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- Investigating EFL Teachers’ Perspectives on the Importance and Barriers of Professional Development
Investigating EFL Teachers’ Perspectives on the Importance and Barriers of Professional Development
Zeinab Sazegar is Ph.D. candidate at the Islamic Azad University (IAU) of Torbat-e-Heydarieh Branch, Iran. She received her MA in TEFL from Islamic Azad University, Garmsar Branch, Iran in 2011. She is interested in e-learning, teaching methodology and teacher education. E-mail: email@example.com
Khalil Motallebzadeh is associate professor at the Islamic Azad University (IAU) of Torbat-e-Heydarieh Branche, Iran. He is a widely published researcher in teacher education, e-learning and teaching methodology. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) in 2007-2008. He is also an accredited master trainer and trainer assessor of the British Council since 2008. He has represented Iran in Asia TEFL for about a decade. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
This paper investigated teachers’ perspectives on teachers' professional development and barriers of professional development. In order to investigate teachers’ viewpoints on professional development as well as their barriers, the researchers-made questionnaire was employed to 100 EFL teachers at different universities and English institutes in Mashhad, Iran. After piloting the questionnaire the researchers administered the questionnaire. To come up with a tangible result, the collected data were analyzed through one sample test and Frequency tables. The analysis proved there is a positive and optimistic view and consensus among teachers on administering programs, pursuing postgraduate degrees; invest personal time and money as needed for their professional development and responsibility to their students. Moreover, the findings indicated that EFL teachers believed that no relevant professional development, no incentives for participation and poor quality professional development are the most frequent barriers of teachers’ professional development. This study also provides pedagogical implications for L2 educators.
The “emotional destabilisation experienced in the process of taking stock of oneself as a teacher” is typical of the act of “traversing the jagged and uneven terrain of the path towards self-knowledge and growth as a teacher” (Fitz Patrick & Spiller, 2010, p. 177). In the area of language teaching and learning, it has been argued that the gap between new research on the one hand, and teachers’ daily practice on the other, is perhaps particularly wide (e.g. Ellis, 1997; Nassaji, 2012).
The University of Management and Technology notes the use of the phrase "professional development" from 1857 onwards. Professional development is learning to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal learning opportunities situated in practice. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative stage (Speck & Knipe, 2005). According to National Professional Development Center on Inclusion (2008), there are a variety of approaches to professional development, including consultation, coaching, communities of practice, lesson study, mentoring, reflective supervision and technical assistance.
Professional development encompasses both teacher training and teacher development and refers to both formal as well as informal activities that seek to promote different dimensions of teacher learning. While a formal programme leading to a qualification may initiate the process of professional development for language teachers (or at least the acquisition of formal qualifications needed for entry into the profession), professional development also continues once a teacher commences his or her career as a language teacher (Leung, 2009). The school and the teacher’s classroom now become the main context for continued professional development. Approaches to ongoing professional development for second language teachers are based on the following assumptions:
- In any school or institution, there are teachers with different levels of experience, knowledge, skill and expertise. Mutual sharing of knowledge and experience is a valuable source of professional growth.
- Teachers are generally motivated to continue their professional development once they begin their careers.
- Knowledge about language teaching and learning is in a tentative and incomplete state, and teachers need regular opportunities to update their professional knowledge.
- Classrooms are not only places where students learn; they are also places where teachers can learn.
- Teachers can play an active role in their own professional development.
- It is the responsibility of schools and administrators to provide opportunities for continued professional education and to encourage teachers to participate in them.
- In order for such opportunities to take place, they need to be planned, supported and rewarded.
- Professional development benefits both institutions as well as the teachers who work in them.
Significance of the study
Over the past decade, however, a more broad based view of teacher professional development has emerged, treating teacher learning as interactive and social, based in discourse and community practice (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999). In this view, formal or informal learning communities among teachers can act as powerful mechanisms for their growth and development (Borko, 2004).
The need for ongoing renewal of professional skills and knowledge is not a reflection of inadequate training but simply a response to the fact that not everything teachers need to know can be provided at preservice level, as well as the fact that the knowledge base of teaching constantly changes.
Joyce (1991) identifies five dimensions of institutional improvement that teacher development can contribute to:
- Collegiality. Creating a culture through developing cohesive and professional relationships between staff (and the wider community), in which “broad” vision-directed improvements as well as day-to-day operations are valued
- Research. Familiarizing staff with research findings on school improvement, teaching effectiveness, and so on, which can support “inhouse” development
- Site-specific information. Enabling and encouraging staff to collect and analyze data on students, schools, and effects of change—both as part of a formal evaluation and informally
- Curriculum initiatives. Collaborating with others to introduce change in their subject areas as well as across the school curriculum
- Instructional initiatives.
