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This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published by Teaching and Teacher Education on
19 May 2016, available online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0742051X163008 41
EVIDENCE FOR NO-ONE: STANDARDS, ACCREDITATION, AND
TRANSFORMED TEACHING WORK
The relationship between professional teaching standards and the evidence that they have
been met and/or maintained is an issue of ongoing interest internationally. This study
employed a dialogic analysis of research conversations and institutional ethnography to
trace the social relationships that support teachers’ learning in ways that they considered
had transformed their practice. Some examples are used to illustrate how the nature of
evidence of transformed teaching work offered by teachers differed from the evidence they
had produced for the purposes of accreditation against professional standards.
Keywords: teacher professional standards, teacher professional learning, evidence, dialogic
analysis, institutional ethnography
• The conception of evidence in relation to teachers’ work requires expansion
• Teachers are able to select and demonstrate evidence of transformed teaching work
• Evidence of transformed teaching is different in nature to evidence for accountability
• Professional teaching standards did not inform teachers’ learning or evidence
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Nicole: …that was a huge ordeal for me - just to put together the pieces of evidence that
you needed to put together. To be able to learn the language of the professional standards-
professional teaching standards, all very unfamiliar things, to know what was appropriate
evidence… So you know it went down from things like having to do a 50-page document
to something that needed to fit inside a plastic sleeve… What really is evidence? …It
consumed a lot of hours for me.
The notion of ‘evidence’ is inextricably linked to accountability agendas. For many teachers, like
Nicole, the question: “What really is evidence?” is underpinned by further questions related to the
purpose and intended audience for such evidence. While resisting the dominant logic of evidence
production for the purposes of ensuring ‘quality’, I intend to explore a number of key ways in which
the provision of ‘evidence’ for the purposes of accreditation1 against professional standards differs
from teachers selecting ‘evidence’ in order to demonstrate that their professional learning has
transformed their teaching work.
Successive Australian governments have followed close behind the rest of the Western world,
particularly the USA, Canada and the UK, in instituting an educational agenda influenced by
neoliberal priorities related to standardisation, testing and accountability. Or, as Cochrane-Smith
identifies this agenda, “market-based approaches to educational reform” (2004, p. 194). The study
reported on here is temporally situated when, for the first time in the history of Australian teachers’
working lives, they are working with both a national curriculum and a set of national professional
standards which bring with them expectations of transformed teaching, expressed through notions of
‘quality’ and ‘21st century learning’. The centralised, managerial agenda, particularly as it relates to
professional standards, creates a view of teacher learning as an activity undertaken by individualised
1!At the time of this study, only teachers who had joined the teaching profession since 2004 or were
returning to teaching after a break were required to be accredited against professional teaching
standards (AITSL, 2012a) for the purposes of teacher registration. From 2018, all Australian teachers
will be required to be accredited at the level of ‘proficient’. They will maintain such accreditation
through five yearly cycles of evidence production (AITSL, 2012c) resulting from their professional
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teachers and heavily reliant on standards-accredited programs of professional development. An
underlying assumption of such agendas is that professional development opportunities equate to
professional learning that results in changed teaching practices. Institutional ethnography (IE) was
employed in this study in order to trace not only the social relationships that supported teachers’
professional learning but also to reveal the governing influence of ‘boss texts’, including national
professional standards and a national curriculum, on teachers’ work and learning ‘at the coal face’
(Griffith & Smith, 2014). These boss texts seek to govern teachers work from afar, shaping teacher’s
work and their learning about that work in ways that can be regulated by accrediting agencies. IE
begins with teacher’s ‘actual doings’ (Smith, 2005) as they describe them and seeks to trace these
doings to the social and textual relationships that support and inhibit them. In this way, IE is able to
acknowledge professional learning as a situated practice.
1.1 Evidence of teacher learning
In relation to ‘evidence’ of the impact of teacher professional learning on teacher performance,
several major reviews of research literature concerned with teacher learning (Borko, 2004; Opfer &
Pedder, 2011; Timperley & Alton-Lee, 2008) were selected because they consider teacher
professional learning from a social and situated perspective, an epistemology consistent with my
study. These reviews find that the evidence that professional learning opportunities make a difference
to either teacher’s work or student learning outcomes is not clearly explicated. Nor is the role of so-
called standards-based reforms, including professional standards, accreditation, and maintenance of
accreditation, linked to empirical evidence of either teacher learning or the process of transforming
teaching work (Fishman, Marx, Best, & Revital, 2003). Most frequently omitted from such research is
first, the ‘causal explanation’ of how, if at all, teacher learning occurs as a result of professional
learning opportunities, and second, the evidence that such learning transforms practice (Opfer &
Pedder, 2011). Much of the research related to teacher professional learning has focused on
identification of characteristics of learning experiences that are thought to be effective in supporting
teacher learning (Avalos, 2011; Borko, 2004; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Darling-Hammond,
1998; Desimone, 2009; Timperley & Alton-Lee, 2008; Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2007;
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Webster-Wright, 2009; Wilson & Berne, 1999). It is worth noting here, as Desimone (2009) points
out, “We do not have sufficient evidence to indicate which features of professional development are
effective for eliciting improvements in student learning” (p. 183). The assumption that teacher
learning impacts on student learning at all is largely underpinned, according to Opfer & Pedder (2011,
p. 384) by research conducted in 1989 which found that students performed better if their teachers had
participated in an “80-hour cognitively guided instruction” rather than a “4-hour professional
The extensive, systematic review of extant literature (up to and including 2007) conducted by Opfer
and Pedder (2011) for the Training and Development Agency for Schools in England , and cited
above, was particularly interested in the “impact that learning experiences have on their [teachers’]
knowledge and changes in classroom practice” (p. 376). This review employed a complexity theory
