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The professional learning of teachers and tutors: a complex process or a step-by-step event?

Maria N. Gravani*
Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, email:

Peter D. John
Faculty of Education, University of Plymouth, email address:

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Crete, 22-25 September 2004

1. Introduction

We are living at a time when information and knowledge is being produced at a rapid rate partly due to the new technologies. It is also the case that education systems see the value of continuous and lifelong learning in order to adjust to the rapid pace of change. At such times, there is a renewed concern with the teacher as adult professional learner, demonstrated through the current emphasis on ‘in-service training’, ‘continuing professional development’ and the wider concern with ‘the knowledge-based society’ and ‘lifelong learning’ (Eurydice, 2001; Hoban, 2002; Gravani, 2003; Hargreaves, 2003; Sachs, 2003). In response, institutions of Higher Education have broadened their involvement in professional and continuing education. Researches have also placed a growing emphasis on the importance of seeking to ensure opportunities for teachers’ continual learning and provide sufficient development resources and programmes to support these opportunities (Cohen & Ball, 1990; Darling-Hammond, 1990, 1996; Richardson, 1994; Sykes, 1996; Putnam & Borko, 1997; Tsafos & Katsarou, 2000; Fullan, as quoted in Borko et al., 2002).

Within this context what teachers learn should be as important as how they learn (John & Gravani, 2004) and emphasis should be placed on the processes by which they grow professionally as well as the conditions that support and promote that growth. As Clarke & Hollingsworth (2002, p. 947) point out, "the optimization of the outcomes of a process is facilitated by the understanding of that process". Nevertheless, although understanding the internal dynamics of professional learning, its context and its occasions can only lead to the design of more reliable powerful and effective learning programmes and procedures, educational research often lacks insight into the subtleties of the processes of professional learning (Claxton, 1996 a; Clarke & Hollingsworth, 2002). In particular, we still know very little about the ‘fine-grained’ processes that are at work during the organization and delivery of the courses and the ways in which different forms of learning and knowledge interact. Answers to these questions are vital.

The research reported in this paper aspires to illuminate some of the above issues by giving voice to the experiences and perceptions of both teachers and tutors as they embark (albeit from different standpoints) on a university provided in-service training programme in Greece. This exploratory study is therefore an attempt to extract from the findings those ideas and practices that, suitably adapted, could contribute to the re-organization of programmes for teachers that facilitate professional learning. In so doing, it leans on a research framework that views certain programme elements as being vital in unveiling the processes of professional learning. These are used heuristically only, since the ultimate purpose of the study is to allow participants’ voices to be heard.

2. Professional learning: a problem of definition

According to Freidson (1994, p. 15), "One cannot study process without a definition guiding one’s focus any more fruitfully than one can study structure without a definition. Professional learning has been proved difficult to pin down conceptually and even these who are generally regarded as leading writers in the field (Cervero, 1988; Claxton, 1996 a, 1996 b; McCulloch, Helsby & Knight, 2000; Hoban, 2002; Kwakman, 2003) do not define precisely what they mean by the term. Claxton (1996 a), for example, offers no definition of professional learning despite his incorporation of it into the title of the paper. His interpretation of professional learning is implicit in his outline of the rationale and the issues raised in the study reported. He refers to professional learning in education as being "a very particular kind of learning - or rather, encompasses a family of kinds of learning that is distinct both from that in other professional or technical spheres, and from academic learning" (Claxton, 1996 a, p. 5). He comments on its goal by arguing that it: "is certainly not merely an expanded intellectual understanding; it is a change in the practical, instinctive way in which one responds in front of a class, in a seminar, in a meeting" (Claxton, 1996 a, p. 5).