Enabling staff to develop their teaching skills and strategies through, for example, generic teaching skills, repertoires of teaching methods, and specific teaching styles or approaches. Pelliccione and Raison (2009) show why providing teachers with a guide on how to engage in self-reflection is crucial. A reflection guide assisted the participants in their study “in structuring their reflections in a more cohesive manner. The study revealed that without such a guide the majority of the comments were descriptive and indicated less thought about the actual learning involved in the task” (p. 280). Similarly, Chetcuti, Buhagiar and Cardona (2011) found that the “purpose of reflection remains an individualistic objective to solve classroom dilemmas, rather than contribution to professional knowledge… [Teachers’] reflection was still limited to their immediate environment rather than the social, cultural milieu in which they were teaching” (p. 69). For reflective writing to contribute to teachers’ professional development, they need to be provided with sustained training in how to engage in such a practice in a critical manner.
Review of literature
A. Professional development framework The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (2009) has developed a research-based professional development framework that promotes ongoing professional development and encourages individual reflection and group inquiry into teachers' practice. In practice, the five phases overlap, repeat, and often occur simultaneously: Building a Knowledge Base. The purpose of this phase is to acquire new knowledge and information and to build a conceptual understanding of it. Activities in this phase might include goal setting, assessing needs, participating in interactive workshops, and forming a study group. Observing Models and Examples. The purpose of this phase is to study instructional examples in order to develop a practical understanding of the research. In this phase, one might participate in activities such as school and classroom visitations, peer observation, using instructional artifacts, co-planning, and listening to or watching audio and video examples. Reflecting on Your Practice. The purpose of this phase is to analyze your instructional practice on the basis of new knowledge. Activities in this phase might include the use of journals or teacher-authored cases for collegial discussion and reflection. Changing Your Practice. The purpose of this phase is to translate your new knowledge into individual and collaborative plans and actions for curricular and instructional change. Activities might include action research, peer-coaching, support groups, and curriculum development. Gaining and Sharing Expertise. The purpose of this phase is to continue to refine your instructional practice, learning with and from colleagues while also sharing your practical wisdom with your peers. Activities in this phase might include team planning, mentoring or partnering with a colleague, and participating in a network.
Many American states have professional development requirements for school teachers. For example, Arkansas teachers must complete 60 hours of documented professional development activities annually. Professional development credits are named differently from state to state. For example, teachers: in Indiana are required to earn 90 Continuing Renewal Units (CRUs) per year; in Massachusetts, teachers need 150 Professional Development Points (PDPs); and in Georgia, must earn 10 Professional Learning Units (PLUs). American and Canadian nurses, as well as those in the United Kingdom, have to participate in formal and informal professional development (earning Continuing education units, or CEUs) in order to maintain professional registration.
B. Professional development of teachers
An aspect of teacher life stories that is of great interest to us are stories concerning growth as a teacher. There are now an increasing number of studies looking at how experienced teachers continue to grow professionally by extending their understanding of their work, whether through action research (Edge, 2001; Edge & Richards, 1993; McNiff, 1993) or in other ways (e.g., Clair, 1998; Johnson & Golombek, 2002); there is, further, a common agreement that continued professional development is a need felt by all teachers regardless of their level of expertise and experience.
Teachers experience a vast range of activities and interactions that can increase their knowledge and skills, improve their teaching practice, and contribute to their personal, social, and emotional growth (Cohen, McLaughlin, &Talbert, 1993). These experiences range from formal, structured seminars on in-service days to everyday, informal hallway discussions with other teachers. Professional development activities can come in the form of workshops, local and national conferences, college courses, special institutes, and so on.
Professional development is something that teachers can pursue on their own or through collaborating with other teachers (Johnston, 2009). It is also something that can be provided for by the institution. A wide variety of methods and procedures are available for in-service teacher development consider what they are useful for, and describe procedures for implementing them. We will consider activities that can be carried out at the individual level, those that involve working with a colleague, those that are group-based, and those that are often a response to an institutional directive. Both the individual teacher’s perspective and that of the supervisor or administrator are addressed, where appropriate. Some can be carried out in more than one mod as Table 1 illustrates (Richards & Farrell, 2005: 25).