approach to analysis in order that it might examine a number of different strands of literature on
teacher professional learning to explain how different systems intersect and interact in order to
produce teacher learning. The review was concerned with understanding “under what conditions, why
and how teachers learn” (p. 378). They claim that the bulk of such research is underpinned by a
flawed epistemological assumption that teacher’s learning follows directly from frequent
implementation of particular types of professional development activities. For the studies included in
this review much of the evidence of teacher change associated with teacher learning, aside from
‘satisfaction’ surveys, is gathered from teachers’ reports of their changes in factors associated with
learning; knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, emotions or behaviour. As Meirink, Meijer, & Verloop (2007)
have observed, such forms of self-reporting may distort results of associated change in practice given
that teachers may not be aware that their practice has changed in response to their learning. Further,
most of the research reviewed views teacher learning as both a “serial and additive” process (Opfer &
Pedder, 2011, p. 378), more related to sequence of activities and duration, as opposed to a cyclic
process. They call this a ‘product-process’ approach resulting from simplistic constructs of teacher
learning that “fail to consider how learning is embedded in professional lives and working conditions”
(p. 376). It is their opinion that many large scale reviews of literature related to teacher professional
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learning also fail to account for those teachers who: undertake professional learning activity “with all
the characteristics of effectiveness and yet learning or change does not occur”; and “reports that some
teachers learn and change via activities that do not have the identified characteristics of effectiveness”
(p. 377). A third weak link in existing research, questioned by Webster-Wright (2009) and Lieberman
& Mace (2010), and subsequently identified by Opfer & Pedder (2011) is that “few of these studies
empirically connected the specific learning activities to specific changes in teacher belief. Fewer still
go further to connect the learning activity to change in learning orientation and change in subsequent
teaching practice” (2011, p. 390). That is, the evidential link between teacher learning and change in
practice seems to be missing from most of the research related to teacher professional learning
conducted prior to 2011.
More recent studies published since 2011 have attempted to link teacher professional development
opportunities to teacher professional learning and change in a variety of ways. For example, in the
USA, Kintz, Lane, Gotwals, & Cisterna (2015) used an exhaustive analysis of videotaped
conversations to determine how teachers perceive the connection between theory and practice
resulting from their professional learning facilitated through communities of inquiry. The evidence
that teachers had translated their learning into changes in their classroom practice was gleaned from
the videotaped conversations teachers had with one another in which they reflected on their practice.
Fore, Feldhaus, Sorge, Agarwal, & Varahramyan (2015) focus on teacher subjectivity, through a
theoretical lens informed by the work of Guattari and Foucault, to analyse focus group interview data
in which teachers discuss the learning they believe has resulted from a particular professional
development program and the likelihood that they will implement what they have learned in the their
own classrooms. A questionnaire was employed by Ottley, Piasta, Mauck, O’Connell, Weber-Meyer
& Justice (2015) to gather early childhood educators’ perceptions of how their knowledge and beliefs
around language and literacy practices had changed as a result of professional development.
Observation of teachers’ classroom practice was not part of the data collection process and hence
beliefs about learning were not empirically linked to change in practice in this study. A study based in
the classrooms of New Zealand teachers’ analysed their professional learning conversations. These
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conversations with each other and with a researcher were about data they had collected from their
own students regarding each teacher’s implementation of assessment for learning practices (Charteris
& Smardon, 2015) . An important strength of this study lies in its inclusion of the voices of students
as a form of evidence that teachers can reflect upon in relation to their own practice. However, as with
each of the more recent studies included here, the evidential link between teacher learning and change
in practice is explored but often not empirically established. In this case, the authors acknowledge the
lack of ‘causal explanation’.
1.2 Evidence and the Australian professional standards
I turn now to consider two Australian studies that exemplify how the causal link, or lack thereof,
between various forms of teaching standards, accreditation processes, teacher learning and
transformed practice might be explored. In both studies the researchers were investigating various
state developed versions of professional standards rather than the Australian Professional Standards
for Teachers (AITSL, 2012a). A pilot project conducted by Education Queensland trialed the use of
professional standards developed by Education Queensland and the Queensland Teachers’ Union
(Mayer, Mitchell, Macdonald, & Bell, 2005). The pilot was evaluated using a case study methodology
in which data was collected via observations, surveys of participants, focus group interviews with a
representative sample, and site visits to schools. Of the original 230 volunteer participants in the study
124 completed the final survey. The mean age of this sample was approximately 37 years and most
could be considered to be in the early to mid-phase of their teaching careers with less than 10 years of
experience. Findings from this study include participants reporting that: they thought the standards
could provide a “framework for reflection on practice and for planning professional learning goals”
(p. 166); they most often “worked alone” with the standards (p. 167); and “they had little
documentation that might be used to provide evidence of their learning” (p. 170). Case study
interview data pointed to participants’ appreciation of the importance of opportunities to network and
discuss with other teachers in order to maintain the use of these standards for professional learning. In
the final questionnaire, participants indicated that the main factors supporting their engagement with
these standards related to a “sense of professionalism” (p. 170) facilitated by the pilot project design.
It remains unclear however, whether this learning was due to these particular standards or to the
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model of learning, included as an intervention in the design of the study, that engaged teachers in
purposeful discussion around the standards and their subsequent use to formulate contextualised
learning projects that teachers would continue when they returned to their own schools. The authors
argue that based on the evaluative data, policy considerations should be focused on the uses to which
the standards are put in order to find ways in which they “support and extend professional learning”
(Mayer et al., 2005, p. 160).