For others (Bottery & Wright, 1996; Bottery, 1998; Armour & Balboa, 2000; McCulloch, Helsby & Knight, 2000; and Kwakman, 2003), teachers’ learning is referred to as professional learning, in that a central element of it is giving priority to the needs of clients. In particular, Armour & Balboa (2000) view professional learning as a life-long process, the focus of which in the teaching profession is mainly upon the content of a particular subject and on diverse methods with which to teach it. McCulloch, Helsby & Knight (2000, p. 90), explain that professional learning encourages creativity, reflection, and consideration of the best forms of education for the different needs of children they teach. Instead of offering an explicit definition of the term, they mainly focus on describing its main characteristics. They see it as "situated, specific and practical in character", and mostly taking place "in the normal workings of activity systems". They further argue that the main form of professional learning is not through courses and conferences, although they have their place, and that its improvement is contingent upon the improvement of activity systems. Kwakman (2003, p. 152) ultimately concludes that "The process by which teachers acquire the new knowledge, skills, and values which will improve the service they provide to clients’ (Hoyle & John, 1995, p.17), teachers’ learning is strongly connected to professional goals which demand teachers to strive for continuous improvement of their teaching practices. From this principle, teacher learning is rather referred to as professional learning". This pragmatic definition is adopted throughout this study. To avoid endless repetition the term professional learning is used interchangeably with the term learning and teacher learning.

3. Conceptualising professional learning: a research framework

3.1. Perspectives on professional learning

In proposing a model to guide inquiry in teacher learning for educational change, Hoban (2002) identified four theoretical perspectives on learning, each underpinned by a different assumption concerning the unit of analysis or focus for learning. His taxonomy will serve as the framework for this literature review.

3.1.1. A cognitive perspective

In cognitive learning theories the unit of analysis or focus for learning is in the mind of the individual. They originate from the work of Jean Piaget (1950) who believes that learning is a process of continually reworking an individual’s knowledge based on personal experiences. The cognitive perspective, therefore, explicates the process of personal knowledge construction and highlights the importance of an individual’s prior knowledge as a major influence on learning (Hoban, 2002). A key assumption of this view is the notion that learning is cumulative in nature. Nothing has meaning or is learned in isolation from prior experience (Shuell, 1986). The above assumption has a pedigree dating back to Dewey (1933, p. 34) who claims that "No one can think about anything without the experience and information about it".

There are several critiques of a cognitive perspective on learning. The cognitive perspective, despite making headway in illustrating how personal knowledge construction occurs, offers no explanations on how identity is constructed and how social interactions influence the individual members of a community (Schoenfeld, 1999). Moreover, it does not explain how an individual learns completely new knowledge about which no prior knowledge exists (Solomon, 1994). If learning occurs through the reconstruction of prior knowledge, how is completely new knowledge generated? Finally, it does not explain why some individuals can perform complicated mental functioning in an authentic setting, but not repeat these processes in a classroom setting (Hoban, 2002). Different studies (Lave 1988 a; 1988 b) have shown that learning is context-bound in an authentic situation and therefore they project a unit of analysis other than the mind of the individual. This links up with the situated perspective on learning which is illustrated in the following section.

3.1.2. A situated perspective

This emphasizes the importance of the situation or context for learning based on the idea that the thinking of an individual cannot be separated from its context. It evolves from sociology and anthropology assuming that the unit of analysis or focus for learning is the individual-in-social-action. A sociocultural perspective on learning has been represented in various forms, such as situated cognition (Brown et al., 1989) and situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Putnam & Borko (2002, p. 38) identify three conceptual themes that are central to the situated perspective. According to them, "cognition is (a) situated in particular physical and social contexts; (b) social in nature; and (c) distributed across the individual, other persons and tools".