Professional development is directed toward both the institution’s goals and the teacher’s own personal goals. From the point of view of the teacher’s personal development, a number of areas of professional development may be identified:
- Subject-matter knowledge. Increasing knowledge of the disciplinary basis of TESOL—that is, English grammar, discourse analysis, phonology, testing, second language acquisition research, methodology, curriculum development, and the other areas that define the professional knowledge base of language teaching.
- Pedagogical expertise. Mastery of new areas of teaching, adding to one’s repertoire of teaching specializations, improving ability to teach different skill areas to learners of different ages and backgrounds.
- Self-awareness. Knowledge of oneself as a teacher, of one’s principles and values, strengths and weaknesses.
- Understanding of learners. Deepening understanding of learners, learning styles, learners’ problems and difficulties, ways of making content more accessible to learners.
Borg (2015) has developed his ideas regarding language teachers’ professional development further and, among other things, he suggests seven characteristics for what constitutes effective professional learning: (i) relevant to teacher and student needs, (ii) involvement of teachers in decisions about content and process, (iii) collaboration between teachers and sharing of expertise, (iv) a collective enterprise with support from schools/educational systems, (i) “exploration and reflection are emphasized over methodological prescriptivism”, (vi) availability of internal and/or external support, and (vii) teachers’ own inquiry is viewed as a learning process.
Fullan (2001, p. 265) contends that ‘teaching as a profession has not yet come of age’. To do so, he argues, needs a reform of many issues, one of which is continuous professional development. Indeed, teachers’ roles have become more complex as a result of repeated efforts of reform to make the education system responsive to changes in the other systems. Accordingly, teachers’ professional lives in schools have changed in terms of control and accountability. Teachers also have to cope with increased workloads and more complexity, unpredictability and uncertainty as a result of repeated reform initiatives. Furthermore, teachers have to deal with pupils of different needs, behaviour and backgrounds (Day, 1997). Within such a professional climate, new trends of professionalism call for a more proactive role for teachers in their professional development (Sachs, 2000). Teachers should behave as professionals (show an interest in continuous learning) (Day, 1999), and have a moral purpose for teaching where they are not only required to show devotion but also own technical knowledge (Fullan, 2001). Consequently, professionalism should be directed to counter the new complexities that teachers have to face (Barber, 1995).
C. Challenges to professional learning today
Levin and Rock (2003, p. 135) argue: Recent scholarship on professional development for teachers calls for change. According to Sparks and Hirsh (1997), it is time to find ways to move beyond the dominant training-focused models of professional development to modes that support learner-centered views of teaching. Lieberman (1995) characterized effective professional development as that which is grounded in inquiry, reflection, and participant driven experimentation, naming the role of teacher-researcher as an appropriate means. In a paper on factors influencing language teachers’ engagement in and with research, Borg (2010, 412) discusses the common view that published research ‘should directly inform practice’, and instead proposes that second/foreign language acquisition research should be viewed as a ‘source of enhanced understanding of their work, not as a direct solution to their problems’ (p.419). In addition, Borg discusses the translation process from published research to something that is accessible to teachers, arguing that research in the form of ‘detailed case studies of aspects of classroom life, may represent language learning and teaching phenomena to teachers in ways which they can relate more immediately to their own experience’ (p.416). For teachers to be not only engaged in research projects as informants, but to also be ‘critical consumers of educational research, using it to inform their instructional decisions’ (p.410), published research needs to be made available and accessible. Moreover, teachers need to be motivated to read recent research, and they also need the time and skills to read it. what makes professional development effective is critical to understanding the success or failure of school reform. But what makes professional development effective? For decades, studies of professional development focused mainly on teacher satisfaction, attitude change, or commitment to innovation, rather than professional development’s results or the processes that make it work. Moreover, the range of experiences that count as professional development make measuring its effectiveness a challenge. Scholars acknowledge that we need more empirically valid methods of studying professional development (Wayne et al., 2008).
Hodkinson’s analysis (2005) shows how top-down, one-size-fits-all professional development courses are not responsive to the participative and constructivist ways in which teachers actually learn or to the specific interests of teachers and argues that teacher learning is best improved through the construction of more expansive learning environments. In doing so, she demonstrates that those with an interest in the professional development of teachers need to understand that the barriers to changing the basis of teacher professionalism are complex and multifaceted.