The National Mapping of Teacher Professional Learning Project (NMTPLP) (Doecke, Parr, & North,
2008) reports on a study of Australian teachers’ experiences and beliefs about professional learning
during the time of implementation of accreditation of some teachers against various state versions of
professional standards. It reveals critical insights into the nature of professional learning undertaken
and preferred by teachers, and their perceptions of the impact of such learning on their practice. A
questionnaire administered as part of this study to 1.9% of Australian teachers in 2007 revealed that
almost all (90%) teachers surveyed preferred opportunities that provided them with ideas they could
incorporate into their practice. The statistics contained in this report that are of particular interest here
relate to teachers perceptions of the effect professional learning has had on changing their practice.
Only 23% of teachers felt that the change was ‘significant’, 63% reported their practice had changed
‘a bit’, 12.5% said their practice had ‘not really’ changed and 1.6% were ‘unsure’ (p. 88). It is also
noted by the authors of the study that while there is a belief amongst teachers that standards can
provide a framework for professional learning, “when professional standards are not supported by
adequate resourcing and time for teacher reflection (and documentation of their practice), they can be
seen to inhibit teachers’ engagement in sustained professional learning” (p. 33). Importantly, both the
Mayer et al. (2005) study and The National Mapping of Teacher Professional Learning Project
(2008) draw attention to the need for further consideration of the nature and provision of evidence of
teachers’ professional learning. Both of these studies also highlight the importance of teachers
working together to determine what the standards statements mean to them in relation to a variety of
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Following the trialing, implementation and evaluation of various state-based forms of professional
standards, in 2010 the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) endorsed a
national set of professional standards. The interim report (Clinton, Hattie, et al., 2014) evaluates the
implementation of these Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2012a). It
circumscribes its warrant stating that “(t)his evaluation is not concerned with evaluating the content of
the Standards; rather, it is focusing on their implementation” (p. 4). A national survey of practising
teachers, school leaders, teacher educators and pre-service teachers sought responses in order to gauge
participants’ “perceptions of (their) knowledge (of), attitudes and use of the Standards” (p. 30). It is
not surprising that the findings indicate quite high levels of ‘knowledge’ and ‘use’ of the standards
given that the use of the standards is a mandatory requirement for teacher educators, pre-service
teachers and a significant proportion of practising teachers. In terms of teachers’ ‘attitudes’ to the
standards, the report notes several challenges to implementation of the standards including
“Compliance-based, top-down, surveillance approach to the implementation process” and
“misinterpretation of the standards (Clinton, Hattie, et al., 2014, p. 12). These challenges raise not
only serious concerns about the implementation process, the mandatory adoption of and accreditation
against the standards in their current form but also issues concerning the ‘content’ of the standards
statements; their lack of clarity and their appropriateness to a range of contexts (Kline, White, &
Lock, 2013; Sachs, 2005); factors that have previously been linked to the effectiveness of standards
for supporting teacher professional learning (Doecke et al., 2008; Mayer et al., 2005).
As part of a symposium presentation, reporting on the questionnaire results from this evaluation of the
Australian professional standards, Clinton, Pinchas, et al (2014) discussed the importance of the
standards for providing teachers with a ‘common language’ in the sense that any reading of a
particular standard statement was expected to reveal the same meaning irrespective of the reader. This
notion runs counter to how Smith (2005) would describe the ‘activation’ of such a ‘governing’ text
through a dialogic interaction between the written text and the reader working at the ‘frontline’ of
teaching (Griffith & Smith, 2014). Statements collected from teachers, through more open data
gathering methods than were provided by the national questionnaire, indicated that what teachers
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thought the standards provided was a focus for discussion in order to determine the meaning of the
standard and its relationship to their practice (Savage, Lingard, Dinham, Calnin, & Dabrowski, 2014).
This raises again the importance of opportunities for collegial discussions about the meaning of the
standards as being of most value to teachers and their learning. In the Australian evaluation, the
questionnaire, as data collection method, risks restricting what teachers could and could not comment
on (Neuman, 2000) and may have allowed an illusion to be created that teachers regard standards as
supportive of their professional learning and their teaching practice. The political development of a
‘common’ or ‘one-dimensional’ language through narrow definitions of the ‘concept’, in this case
teachers’ work, and measures of its effectiveness in correspondingly narrow ways ensure arrival at a
‘false-concreteness’ that is self-validating (Marcuse, 1991, pp. 85-95). The evaluation of the
Australian standards did not examine the connection between what teachers reported about their
professional learning and evidence of any change in teaching practice.
Recent research conducted by a consortium of Australian universities under the banner Project
Evidence (Sim et al., 2012) has focused directly on the notion of evidence. The Project provides
information, via a website, for the purpose of informing “key stakeholders in ITE (initial teacher
education) professional experience, namely, school-based and university-based teacher educators and
pre-service teachers” on the importance of evidence in assessing pre-service teachers and also what
might count as evidence. Evidence, according to the website, “must be specified in practical
performance contexts such as teaching, because it comprises a collection of observable actions and/or
products that taken together provide proof/verification of some more abstract state”. Guides and
‘elaborations’ for supervising teachers that indicate what might be considered valid evidence that a
professional standard has been demonstrated are provided on the website. Project Evidence however,
as a resource to help teachers and other stakeholders fulfill existing accreditation requirements,
necessarily works from a practical theoretical position that the standards underpin and determine the
necessity for and the form of the evidence to be produced. Whether either the process of accreditation
or the standards statements, as they are currently worded, support the production of evidence that is
supportive of teacher learning and has implications for practice is not questioned. This may leave the
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work of Project Evidence open to criticism on grounds of extending our participation in the current
system. Thereby contributing to existing structures of power and repression, or what Smith and others
have referred to as “institutional capture” (2005, p. 156), occurring when descriptions of people’s
actual experiences are replaced by institutional discourses.