The key assumptions of a situated perspective were criticized by Anderson et al., (1996) on the following grounds: first, learning is not always contextual, since skills can also be taught without being in an authentic setting; second, although the situated perspective assumes that knowledge cannot be transferred from one context to another, different amounts of knowledge can be transmitted according to the amount of practice and type of representation; third, it is not necessary for training to occur in an authentic setting as long as it is combined with concrete examples. This can be done through the use of video and information technology; fourth, instruction does not always have to take place in complex, social environments, as some training is best taught as component skills and integrated with practice. Moreover, Salomon (1993) challenges the situated perspective by arguing that it does not explain how a community generates its own collective knowledge and extends that knowledge. He argues that the collective knowledge of a community must be related to the knowledge that individuals bring to the group and that unless new members, who hold additional knowledge that is stored in their minds, join the community, it is unlikely that the information of the latter grows.

3.1.3. Theoretical pragmatism

A pragmatic approach to learning advocates that a cognitive or a situated perspective on learning can be used depending on ‘what works’ (Hoban, 2002). As identified previously, both perspectives offer valuable insights into the learning processes and they are useful for understanding particular influences, but they focus on different aspects. The cognitive emphasizes the importance of personal conditions for learning such as prior knowledge, and the situated stresses the importance of social and contextual conditions. As Cobb (1994, p. 13) proposes, we should be pragmatic about theories and use whichever one suits a particular purpose or use them in combination with one perspective constituting the ‘figure’ and the other the ‘ground’ of the learning process. Anderson et al., (2000, p. 13) try to find common ground between the two learning perspectives. They claim that both should inform educational research but a high priority should be given to research that moves toward merging the diverse perspectives within which educators currently work. Similarly, Merriam & Caffarella (1999), Claxton (1996 b) and Putnam & Borko (1997) advocate that learning is not unique to one theoretical perspective but should be viewed through multiple perspectives. They use a lens that draws together the tenets of different learning perspectives to look at adult and professional learning.

Putnam & Borko (1997) commenting on teacher learning propose an eclectic approach to this built on the personal nature of knowledge and beliefs as well as the social, situated and distributed nature of cognition. In the light of the above, they suggest the following six conditions for optimum learning: first, teachers should be treated as active learners who construct their own knowledge; second, they should be empowered and treated as professionals; third, they need to consider what ideas are essential in their learning and gain different expertise. This relates to the distributed nature of cognition; fourth, they also need to use a range of tools, such as information technology, to keep track of the vast information available; fifth, teacher education should be situated in classroom practice; and finally, educators should treat teachers as they expect teachers to treat students.

The above educators, despite favouring integrated and eclectic approaches to learning and arguing for the adoption of multiple perspectives, do not link them together into a coherent ‘learning system’. Hoban (2002) attempts to do so in the ‘systems thinking’ approach illuminated in the following section.

3.1.4. A ‘systems thinking’ approach

This does not consist of a new theory of learning but a way of thinking that brings together the core ideas of existing learning perspectives and underlines the interplay between them. It emphasizes the relationships among elements in a ‘learning system’, a term which is used to describe the ‘reciprocal spiral relationship’ (Salomom & Perkins, 1998) that emerges, when personal, social and contextual conditions for learning interact to improve each other in a way that a synergy is produced by their mutual influence. Hence, according to Hoban (2002), the unit of analysis or focus for learning in the ‘systems thinking’ approach is the ‘individual in related action’. "Learning is therefore distributed among influences on learning, rather than across a social setting (as in a situated perspective) or within an individual (as in a cognitive perspective)" (Hoban, 2002, p. 59) (italics and parentheses: emphasis in the original).

Hence the ‘individual in related action’ as a unit of analysis, by focusing on the relationships between different elements, acknowledges that individual learning is affected by different actions, such as a group discussion, or a practice setting, or by tools, like the video or books. "Any context, therefore, can be viewed as a learning system with multiple relationships among people, the setting and artefacts, much like a spider web, but not all need to be operational at one time or to the same extent" (Hoban, 2002, p. 60). In this respect, ‘action’ can be anything that provides insights or understanding, such as watching television or listening to a lecture. This contrasts with the notion that learning needs to occur in a community of practice, which is prevalent in the situated perspective.

