Teacher collaboration and development in practice : An ethnographic approach to language teachers’ professional development in a university and an upper secondary school in Cuba
Abstract: By learning and developing continuously in practice, many teachers are trying to improve their teaching. In order to support this process, schools promote models of professional development (PD). Previous studies point out the educational system of Cuba as especially successful in the PD of their teachers. To understand why their model is successful, the author of this study visited and participated in the field for three months observing and speaking with Cuban teachers. What is their model of PD and what are its opportunities and constraints? The study was conducted with an ethnographic approach, with field visits at foreign language departments of a university and an upper secondary school. Observations of different activities were made. Interviews and conversations took place with actors in the field. Much PD appeared to originate from collaboration, so this became the focus of the study. Wenger’s concept of learning in communities of practice formed a theoretical basis. To understand aspects of collaborative learning, Engeström’s theory of learning by expanding was also applied. The PD model is regulated and controlled from a top-down perspective, but at the same time ensures much time and space for continuous learning together in communities and gives teachers a meta-language to talk about development. Much learning in the communities is based on less experienced teachers learning from more experienced or from methodologists. These teacher communities may be interpreted as professional learning autonomies where individual and collective change and creativity is seen, sometimes even in conflict with other ideas in the educational system. This study also indicates that teacher PD is very intertwined in a context with a fine balance between opportunities and constraints. This high level of complexity implies that selecting and transferring separate success factors into other contexts may be difficult.
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