1.3 An expanded conception of evidence
A recurring theme in the large scale reviews, discussed thus far, of research related to professional
learning is the need for further consideration of both the nature and provision of evidence that
teachers’ professional learning has an impact on their work (Doecke et al., 2008; Mayer et al., 2005;
Opfer & Pedder, 2011). Such evidence might be envisaged as going beyond the purpose of fulfilling
“administrative requirements” as reported by “63% of Australian teachers” (AITSL, 2012c, p. 2) in
relation to appraisal systems they had experienced. It could be used to gain deeper insight into the
‘causal explanation’ (Opfer & Pedder, 2011) of how teachers learn to transform practices associated
with their work. Concerns arise not only as to how evidence of the impact of such learning might be
collected but also include those related to the nature, appropriateness, veracity and judgment of such
Measuring the ‘impact’ of teacher professional learning has been linked to positivist conceptions of
evidence through the work of Hattie (2012). The ‘impact’ on one teacher’s thinking, in relation to her
professional learning was evidenced by Lucy, a participant in my study, when she said
how can we measure it? How can we measure the impact of professional learning?...John
Hattie… saying you need to be able to measure your shift^2. If you’re not making a
difference of point 4^ in your marks then that/ that’s your benchline point 4 …I suppose
what I like about him is there’s impact, you need to know your impact so what are you
doing to shifting their learning?
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Such positivist notions of evidence related to the ‘hard’ sciences for the purpose of hypothesis testing
are problematic. Not least because even when scientists might agree on what has been observed there
may not be agreement over whether these observations support the hypothesis (Achinstein, 2000).
The fundamental question of whether it is possible for evidence to yield ‘objective’ knowledge, as in
knowledge that will be the same no matter who judges the evidence or from what perspective they
make the judgment, is something that Project Evidence, referred to above, attempts to engage with.
Many epistemologies, including that of institutional ethnography, view knowledge as ‘situated’
(Siedman, 2013) and ‘entangled’ (Lather & St Pierre, 2013) hence judgments about the ‘admissibility’
and ‘goodness’ of evidence that produce such knowledge are also situated and entangled. For the
purposes of the inquiry reported on here, I was less concerned with evidence as hypothesis testing and
more interested in evidence that served the purpose of responding to a question. In this case, ‘how can
we know that teacher professional learning can transform teaching practice?’ My expectation was
that evidence related to such a question would necessarily be ‘situated’ and ‘entangled’.
The approach to ‘evidence’ taken by this study takes a standpoint of teachers as the ‘knowers’
(Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Smith, 2005) of their own work. That is, that teachers are the ones
best positioned to make the decisions regarding the nature, admissibility, and goodness of their
evidence. Thus, the ‘burden’ of evidence, in this study, rested with the teacher. Through a dialogic
interaction, I encouraged teachers to select and demonstrate evidence to me that the learning they
identified had transformed their teaching work, and to reflect on the veracity of their evidence to
support their claims. Situating evidence in this way seeks to move beyond professional standards as
the controlling influence over professional learning and to progress the discussion into how the
process of producing evidence of transformed practice might be an important contributor to
2. A dialogic approach to judging evidence
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For the purposes of this study transformative learning indicates learning that enabled a teacher to
grow or renew an aspect of their teaching work in order to better meet the needs of their students or
colleagues, as learners. Work was defined in a generous sense as “anything that is done by people that
requires time and effort” (Smith, 2005, p. 151) and may be comprised of particular kinds of work
(Comber, 2006) relative to the demands of teaching. Overall, the study was framed by institutional
ethnography’s approach to ‘mapping the social’ (Smith, 2005) in order to reveal the complex of social
and textual relations implicated in the coordination of teachers’ transformative professional learning.
The epistemological foundation of Smith’s institutional ethnography lies in a Bakhtinian (1981) view
of knowledge as both embodied and shared through language as dialogic interaction rather than
knowledge as something that stands independent of subjects and subjectivities (Author, 2015). Smith
describes the commitment of institutional ethnography, as being
to remain in the world of everyday experience and knowledge, to explore ethnographically
the problematic that is implicit in it, extending the capacities of ethnography beyond the
circumscriptions of our ordinary experience-based knowledge, to make observable social
relations beyond and within it in which we and multiple others participate (2005, p. 42).
The problematic addressed by the larger research project, from which this paper is drawn, was “to
discover how the conditions that resulted in transformative professional learning for some teachers
were coordinated both locally and extra-locally” (Author, 2015). The research questions addressed by
that research were:
In the context of a political landscape that positions professional learning in terms of
“performance and development”(AITSL, 2012c),
1. How do teachers
i. describe an experience that has resulted in significant learning about their
ii. provide evidence that demonstrates the impact of the learning they have spoken
about on their teaching work?
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iii. assess the connection between their learning and their evidence?
2. How do local social relationships
i. support professional learning that has the potential to transform practice?!!!
ii. articulate with the generalising of institutional processes related to teacher
learning, particularly as they are effected through governing texts?
The most relevant aspects of the methodology and associated methods for the discussion here
however, relate not to the mapping of those relations that supported the transformative learning
experience but rather to the dialogic approach to linking professional learning to teacher-selected
evidence of transformed practice.
