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Action research mentoring for supporting professional development of teachers as learners in Croatian educational contex

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Action research mentoring for supporting professional development of teachers as learners in Croatian educational context. Branko Bognar. My professional way. I started my professional career in the fall of 1987 as teacher in small school 50 km from Zagreb . A need for learning.

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Action research mentoring for supporting professional development of teachers as learners in Croatian educational context

Branko Bognar

my professional way
My professional way
  • I started my professional career in the fall of 1987 as teacher in small school 50 km from Zagreb.
a need for learning
A need for learning
  • Despite my wish to improve quality of my teaching and beginning successes after two years I came across lack of new ideas. I have also realized how my formal education was only enough for surviving but not for inventing new possibilities. Therefore I started with learning in more or less formal way.
my n ew role as pedagogue
My new role as pedagogue
  • After my pedagogy study, which I completed while I was working, I was hired as a school pedagogue in a primary school “Vladimir Nazor” in Slavonski Brod. In my new role as a pedagogue I have tried to assist teachers in introducing changes which aim was to break from the boundaries of traditional teaching.
professional information is not enough to start educational changes
Professional information is not enough to start educational changes
  • I believed that the most important factor in accomplishing this task was continued professional development. In spite of the quality of different forms of professional development and teachers wishes for learning and changes, teaching practice did not changed significantly – teaching still retained the form in which teachers were oriented to meet official program with little effort to develop different children’s capabilities and especially their creativity. I realized how professional information, on which is professional development of teachers mostly reduced, is not sufficient for the true educational changes.
reasons for starting a new project
Reasons for starting a new project
  • That is why I decided to start a project which would, in addition to professional information, include reflective approach in education, improve teacher’s capabilities, and assist them in creating their pedagogical vision, plan of changes and questioning their accomplishment based on gathered information.
the role of a teacher in croatian schools
The role of a teacher in Croatian schools

The role of a teacher as a reflective practitioner or an action researcher in Croatia is still insufficiently appreciated and promoted.

the teacher as mediator or technicians
The teacher as mediator or technicians

In our country, the teachers are most frequently perceived as mediators or technicians whose task is to prepare and implement the tuition based on devised out-of-school expert instructions. Their role is more artisan-like, being less professional and creative.

action researches enables improvement of practice
Action researches enables improvement of practice

Action research enables the teachers, along with other education-process participants (students, parents, expert confreres), to initiate the changes aiming at the improvement of educational practice as well as personal emancipation. Emancipation implies liberation of invisible limitations caused by prejudices, compulsion, and ideology.

living action res e arches
Living action researches
  • Whitehead argues for living approach to educational theory which is “growing in the living relationship between teachers, pupils and professional researchers and embodied within their forms of life.” (Whitehead, 1989a, p. 3) It is the value laden practical activity to difference of the traditional science approaches which intent to be of neutral value. Neglect of our values could impel us to undertake the action to change that situation. In the same time values serve as the criteria for assessing results of ours activities. (Whitehead, 1989b, p. 3)
my values
My values

I wanted to fully realized the following values in my practice:

  • Education based on freedom
  • Future oriented education
  • Emancipatory education
  • Communicational acting
my living contradiction
My living contradiction
  • My role of pedagogue – professional adviser - has not often been in accordance with my values: freedom, future oriented, emancipated and communicational education.
  • At that time I lost my time dealt with timetables, statistics, servicing the computers, writing letters and reports. In this manner my values were neglected in my practice. Obviously, it was my living contradiction.
Certainly, not all my values were neglected. I’ve done many jobs which were in accordance with my values. For example I’ve organised workshops, helped teachers to improve their teaching, helped teachers and students in using the computers etc.
h ow could i improve my practice as a pedagogue professional adviser
How could I improve my practice as a pedagogue (professional adviser)?
  • With my aim to live my values fully, I invited 18 teachers from several elementary schools to join and start with action research project with main question:
  • “How can I help teachers and myself to undertake, in our circumstances, the new role of the reflective practitioner and the action researcher who is capable to improve one's own practice?”
the project
The project
  • The Project started in spring 2000 years and officially finished in spring 2002 years. Unofficially we have never finished the project.
  • We divided the project in two parts. In the first part, we realized ten workshops which aim was teacher’s learning and practicing new skills. We dealt with themes just as Confrontation with the risk of change, the Reflective Teacher, Multiple Intelligence, Vision of Future School and so on.
example of one workshop in the first part of the project
Structure of the workshop “Dealing with the risk of changes”
    • Associating of teachers at the beginning of workshop.
    • Teachers introduced themselves.
    • I introduce the topic of workshop.
    • I prepared worksheets in advance.
    • Teachers talked about their experience with changes in their practice.
    • Participants tried to determine positive and negative sides of changes (group working).
    • They made presentation.
    • Spokespersons reported common conclusions.
    • Teachers’ discussion about their positive and negative experience with changes.
    • Arrangement over a date for the next meeting.
Example of one workshop in the first part of the project
my living contradicition
My living contradicition
  • My roleduring that period was predominant. This fact was in contradiction with my values (emancipation) but that was in the tune with the teachers’ awaiting.
results of first part of project
Results of first part of project
  • During that period teachers visited each others’ lessons and discussed about that. They hesitated to speak honestly about problems which they observed. The first part of the project was easier and a more appropriate way of professional development for more teachers, but they were less responsible for preparation and realization of workshops. They just participated in activities prepared beforehand.
teachers action research
Teachers’ action research