There are additional challenges to effective professional learning today. Besides the problems of limited funding and teacher turnover, the focus for mandated professional development often changes yearly. As a consequence, when teachers face annual changes and lack the 3-5 years that research says it takes for new innovations (like technology, or reform-based mathematical practices, or the Common Core State Standards) to yield real change in teaching practices, they can become demotivated to implement new strategies. Too many changes or too many foci for professional development interfere with the professional learning of both novice and experienced teachers. For example, when several experienced teachers were interviewed recently about the requirement to implement both a new commercial reading program and the new Common Core
State Standards at the same time, they expressed feeling like beginning teachers all over again, displayed low self-efficacy, and as a result failed to increase their students’ learning.
Regarding the aforementioned literature, the researchers aimed to investigate the Iranian EFL teachers' preferences for professional development and its barriers. The following research questions will be answered in this research:
- What are the Iranian EFL teachers' perspectives on professional development?
- What are the barriers of teachers’ professional development from teachers' perspectives in Iranian ELT context?
The study included one hundred male and female EFL teachers teaching English in universities, public schools and language institute in Iran, Khorasan Razavi, Mashhad. There were 56 female and 44 male teachers. They had from 1 to 30 years of teaching experience and participants' academic degrees were B.A., M.A. and PhD in teaching English and English translation.
The instrument implemented in this study was a researcher made questionnaire. After piloting the questionnaire the researchers sent it to the participants. The present study used a questionnaire in order to gain a rich understanding of the Iranian EFL teachers' preferences for professional development and its barriers in Mashhad, Iran. The questionnaire was organized into two parts: A and B. Part A collects data about the respondents’ professional activities and backgrounds: gender, major, type of institution in which they work; degrees and teaching qualifications and years of teaching experience and their preferences for professional development.
Part B, which looks at Iranian EFL teachers barriers to participation in professional development. It consisted of a 5 point Likert Scale. The response categories to each of questions were in descending order of weighting: Strongly Agree (5 points), Agree (4 points), Neutral (3 points), Disagree (2 points), and Strongly Disagree (1 points). Respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement on each statement. The questionnaire employed in the study was piloted with representative samples of the correspondent group (20 EFL teachers). The Cronbach’s Alpha analyses were conducted as measures of consistency and a reasonably high range of reliability indices .777 was found. The content validity of the questionnaire was established by a panel of 2 EFL experts.
The questionnaires were administered to some EFL teachers. The rationale for using questionnaires was that questionnaires allow researchers to gather information that participants are able to report about themselves, such as their beliefs and motivations (Mackey & Gass, 2005).A sample of 100 EFL teachers participated in the study and completed the questionnaire developed for the purpose of the study.
D. Data analysis and results
To answer the research questions, version 17 of the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) was utilized. Tables 1 to 3 display the descriptive statistics of the study.
As shown in Table1, the field of the study of 68% participants is teaching English, 12% is English translation and English literature. The field of the study of 8% participants is Linguistics.
Table 2 indicated the participants' academic degrees which were B.A., M.A. and PhD. According to this table, there are 24% with B.A. academic degree, 36% M.A and 40% PhD in the study.
Table 3 showed participants’ years of teaching experience that from 1 to 30 years. As indicated in this table, 32 % participants have 1-10 years of teaching experience, 44% have 11-20 and 10 % have 24 years of teaching experience.
In this section the research questions, 1–2, are discussed in terms of the 100 participants who respond the questionnaire.
Research Question 1: What are the Iranian EFL teachers' perspectives on professional development?
One -sample test
As the results in Table 4 show, the mean score is less than 1 in administering programs, pursuing postgraduate degrees, and the level of significant is smaller than 0.5(.00) therefore, in response to first question, teachers hold positive and optimistic view and outstand toward administering programs and pursuing postgraduate degrees.
Investing personal time and money
Fifty six out of the 100 (56%) EFL teachers’ invest personal time and money as needed for their professional development as a teacher. As the results in Table 1 show, 68% of EFL teachers’ enhance their careers by focus on their responsibility to their students. EFL teachers’ do not prefer to focus on their responsibility to institution, responsibility to themselves and enjoy what they do.
Research Question 2: What are the barriers of teachers’ professional development from teachers' perspectives in Iranian ELT context?
To answer the second research question and in order to check the teachers’ perspectives on the barriers of participating in professional development, Frequency Tables was run to investigate the percent of each barriers and the results are depicted in the following tables.