The eight teachers included in this study had each participated in a variety of forms of opportunities
for professional learning, including those thought to have potential for transforming practice
(Kennedy, 2005). The teachers were selected from three ‘pools’ of professional learning
opportunities: a well established network of schools who worked together in a voluntary ‘coalition’ in
which they shared a commitment to practitioner inquiry and listening to their students’ voices;
teachers who had been involved in a year-long, funded professional development program that
combined workshops with support for contextualised learning; beginning teachers who had been
supported by a mentor for the purposes of gaining accreditation against professional standards. An
information statement and invitation to participate, prepared in accordance with the university
protocols for ethics, was sent to schools in each of the three ‘pools’. Eight teachers were selected from
the respondents such that they came from a variety of different types of school3 and varied in years of
teaching experience - from beginning teachers recently accredited at the standard of ‘proficient’ to
those who had been teaching for up to 19 years and for whom accreditation against professional
standards was not currently required. Further information is provided in Table 1: Participant details.
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Table 1: Participant details
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2.3 Data collection and analysis
Data collection took place over the course of one year and consisted of an initial research
conversation, demonstrated evidence of learning, and final reflective conversation. In the initial
extended research conversation participants were invited to ‘tell their story’ of a time when they knew
they had really learned something about their teaching work (Author, 2015). This initial conversation
was an opportunity for me, as researcher, and the participant to share the process of meaning making
on “interindividual territory” (Voloshinov, 1973, p. 12) as we came together in a process that had
“diverse effects” (Frank, 2005, p. 968) on both of us. I did not seek to steer the research conversation
with pre-determined questions but rather to follow the participant’s lead seeking clarification as
required. If however, by the end of the interview the participant had not mentioned either professional
standards or the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2013), as the two ‘boss’ texts (Griffith & Smith,
2014) most relevant to my study, I asked a direct question about their perceived influence on the
teacher’s work and/or learning.
A dialogic analysis of the research conversations was employed to identify the dominant and
subversive influences (Bakhtin, 1981) in how teachers spoke about their professional learning; who
was implicated in supporting such learning, and how ‘boss’ texts, including professional standards
and the national curriculum were involved. The analysis hinged on determining the beginning and end
of utterances, without necessarily waiting for a change of speaking subject, in order to facilitate the
insertion of smaller sections of commentary at relevant points. The questions: ‘What is being spoken
about here?’ and ‘Are they still speaking about elements which lie within the same subject or theme?’
were used to determine where an utterance began and ended, often before the change of speaking
subject. I then labeled ‘discourses’, used in the way Bakhtin (1986) does to mean ‘ways of speaking’,
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as they occurred within an utterance or part of an utterance in order to reveal contradictions and
tensions in what participants were saying. In labeling these discourses, I endeavoured to stick with the
Bakhtinian notion that primacy belongs to the response and that ‘a word in the mouth of a particular
individual person is a product of the living interaction of social forces’ (Voloshinov, 1973, p. 41) but
to simultaneously remain conscious that the style and substance of any response is affected by its
generation being ‘oriented towards an addressee, toward who that addressee might be’ (p. 85
emphasis in original) (Author, 2015). The discourses were then identified and discussed in the small
sections of commentary incorporated within the full interview transcript. ‘Learning’ was named and
described by the teachers themselves rather than through the application, on the part of the researcher,
of a theoretical construct. The analysis also sought to identify when and how teachers spoke about the
ways in which they thought their practice had changed as a result of their learning. The main strength
of the dialogic analysis was its capacity to reveal the influences that enable teachers to resist agendas
related to compliance and accountability in the interests of producing knowledge that assisted them to
transform their teaching practice.
Based on the dialogic analysis, I provided teachers with a personalised account of what they had
identified as their learning, the ways they had spoken about their learning, and its connection to what
they had described as transformed teaching work. I asked them to select a focus for the development
of their evidence from one of the areas they had spoken about. The teacher-selected and prepared
evidence took a variety of forms including: an intensive literacy support session provided to two
students as part of a withdrawal program designed by the ‘demonstrating’ teacher, a professional
learning session facilitated by the ‘demonstrating’ teacher for the benefit of other teachers, a guided
tour of student HSC major works, and a variety of forms of lesson observation, two of which are
expanded upon in the next section. During the demonstration of evidence, I took notes of ‘the action’
(Johnston & Hayes, 2008) but made a conscious attempt to avoid evaluative comments both in the
notes or to the teacher directly at the completion of the ‘demonstration’. Later, the notes were
provided to each teacher along with a generic set of questions to guide their reflection on the ‘fit’ as
they saw it between the learning they had claimed to be transformative of their work and the evidence
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they had demonstrated. The ‘fit’ was discussed in a final research conversation that incorporated
collaborative and dialogic analysis of the demonstrated evidence. The teachers were the final arbiters
of the veracity of their evidence based upon this process of shared dialogic analysis.
3. Evidence of transformed teaching work
For the purposes of the discussion here, I will present the evidence of only three of the eight study
participants. One of these is an experienced teacher for whom accreditation against professional
standards was not required. The other two are beginning teachers who recently completed the
accreditation process. They exemplify the group of eight teachers in illustrating that the provision of
‘evidence’ for the purposes of accreditation against professional standards differs in both process and
form from teachers selecting ‘evidence’ in order to demonstrate that their professional learning has
transformed their teaching work. The truncated accounts of evidence presented here run the risk of
portraying individual participants as ‘finalised’ or ‘complete’ (Bakhtin, 1984; Frank, 2005), which is
what the methodology described above was designed to avoid. I would ask the reader to remain
mindful that these re-presentations of participant’s evidence are partial insights into how teacher’s
work appeared in a small slice of real time now passed. It should not be inferred however, from this
acknowledgement of the partial and fleeting nature of such ‘moments’ of practice that the evidence
itself lacks veracity.