3.2. Research framework

This study draws upon a set of ideas that cohere under the rubric programme development, particularly the work of Tyler (1949), Knowles (1980, 1990) and Brookfield (1986). In particular, it harnesses the key concepts of planning, diagnosis needs, design, climate and evaluation as heuristics to both guide data collection and structure analysis. With regards to planning, a cardinal principle of andragogy is that a mechanism must be provided for the involvement of all the parties in the planning of any educational enterprise. If this is not forthcoming, claims Knowles (1990), adult professional learners often only feel committed to any decision in proportion to the extent to which they have participated in making it. Diagnosing the needs for learning involves deciding about the procedures to be used for helping learners responsibly and realistically identify what they need to learn. Knowles (1990) compares designing a comprehensive programme to creating a work of art and argues that it consists of selecting the combination of learning units and learning formats that will most effectively accomplish the objectives of the programme and arrange them into a pattern. A climate conducive to learning is regarded to be a necessary prerequisite to effective adult professional learning (Brookfield, 1986; Knowles, 1990; Bickel & Hattrup, 1995; Palincsar et al., 1998; Gravani, 2003). Knowles (1990) identifies two aspects of climate: physical environment, i.e. the typical classroom set up, material infrastructure, schedule fitting, and psychological climate, i.e. mutual respect, collaboration, supportiveness, openness. If every learning experience is to lead to further learning, then the evaluation process is vital. Kirkpatrick (1975) conceives of evaluation as four steps, all of which are required for an effective assessment of a programme. These are: reaction evaluation, learning evaluation, behaviour evaluation, and results evaluation.

4. Methodology

4.1 The context

Two in-service programmes organised for philologists (secondary teachers in Ancient and Modern Greek, Latin, History and Philosophy) at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece, between December 2000 and June 2001, provide the focus for this study. These programmes are entitled: ‘In-service Training for Philologists’, organised by the Department of Philology (Division of Classics), and ‘Professional In-service Training for Philologists’ organised by the Department of Philosophy & Education in co-operation with the History & Archaeology Department.

The programme in the Philology Department offered 420 hours of in-service training in Ancient Greek Philosophy, Tragedy, Rhetoric, Latin Literature, Latin Language, Modern Greek, and Teaching Methodology of Ancient and Modern Greek. Training in Information Technology was also offered to thirty (30) experienced philologists from different parts of Greece. Ten (10) university teachers were involved in teaching the above subject areas. The programme was addressed mainly to those teaching in upper secondary schools the primary purpose being to up-date their subject knowledge in both Classical Languages. The participants in the programme, after being assessed through a written essay in one of the ten courses attended and taking exams in Information Technology, were awarded a Certificate of In-service Training (Greek Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs (U P E P Q ), 2000 a).

In the Department of Philosophy and Education the 420 hours of in-service training was distributed similarly among the following subjects: General History and History of the Civilisation, Ancient and Modern Greek, Linguistics, Educational Theory and Research, Teaching Methodology of History, Greek Language, Ancient and Modern Greek Literature, developments in the Socio-Cultural and Economic Context, as well as Information Technology. Overall, forty-seven (47) university teachers were involved in teaching twenty-nine (29) philologists who attended the programme (U P E P Q , 2000 b). Again the course was aimed at updating their subject knowledge, informing the teachers on educational theory, research, teaching methodologies, and making them aware of recent developments and reforms in education. The method of assessment was identical in both courses.