No relevant professional development and no incentives for participation
Tables 7 and 8 focus on the barriers of participating in professional development. ‘Not relevant professional development, no incentives for participation and Poor quality professional development’ achieved the highest percent (P=52, 56) among other barriers, whereas the percent for other barriers is less than 50. The following barriers of professional development are investigated by researchers: ‘lack of prerequisites, too expensive /unaffordable, lack of employer support, conflicts with work schedule, lack of time because of family responsibilities, not readily accessible’.
As it was illustrated in data analysis and results, EFL teachers hold positive and optimistic perspectives and attitudes toward administering programs and pursuing postgraduate degrees. In addition, in order to investigate teachers’ views on the barriers of participating in professional development, Frequency Tables was run and the obtained data proved that ‘Not relevant professional development, no incentives for participation and poor quality professional development’’ turned out to be more dominant barriers as compared to other mentioned barriers. TALIS (2010) is the first international survey to focus on the working conditions of teachers and the learning environment in schools. An analysis of teachers’ professional development based on the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) reports after “informal dialogue to improve teaching”, the next most frequently reported activity on average across the 23 countries, was attending “courses and workshops” (81%) and “reading professional literature” (78%); the least common activities were “qualification programmes” (25%) and “observation visits to other schools” (28%). In contrast, the finding of this paper revealed that more than fifty percent of EFL teachers’ hold positive and optimistic perspective toward administering programs and pursuing postgraduate degrees, although the lowest percent belongs to attending workshops, conferences, and mentoring.
TALIS asked teachers the reasons for not undertaking professional development. Across the 23 participating countries, the most commonly cited reasons for teachers not undertaking more professional development than they did were “conflict with work schedule” (47% of teachers) and “no suitable professional development” (42%). The results of the present study are also in line with TALIS. Accordingly, after the poor quality professional development (56%), the most frequently cited barriers were not relevant professional development, no incentives for participation(52%). the finding of this study relate to Ono and Ferreira (2010) have pointed out that many models of professional development do not achieve their ambitious learning goals. Quite a few researchers (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996; Ball & Cohen, 1999; Collinson & Ono, 2001; Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Villegas-Reimers, 2003; Schwille & Dembélé, 2007) found that traditional in-service teacher professional development programs are delivered in the form of workshops, seminars, conferences or courses, which have been criticized as being brief, fragmented, incoherent encounters that are decontextualised and isolated from real classroom situations (as cited in Meng, Tajaroensuk & Seepho, 2013).
Finding of this study indicated that fifty six (56%) EFL teachers’ invest personal time and money as needed for their professional development as a teacher. Futhurmore, 68% of EFL teachers’ enhance their careers by focus on their responsibility to their students. For instance, Montgomery (2003) claims that “the insights of self reflection enable practitioners to examine ways that their own beliefs and actions impact students” (p. 181). Through self-reflection, “practitioners can scaffold their own ethical and professional development” (Montgomery, 2003, p. 181).
Conclusion and implications
This study was an attempt to investigate EFL teachers’ perspectives towards teachers' professional development ways and barriers of professional development. Results indicated that more than fifty percent of EFL teachers’ hold positive and optimistic perspectives toward administering programs, pursuing postgraduate degrees and focus on you (invest personal time, money and responsibility to their students). This study has shown that Iranian EFL teachers believed that no relevant professional development, no incentives for participation and poor quality professional development are the most frequent barriers of teachers’ professional development.
Besides, the findings of this study may have some hints for English teachers and educators. Levin and Rock (2003, p. 135) argue:
Recent scholarship on professional development for teachers calls for change. According to Sparks and Hirsh (1997), it is time to find ways to move beyond the dominant training-focused models of professional development to modes that support learner-centered views of teaching.
Workshops are one of the most common and useful forms of professional development activities for teachers (Richards, Gallo, & Renandya, 2001), although the first workshop for teachers dates back only to 1936 (O’Rourke &Burton, 1975).However, the sample of the study workshops are not willing to attending workshops. Giving teachers regular opportunities to update their professional knowledge through participating in workshops also sends an important message about the school’s commitment to quality and to professional development. Workshops also give teachers an opportunity to step back from the classroom, make connections with colleagues, and return to teaching with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.
In doing so, those with an interest in the professional development of teachers need to understand that the barriers to changing the basis of teacher professionalism are complex and multifaceted. Hodkinson’s analysis shows how top-down, one-size-fits-all professional development courses are not responsive to the participative and constructivist ways in which teachers actually learn or to the specific interests of teachers and argues that teacher learning is best improved through the construction of more expansive learning environments.
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