In the second part of the project we started with teachers’ action research projects. The role of the action researcher was impossible for most members of the community, but in spite that some of them realized first hand action research where they freely made plans and improved their practice.

action researches mentoring
Action researches mentoring
  • Mentoring was shown to be a better way to introduce teachers to an action research process rather than meeting as a learning community.
  • Mentoring satisfied teachers’ needs for encouraging and supporting (Stoll & Fink, 2000, p. 209).
  • I realised that for qualitative mentoring the number of novice action researcher should not be more than five, because all of them need enough attention which is difficult to sustain with a lot of mentees.
the feedback in mentoring
The feedback in mentoring

The feedback is very important for teachers who participate in mentoring, but not any and whenever. It is important that the mentor answers in a short time. In the action research things occur very fast so if teachers wait too long to the answer maybe it has not the importance for them because new problems appear or they are cooled down for the previous problem or for the research in all. Answers should be an incentive. It means that teachers should be encouraged, understood and advised. The action research is emotionally very exciting process and it is important that answers would not be official and distant because teachers could realise that the mentor is not interested in their researches. Critiques should be balanced and explained.Advice which a mentor offers should not be too extensive and expressed too expertly, because it could inhibit initiative of novice action researchers.

mentoring is a risky job
Mentoring is a risky job

Mentoring is always a risky job because in some moments as critics and advisers what we say could make our interlocutor angry, upset or hurt. It is especially possible if the teacher because of other tasks put the action research in the second plan or if he/she does not know something how to do. Then it is better to delay the mentoring process and find out what the teacher is worried about, and than agree with him/her what to do.

mentoring over an e mail
Mentoring over an e-mail
  • E-mail manifested as the successful way of mentoring.
  • Writing is the process which much more impels teachers into thinking than speaking. Apart from that, the written word stays as a permanent document which may be used in a different phase of the research?
  • Written answers were much more important for teachers than spoken, because their thoughts and activities were more valued.
Jasna: E-mailing with the mentor during the action research was significant for me and was a very stimulating for me. Since I had defined the problem and the theme of my action research I was aware how much that way of communication helped in clearing of my thoughts and attitudes. Though I spoke a lot of the research with the facilitator and others participants in the project, as with those who follow us in that – my pedagogue and family, especially important to me was the correspondence through Internet. When I started the research, I kept record in my action research diary every day, and I sent these writings to the mentor. He answered me very exhaustively almost every day.

It was very significant and encouraging for me that he followed me in my idea, he helped me to better understand what I thought and what I wrote without attempt to impose some of his solutions or ideas. He ‘listened’ to me actively. Something else delighted me and gave the importance to my records. Branko analysed each of my sentences and commented them. He conducted towards my records as it was literary or philosophical creation. All of that stimulated me to write regularly my diary and wait the answer, which was not often just an answer to my letter, than it was the answer to my inner, unexpressed questions.

(e-mail, sent: Jasna Zubčić, sent: Tue 07th May 2002, 23:07)

the preconditions of successful mentoring
The preconditions of successful mentoring
  • Participants of the action research need to talk about their work. They usually speak with co-workers or professional adviser but also with the members of their family.
  • Mentoring could be successful only if both side (mentor and mentee) learn from each others. In that way the mentoring could not be reduced on the transmission of knowledge or skills as it is usually defined in the business field. It is rather the process where both sides are involved in the process of research with the aim to improve their practice (Fletcher, 2000; Holden, 2002, p. 20; Mullen, 1999, p. 13).
project results
Project results
  • Our project gained the following results:
    • permanent teachers’ professional improvement,
    • critical thinking about their existing school,
    • creating and realization of a shared pedagogical vision,
    • improvement of teaching practice,
    • popularization of action research.
new project and researches
New project and researches
  • The Network of learning communities,
  • Children as action researchers,
  • E-collaboration system in teachers’ action researchers. ( )
  • The action research projects in teachers’ professional development are not occasional professional information, but it is rather the way of life which offers happiness of the creation to teachers but also demand of them to take the responsibility for the results which they gain. Only emancipated, competent, creative and (self)critical teachers may realize school of higher quality.