4.2. Participants

Twenty-two (22) secondary teachers - eleven (11) from each of the two departments, examined - and twelve (12) university teachers - six (6) from each of the two departments, were randomly selected for the present study. The secondary teachers (sixteen (16) women and six (6) men) ranged in their teaching experience in both the Lower (Gymnaseo) and the Upper (Lykeo) secondary education from ten (10) to seventeen (17) years. They had extensive experience of teaching virtually all the subjects that a philologist would teach in a typical Greek school. Their prior experience of attending in-service courses also varied from zero to three months. The university teachers (three (3) women and nine (9) men) ranged in academic rank from Professor to Research Assistant and had different experience in university teaching. They also varied in their experience as classroom teachers and teachers in professional development courses, ranging typically from no experience at all to thirty-eight (38) years. Their areas of specialization included: Classical Studies, Pedagogy, History, Modern Greek, Linguistics and Information Technology in Education. To sum up, with regards to the choice of participants, the sample was opportunistic rather than stratified. According to this approach, every individual had an equal chance of being selected (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

4.3. Interviews, data analysis and presentation

The data collection consisted of the transcripts of in-depth, audio-recorded, semi-structured interviews carried out over a two-months period (May-June 2000). Participants were interviewed separately in a setting and at a time that was convenient and comfortable for them. The interviews took place in their homes and in their offices. Each interview lasted between one and one and a half hour. To safeguard anonymity the names of the participants were altered and specific details concerning their jobs were omitted. In order to acquire the participants’ perceptions and experiences on professional learning, specific questions were addressed regarding the key elements of the heuristic described above. Questions like ‘How did you feel about the atmosphere of the programme? ’ or ‘Did you have any sort of involvement in the planning of the programme?’ were used as a bed-set to construct and in-depth approach to the participants’ beliefs about the particular characteristics of the key elements, such as mutual respect, collaboration, needs identification etc, addressing questions like ‘How did you see your relationship and cooperation with teachers and tutors in the programme?’ or ‘To what extend were your needs and priorities met in the course of the programme?’.

The data analysis involved the deployment of the constant comparative method, whereby categories and their properties emerged from a detailed sententious analysis of the data. For the purposes of illustration the heuristic was used to structure the early stages of the data analysis. Then a series of codes were applied to the corpus; these were derived from an iterative reading of the data and guided the validity of the emerging themes. This process comprised three sub-components - naming, comparing and memoing. The themes were then contextualised by placing them in correspondence to the literature through the process of theoretical memoing (Locke, 2001). The final accounts were illustrated by using the most telling pieces of data, which evoked the original words of the participants.

5. The analysis

5.1. Planning

5.1.1. Setting up the context

The Greek Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs set the philosophy, general aims and principles of the in-service training programme. University departments therefore had to act within a pre-determined and fairly rigid context and specify the aims, courses offered, trainers, resources available and expenses required. With regards to the extent to which they were flexible to formulate the programme, a male tutor and Research Assistant in the university for the last four years, who had had some involvement in planning, commented: "There is a fixed form ordering you to have this and this. There isn’t something under formation. It’s only the content of the teaching units and any related details that can be moulded". This points out that the in-service course was centrally controlled and imposed from the macro - government, to the micro level - universities and teachers.

It was within the above context that the specific aims of the programme were set and subjects and tutors were selected by the individual departments. The analysis revealed that no mechanism for mutual planning was put into practice. In particular the teachers had no involvement at all and even eight (8) out of the twelve (12) tutors interviewed had no input into the planning. Given the above, all the secondary teachers interviewed, with one exception, complained about not been involved in planning and advocated the necessity for their priorities to have been discussed beforehand. The following statement from a male teacher with twelve years experience, representative of the group, illustrates this. He commented:

I wish we had been asked for what exactly we wanted. In all the programmes I had attended, there was no chance for this…You have expectations but since you don’t participate in defining your in-service, you end up experiencing a gap…I attribute this to the Greek educational system, which is highly centralized. Centralization marginalizes teachers who are regarded to be simple units…nothing can be done due to the extremely autocratic structure in administration and organization of the system. (Teacher, 9)

The teacher quoted above talking in the light of his experiences in in-service training programmes, including the one under investigation argued that no opportunities were ever given to teachers to participate in planning. In contrast, a rather top-down approach was adopted in "all the programmes" he attended, which led to a gap between expectations and provision. He also went on to say that this was due to the "highly centralized" educational system in Greece wherein teachers’ experience was given no value. He therefore blamed the "autocratic structure" of the system for teachers’ low status.