Lucy, a teacher of some nineteen years teaching experience, had not been required to be accredited or
maintain accreditation against professional standards. Following a self-organised visit to a local pre-
school employing the Reggio Emilia (REAIE, 2011) approach to education, Lucy travelled to the
village of Reggio Emilia, Italy, with some funding support from her school, to learn more. She said
So I came back and I did this, I taped myself (in the classroom) and I just I talked
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excessively and the listening was (.)4 I was cutting children off in a polite way but/ So I
became more reflective as a learner and I suppose that’s what sparked on to me to go back
and do research from different areas and so I listened and I had different activities where
the children um they were, they had to, they listened…
This significant learning experience had occurred, according to Lucy, in 2006. It was 2013 when I
conducted the first research conversation with Lucy. During that conversation she elaborated on how
she had continued to learn about and implement practices that supported her and her students with
effective listening. For her evidence she invited me to observe an extended lesson sequence with her
Year 5 class in which she and her students demonstrated a rich repertoire of pedagogical practices
designed to support not just effective listening but also dialogical interactions, student to teacher and
student to student, for exploring and constructing understanding.
During Lucy’s time at this school there had been a change in ‘professional learning architect’ (PLA)
(Author, 2015), the person in the role responsible for designing school-based professional learning.
This resulted in the development of individual professional learning plans comprised of what Lucy
described as “compulsory meetings and then modules and then master classes”. This approach was
influenced by accountability procedures related to the professional standards and built around rather
narrow interpretations of numeracy and literacy. Lucy said the new system was for all teachers at the
school “Just so we can promote that document and promote the use of it”. Griffith and Smith (2014, p.
13) would describe this as an example of an “institutional circuit” in which a “boss text”, in this case
the professional standards, puts people to work in a process of producing a textual representation of
their activities that conforms to the authoritative or ‘boss’ text. Lucy felt that it was unlikely that her
‘best’ learning about which she had spoken would have occurred under this new system. Interestingly,
a second change in PLA at the school has seen the abandonment of this approach to professional
learning. During her final reflective interview, Lucy talked about how her freedom to design the
evidence and the building of ‘relational trust’ between her and I had been important to her sense of
self-efficacy. Lucy was aware that she was demonstrating her evidence to someone with whom she
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would later have the opportunity for dialogical reflection concerning its veracity. She said
I could have said oh you know, I am (focusing on) listening, this is an example and we can
all annotate in the program [Mm] but to actually/and in all honesty to actually plan that
session… being given that option to select and value … and I suppose quite courageous
and risk taking cause you’re actually going out on a limb (.) to you know, whether this will
work^… Yeh, the choice factor… I think that by giving somebody choice you’re actually
telling them ‘I trust what you’re going to be doing’. So it’s that mutual rela/you know that
relational trust [MmHm] between colleagues [MmHm]…and that gives you the confidence
where you know, you obviously value the professional learning that I’ve done and you
trust that I will select… So I think that all impacts.
For the remaining three out of eight participants in this study who had not been involved with
accreditation against standards, the selection and demonstration of evidence of transformed teaching
work was accomplished as a result of careful reflection on their practice. These teachers were very
aware of the limitations inherent in what a ‘snapshot’ of their practice might reveal or not reveal about
their practice and thus their main concern in making a selection of evidence had been whether it
would be a sufficient demonstration. In the final reflective interview, all expressed satisfaction with
what they had demonstrated while remaining open and critical of their need to continue learning about
I now focus the final part of this discussion of evidence on the data from two of the study participants
who had been required to engage with accreditation against professional standards and thus, had
previous experience of a particular process of deciding on and presenting evidence in relation to their
teaching practice. These teachers exemplify the variation in how teachers’ experiences of working
with the standards affected their consideration of ‘evidence’ for the purposes of this study. Juxtaposed
against the example of Lucy, they further highlight, albeit in different ways, the shift away from rich,
authentic evidence of transformed practice that may be an unintended consequence of the ‘ruling’
(Smith, 2005) influence of professional standards.
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Chris’ content teaching area is secondary English and he reflected on learning and provided video-
recorded evidence for the purposes of my study, that was in essence ‘completed’, in collaboration
with a mentor, in the previous year at a different school to the one in which he now worked. This
evidence he provided to me was not however, used as part of his evidence presented for accreditation
against the professional standards. His learning, exemplified by this evidence, represents what he calls
the “high-water” mark of his learning about his teaching work, so far.
Chris identified working with the mentor as the experience resulting in significant learning about his
teaching work. While mentoring, as a professional learning practice, may not always be
transformative in that the mentor-mentee relationship may serve to reinforce the status quo (Kennedy,
2005, p. 245), this was not the case for Chris. He said,
Well a good example was – I will talk about mentoring… we quickly finished the
accreditation process and we did all the documentation and he was available kinda as a
resource. He’s there in the school, he had a certain amount of time allocated to us
(beginning teachers) so I did ask a hypothetical. “So we’ve done this. Are you available to
come and work with me in some other way just to kinda develop my teaching?” and he
said yeh absolutely I’m keen to do that. So:o we came to an arrangement where he’d come
into my classroom or we’d discuss something I wanted to learn to do with a particular unit,
when time’s appropriate. He would help me in whatever way and that could be either sit
down and have a chat about how things were going, how the resources were going or he’d
actually give me some hands-on help in formulating some sort of activity or something that
was beyond what I knew.
