Teachers' Experiences of Learning Through a Reflective Inquiry Process Focused on the Relationship Between Teaching Beliefs and Behaviors
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This qualitative study examined how teachers learn when they are prompted and supported to reflect on their teaching beliefs and behaviors and the relationship between those beliefs and behaviors. The results are presented as case study narratives of the three public school teachers who participated in the study, and the narratives detail the teachers’ experiences of learning through a reflective inquiry process as they each worked on a self-selected action research project and simultaneously analyzed their beliefs about teaching and learning. Through the reflective inquiry process, the teachers created a teaching platform, engaged in action research, participated in a collegial group, and experienced a critical friendship with the researcher. Although the current knowledge base includes substantial literature on learning communities, little research addresses teachers’ experiences of learning within those communities. This study documented the participants’ journeys through a reflective inquiry process and examined the role of reflection in their learning, specifically the impact on teacher learning when teachers reflect on their beliefs and behaviors. The data collection process consisted of interviews, group meetings, observations, post-observation conferrals, and written reflections. Each of these methods facilitated the teachers’ professional development process and was used to gather data on that process. Data analysis included a recursive process of reducing and interpreting the data, with the resultant conclusions drawn from those results.
Findings include that teachers are not accustomed to thinking about their beliefs, and that the experience of doing so is an emotional and important process for teachers’ professional development. Sharing beliefs promotes accountability for teachers’ practices. By creating a teaching platform and comparing teaching behaviors with those espoused beliefs, teachers experience cognitive dissonance which can motivate them to make changes to their beliefs and/or behaviors. The level of teachers’ learning and improvement during this process is related to their level of engagement with teacher inquiry. Teachers’ informally stated beliefs must also be analyzed for congruence with teaching platforms, as the informal beliefs may not align with the teaching platform but will continue to impact teachers’ practices. For a reflective inquiry process to be most effective in impacting teacher learning and practice, the school culture must support this effort, including the open dialogue that is a key component of the process.
These findings indicate that there is a need for teachers to be supported to engage in teacher inquiry with a specific focus on their teaching beliefs. School leaders should foster a professional learning environment that facilitates this type of self-reflection and the collegial dialogue that is necessary for making significant changes to practice. Educational leadership preparation programs can use the information from this study to better understand the struggle teachers encounter when their school culture is counterproductive to reflection and learning, and glean insight as to the kinds of reflective processes that can spark teachers’ growth. Prospective school leaders should graduate from leadership programs well-equipped to collaborate with teachers to create a learning community centered on reflective inquiry.