Only one (1) schoolteacher in the sample, an extraordinary case, felt that teachers should not be asked to plan their in-service training. She presented herself as being happy with a top-down approach, where teachers should accept proposals already imposed on them. She clearly preferred decisions to be made for her and believed that secondary teachers should not be involved in planning. She justified her point of view by saying that it was difficult to come to an agreement when many people are asked. She, therefore, presents herself as an exemplar of the deficit view of teachers’ professional knowledge and distrusts their ability to develop their in-service training by deprofessionalizing herself and accepting the non-professional status of teachers. It can be argued that she is representative of a phenomenon of teachers in Greece who are satisfied with a hierarchical approach.

5.1.2. Locating the recipients

As indicated in the findings, teachers became aware of the programme through their schools. All of them (22) and even three (3) of their tutors interviewed, assessed information given to them as not being comprehensive and in some cases being inaccurate and misleading. The following quote from an interview with a female teacher, typical of the group, illuminates the above. She claimed:

I first learnt about the programme, when the announcement came at school…I applied immediately…We didn’t know much about it…In my school no information arrived with regards to the timetable, subjects and tutors…As a result, what I found out with the beginning of the programme, was not what I was expecting. (Teacher, 18)

In the above extract the teacher presented herself as being poorly informed about the programme at the time she applied for it. Consequently, when she joined this, she experienced a gap between expectations and provision. Similarly, all the teachers interviewed expressed resentment about poor information given to them and advocated the necessity for more and better information to have been disseminated a priori. In particular, two (2) of them attributed the lack of accurate and comprehensive information given to a wider context of the Greek reality, wherein lack of information and misinformation is status quo. Three (3) of the tutors interviewed also felt that there was a problem with regards to the information sent to teachers. They argued that the latter arrived at the programme being poorly informed, having inaccurate impressions and ignoring their tasks in the course of it. This has influenced their participation and engagement in the processes of professional learning.

Secondary teachers were selected centrally for the progamme on the basis of an application. They all felt that their selection process was poorly organized. In particular, they characterized this as being tiring and frustrating, involving lots of anxiety and pressure due to a lack of proper information and continuous delays. The following quote from an interview with a female teacher, representative of the group, who was moved kilometres away from the place of her permanent residence to attend the in-service course, elucidates the selection process:

Lots of frustration…I first applied for the programme last year. This was meant to start in the spring term, March 2000. (I got) no information. Finally, I was told that I was selected for it but this was postponed…In October 2000, I was informed that the same programme was about to start in the autumn term 2000. I was asked if I wanted to participate. I was positive. Then a second period of suspense started. The programme meant to start November the 1st.…it started December the 12th. Organization from the Ministry was a source of irritation, and tiredness. (Teacher, 6)

In this statement the teacher describes clearly the way in which she was selected to the programme highlighting the effects that the process had on her psychology. According to her, selection was an exhausting procedure, which she expresses vividly using the following words: "frustration", "irritation", "tiredness". This was due to repetitive delays in the implementation of the in-service, both before and after she had been informed about her selection - overall it was delayed for nine months - and also due to the lack of information given to her regarding the status of her application. Similarly, all of the twenty-two (22) teachers in the sample were selected to the programme in a process identical to the one described above.

The above raises a range of interesting issues regarding the extent to which the selection process can influence the disposition of teachers at the time when entering the in-service and consequently professional learning in the course of it. When this is poorly organized, as in the case of the programmes under investigation, participants do experience disappointment, pressure and frustration prior to their entry to the programme. This can influence their attitude and may hinder learning outcomes.