What Chris wanted to learn about was how to encourage a group of very able but quiet students from
mostly non-English speaking backgrounds to develop the confidence to interact with dramatic texts,
such as Shakespeare, through performance as the intended purpose of the text. Through modeling and
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team teaching the expert-novice relationship of mentoring supported Chris’ learning until he felt
confident enough with the new elements of drama practice introduced by the mentor, to take full
control. This was a crucial relationship that contributed to the “social coordinating of [Chris’s]
doings” (Smith, 2005, p. 62) and facilitated Chris’ learning.
The evidence that Chris selected to demonstrate consisted of a set of six video-recordings, student
journals and an article he had written about the project for a professional journal. The videos captured
students as they worked in class discussions with him and in groups independently of him to
collaborate on script writing, develop sets and special effects, cast and act, direct and film the action.
Students had made all of the video recordings so Chris had not been able to selectively record and
present only aspects of his practice he considered favorable. In the course of the project, Chris and his
students worked with teachers across a number of subjects including Visual Arts, Industrial Arts and
Science as well as during their English lessons and in their own time. This cooperation between
teachers on a project that extended beyond any one secondary subject area and any individual teacher
contributes to a ‘subversive’ discourse of collaboration for learning that runs counter to the
‘dominant’ discourse (Bakhtin, 1981) of teachers working in isolation to achieve compliance
individually with the accreditation requirements of professional standards.
In reflecting on the connection between his learning and his demonstrated evidence, Chris made some
interesting observations about the standards and accreditation process in connection with his past,
current and imagined future learning. In relation to his past learning, he clearly acknowledged that the
work he did with his mentor after accreditation was completed was not “within the framework of the
(maintenance of) accreditation process which is you do so many hours therefore you’re approved
competent”. He views the maintenance of accreditation as a process by which
I just have to find a course that I’m signed up for or one of these things comes through,
sign up for that and it’s accredited by the Institute5, that’s your professional development.
You can’t get accreditation for something you want to do.
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He acknowledged that he could write up the kind of learning that he wants to do as part of his ‘teacher
identified’6 hours but he already has enough of these hours because he is highly motivated to engage
in learning through practitioner inquiry. It’s the standards accredited hours that he is having difficulty
fulfilling. He said,
I can see the accreditation process is very document driven and heavy to make it
accountable but then what it’s morphing into is just another task you have to perform and
have evidence that is really at odds with what we’re trying to do- if I’m into student-
centred learning why am I as a teacher being taught by teacher-centred methods. It’s a
colossal waste of money. So I pay for the course, they cover the relief and that’s a huge
amount of money that’s available to start with, you know… and I’ve got to do all of these
courses on line out of hours… I’ve only got so much time and this is going to bite into it.
I’ve got to do some type in a response, print it out and you know, it’s lip service. It’s not
meaningful, it’s not driven by needs. Whatever course is up there I’m going to learn about.
Chris’ critical reflection on the evidence of learning he provided to me as a participant in this study
attenuates his frustration with an accreditation system that he sees as being more about accountability
than either ‘quality’ teaching or learning.
Nicole was in her second year of teaching at the time of this study and so the process of providing
evidence aligned with professional standards was fresh in her mind. In the first research conversation,
Nicole recalled a classroom incident involving a difficult student and her resulting discomfort with the
way she handled the situation at the time. After a very unsettled day following this incident, she
engaged in a conversation with her mentor about which she said:
I just got to learn about the holistic nature of teaching. Which is why I kind of came into
teaching that it wasn’t just for me about teaching content but it’s about supporting the
whole child and knowing that a whole other life, a significant part of their life is beyond
Page 23 of 32!
these school walls and school fences. So that actually helped me. He shared his philosophy
and I remember saying, how have you kept so enthusiastic all these years? And he said
you’ve just got to love the kids. And just that phrase was enough for me to go Wow! I
actually can do what I’ve always wanted to do as a teacher.
Nicole went on to talk about how working with her mentor helped her to learn how to mark student
work “properly” and provide feedback. She quickly returned however, to talking about the relational
aspect of her work; “I mean that was significant and memorable because it was such a vulnerable
moment, that first instance”. Throughout the interview, Nicole interwove aspects of her learning about
the pedagogical and discursive (Comber, 2006) nature of her teaching work through her interest in
making the mandated curriculum content appropriate to the students’ context, but the relational
remained the strongest theme for the learning that occurred with her mentor. The other important way
in which Nicole worked with her mentor was on producing a portfolio of evidence for accreditation at
the level of ‘proficient’ against professional standards. While the mentor expedited this process in a
way that had contextualised meaning for Nicole’s teaching work, she was left with the question
“What really is evidence?”
As with each of the participants in the study, I had encouraged Nicole to think about ‘evidence’ in a
creative way and especially to think about how to involve what the students might be doing in the
demonstration of evidence. For her evidence, Nicole prepared and emailed me a transcript of
approximately 500 words of a classroom conversation that she had recorded amongst six students
responding to some questions she had posed. The transcript demonstrated that her aim was to learn
about students’ prior knowledge of the curriculum content focus as well as to find out something
about the students’ context in relation to this content. This evidence however, could not be said to
provide the same rich picture of transformed teaching work, as was the case with most of the other
study participants. Rather, it appeared more like evidence of Nicole’s learning about how to prepare
and present ‘evidence’ in accordance with the requirements of accreditation against a particular dot
point of the professional standards. It was concise, limited in its focus and eminently tick-able off a
list of reductive (Bloomfield, 2006; Connell, 2009; Ryan & Bourke, 2013) descriptions related to
Page 24 of 32!
