ... Research on the professional development of mathematics teachers can be sorted into studies focused on knowledge and/or beliefs, on the method used in the professional devel- opment programme or on the effectiveness of the professional development programme (Liljedal 2014). This article will address all these directions and especially their (eventual) mutual relationship. ...
    ... Different approaches have been used in research on teacher change, for example, studies where teacher change is described as development through predefined stages (Sowder 2007), studies within beliefs research (including studies on attitudes, feelings and emotions), where fundamental questions concern whether beliefs are changeable or static, and how best to change beliefs if they are changeable (Phillip 2007), and studies focused on the knowledge possessed by or needed for teachers ( Hill et al. 2007). All these orientations are based on an implied liaison between the stages, beliefs and/or knowledge and teachers' teaching, however, there is no consensus regarding the features of this liaison (Avalos 2011; Hill et al. 2007;Liljedal 2014;Phillip 2007;Sowder 2007). ...
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