5.2. Diagnosis needs

The analysis reveals that no mechanism for mutual needs diagnosis was available in the in-service course and even teachers’ needs were unknown to the organizers by the time the programme started. However, almost all the secondary teachers interviewed (21), with one exception, argued forcefully that needs identification was a necessity. The university tutors were, however, split in terms of their views. Three (3) agreed with the schoolteachers, two (2) strongly disagreed and the rest (7) avoided commenting all together. In what follows, their perceptions are described under two groups: needs diagnosis as a necessity and needs diagnosis as peripheral.

5.2.1. Needs diagnosis as a necessity

Twenty-one (21) of the schoolteachers interviewed advocated the necessity for their needs to have been identified beforehand. Some of them, in particular, proposed as a mechanism for needs identification a questionnaire or interviews with them. A female schoolteacher was typical of the group. She claimed:

I would really like it and I believe that that’s the meaning of developing professionally experienced teachers. They have specific needs to meet…I want to plan my own in-service training. We didn’t have this right…they weren’t flexible, since they had submitted a certain programme to the Ministry and the in-service was approved on the basis of this…(Teacher, 7)

The above teacher expressed a keen desire for her needs to have been identified despite the perceived difficulties because she believed that this is vital in the in-service training of teachers with experience in schools and "specific needs". She presented herself as a self-directed learner, one who knows and understands her needs and priorities, and who is ready to work towards planning her "own in-service training". However, she made clear that she did not do so in the present programme and she disclaimed universities for this. According to her, it was rather the Ministry who was to blame for the programme not being "flexible" and adjusting to teachers’ needs.

Given the lack of needs identification, the schoolteachers interviewed experienced a range of feelings. Almost all of them (21) talked of having felt marginalized and neglected, something, which they experience on a permanent basis while working in education. A female teacher was typical of the group. She said: "(I felt) at least neglected, a cog in the machine that is of no worth, something we feel many times in education…we could suggest important things". This raises issues regarding teachers’ status and their role in making decisions about their profession in Greece. Furthermore, some of the above teachers expressed feelings of disappointment, tiredness, pressure and anxiety. Since they had realized that their needs could not be met, they viewed things planned for them as being hard to digest. The issue of teachers being adult learners and professionals who feel uncommitted and react to programmes in which they have no input is raised from the above.

5.2.2. Needs diagnosis as peripheral

Only one (1) of the schoolteachers interviewed perceived needs identification as peripheral in the same way as she perceived mutual involvement in planning as being pointless. She is an extraordinary case representative of a phenomenon of teachers in Greece who deprofessionalize themselves, do not look at them as being self-directed learners and agree with a deficit model for their in-service training. Similarly, two (2) of the tutors interviewed distrusted teachers’ ability to participate in planning their in-service in the light of their needs. One of them coming from a secondary education background, commented on diagnosing teachers’ needs as follows:

It’s basic and at the same time a double-edged knife…If you ask them, they will express their needs and priorities…However, this implies lots of dangers. It’s positive that you hear them; its negative since teachers are not informed and keep up with new developments in education…somebody has to make policy, to set the context…(Tutor, 6)

The above tutor raised a rather thorny point. This was the extent to which teachers in Greece have enough knowledge, in order to make a fruitful contribution in planning in-service training courses. According to him, relying on teachers can be a "double-edged knife" and it "implies lots of dangers". He therefore expressed a deficit view of teachers’ professional knowledge, which he justified by arguing that teachers are not kept informed and up-to-date regarding developments in education. He provides a paradox since, despite having a secondary education background, he seemed to have adopted a top-down, academic view of professional knowledge typical of academics in Greece. The latter defined knowledge purely in propositional terms with the more procedural and situated knowledge of the practitioner being disregarded. Moreover, he argued in terms of logistics that: "somebody has to make policy". At this point he raised the issue of who makes policy claiming that it is definitely not the teachers.