‘know students…’ (AITSL, 2012b). But to leave Nicole and her learning journey there would be to do
her a grave injustice. Nicole had come to teaching after a career in the corporate world and she said of
It kind of saddens me that there is this increasing accountability in a kind of KPI [key
performance indicators] way. So that kind of disappoints me even as an early career
teacher. I find it a little bit sad. I get it. I get why it’s happening but that kind of bottom
line stuff in a socialist venture is kind of sad for me.
Even though her experience of the accreditation process was made positive and useful by the
engagement with her mentor, in combination with her knowledge of the “KPI way” of the corporate
world it seemed that working with the standards may have restricted her appreciation of what might
serve as evidence of transformed teaching work. The form of her evidence was markedly different
from any of the other participants, even the other two, not discussed here, who had also recently been
accredited as ‘proficient’. It may be that the ‘double dose’ of accountability in Nicole’s work
experience had narrowed her view of what might be considered as evidence of her professional
learning about her teaching work.
The King turned pale, and shut his note-book hastily. ‘Consider your verdict,’ he said to
the jury, in a low, trembling voice.
‘There’s more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,’ said the White Rabbit, jumping
up in a great hurry; ‘this paper has just been picked up.’
‘What’s in it?’ said the Queen.
‘I haven’t opened it yet,’ said the White Rabbit, ‘but it seems to be a letter, written by the
prisoner to — to somebody.’
‘It must have been that,’ said the King, ‘unless it was written to nobody, which isn’t usual,
Page 25 of 32!
‘Who is it directed to?’ said one of the jurymen.
‘It isn’t directed at all,’ said the White Rabbit (Carroll, 1907, p. 153).
Teachers in this study demonstrated evidence to support that when they were focused on their work in
close relationship to the learning needs of their students they did not require a set of professional
standards to guide their professional learning. What guided their learning was an aspect of their work
that they had ‘problematised’ in the sense that they were willing to make ‘unfamiliar’ that which is
usually taken for granted (Heller, 1984). In each case, it was seeking to respond to the learning needs
of their students or colleagues that gave rise to the process of problemetisation and resulted in a focus
for their learning that was quite specific. That focus sometimes extended over a number of years,
albeit as an evolving concept. None of the teachers ascribed their learning experience to either the
professional standards or the impending implementation of a national curriculum. For each of them,
the learning experience that had transformed their teaching work and for which they were able to
provide evidence had occurred in another ‘space of possibility’ (Connell, 2013; Cooper, 2013;
Gardiner, 2013; Laclau & Mouffe, 2001) created through a variety of social relationships existing in
each context. These ‘spaces of possibility’ for transformative professional learning are signifiers of
the maneuverability (Smith, 2005) that still existed during this time preceding mandatory
accreditation of all teachers. This study carefully ‘mapped’ the social relations in each context that
supported these spaces of possibility. A more thorough mapping of locally produced texts would have
been helpful in enhancing understanding of how ‘boss texts’ impact on locally developed texts that
are implicated in the ‘governance’ of teachers’ learning.
Additionally, the participants obliged to engage with accreditation commented on the extensive
demands, in terms of time and energy, to meet the requirements of accreditation against the standards.
The current requirement is for teachers to set professional learning goals against a prescribed number
of externally determined priorities, as presented in the standards (AITSL, 2012a), and to produce
evidence of learning aligned with these goals in five-yearly cycles (AITSL, 2012c). Such a
requirement may mitigate against time for learning in ‘spaces’ with a focus on the contextualised
Page 26 of 32!
needs of teachers and their students and learning that is sufficiently ‘deep’ to ensure transformation of
the teacher’s work.
The requirement for evidence that standards have been achieved and maintained might be considered
as evidence for ‘no one’ as Lewis Carroll noted regarding Alice’s trial in Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland. School-based processes and procedures around the collection and validation of such
evidence for accreditation purposes might easily become a matter of ‘ticking-off’ a list of evidence of
no particular contextual relevance rather than a collegially shared and meaningful professional
learning experience. Some of the teachers in this study were fortunate to have worked with a mentor
whose role it was to activate the governing texts associated with standards and accreditation. In doing
so the mentor mitigated, for these teachers, the sense of evidence for no one and assisted them to
produce evidence that met the needs of the texts, as the mentor had activated them, in relation to their
current practice in their current context. The perception of evidence for no one contributes to the
‘standardising’ rather than ‘differentiating’ effects on teacher learning which may contribute to the
development over time of evidence that is generic in content and form. As such, the process of
evidence production for the purposes of accreditation against standards would fail to focus on teachers
as individuals with individual learning needs. In its current form, the accreditation process directs all
teachers to produce evidence that they have all learned about items from the standards list. It would be
very difficult for an individual teacher to concentrate on deep and extended learning with a particular
focus and still meet the evidence requirements for maintenance of accreditation against a prescribed
number of standards. If the production and judgment of evidence is however, a dialogic learning
experience then the potential for transforming teaching work may be enhanced.
Providing teachers with opportunities to critically reflect on their learning through ‘authentic’
(Newmann, 1996) evidence they select in order to demonstrate the impact of such learning supports a
different view of the ‘professional’ teacher to the one associated by some teachers with the current
standards and accreditation regime. Critical evaluation of teachers’ capacity to produce authentic
evidence of transformed teaching work should inform the evolution of policy associated with
Page 27 of 32!
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