5.3. Design

5.3.1. Learning units

The distribution of hours in the different subjects was the organizers’ responsibility. They decided the duration of the sessions considering the length of the programme. Individual tutors defined the content of the sessions in a range of ways. As one of the programme organizers highlighted: "Tutors chose topics by themselves which they thought would be of interest to teachers". The tutors’ responses regarding the criteria on the basis of which they chose the content of the sessions can be classified as follows: to meet teachers’ practical needs; to report ‘new’ knowledge and research in education; and finally, to make teachers open their eyes and obtain a wider view of things.

As a result of teachers having no input in deciding about their units and, in some cases, even receiving a negative response in their request to change aspects of these, teachers viewed themselves as "a bit of a mug" and felt underestimated and undervalued. They expressed the desire to have been involved in designing their sessions or at least been able to choose subjects among a range offered. Given the above, an interesting question addressed to them concerned the extent to which sessions were useful. The data indicated a range of different perceptions.

The majority of the teachers in the sample, fifteen (15) out of the twenty-two (22), felt that the sessions delivered in the course of the programme were of little practical value. They justified this on the grounds that teaching units were the same taught to undergraduates and that they were too theoretical, far from school practice, as a result of tutors being unaware of the reality of school. Five (5) teachers felt that the extent to which units were useful varied according to the background of the educator. They identified sessions delivered by tutors with experience in secondary education to be closer to their needs and therefore more constructive. In contrast, sessions delivered by those with no experience in schools did not meet their needs. It is worth pointing out that the above teachers assessed the utility of the units on the basis of the extent to which they met their practical classroom needs, thereby conjuring up an instrumental view of in-service training.

Finally, only one (1) of the teachers in the sample, a female with twelve years of experience but with no experience of any other in-service training programme, perceived teaching units as being helpful. In response to a question about their utility, she expounded as following:

I did like all the sessions…Regarding practice, I viewed this as getting the knowledge in order to form and transfer it to children. Is practice to be told how to do it? Nobody can teach this…Colleagues were complaining; they were waiting for the tutors to teach them how to teach the specific subject. That’s not in-service training. (Teacher, 12)

The above teacher presented herself as being satisfied with the content of the units taught in the course of the in-service training. She talked about their utility in terms of providing her with the knowledge, so that she could "form" it and "transfer it to children". She then went on to criticize her colleagues’ views regarding the practicality of the sessions. According to her, they viewed the practical use of the programme as providing them with guidelines regarding "how to teach" a "specific subject". However, she perceived this as not being the essence of an in-service training programme for teachers. This indicates how teachers’ perceptions of the utility of the teaching units are influenced by their perceptions of the aims of the in-service training.

5.3.2. Learning formats

The analysis revealed that the activities around which sessions were organised varied according to the personality and the background of the educator, the subject taught and the time available. However, all the participants in the study agreed that lecturing was the method mainly used in the course of the sessions while dialogue and techniques such as discussion groups, field experiences and role playing were either not used at all or were limited. In particular, almost all the teachers interviewed criticized the fact that most of the tutors during sessions did not utilize their experiences at school nor discuss these with them, something which made teachers feel undervalued. Two (2) of them criticized tutors overtly for using ex cathedra teaching, despite the fact that at the same time they were advising them to do the opposite at school. They talked of the inconsistency in tutors’ words and deeds and explained this on the basis of the fact that most of the tutors did not have experience in secondary education.

Five (5) out of the twelve (12) tutors in the sample who supported the extended monologue as being the main method used during their sessions, justified this by saying that teachers did not feel confident to participate in discussions due to a lack of knowledge; they behaved as passive learners as a result of their passive role in education; and finally, some of them joined the programme with the hope of escaping from everyday classroom routine, therefore they were poorly motivated.

However, as four (4) of the tutors and two (2) schoolteachers identified, when sessions were taking dialogical form, teachers were able to interact, communicate with each other and exchange experiences. A female teacher claimed in terms of the above: "It was rather valuable to hear other colleagues’ points of view. Something which was really constructive in the seminar was the fact that we could learn from colleagues’ experiences". According to the above teacher, a valuable source of knowledge during sessions appeared to be her "colleagues’ experiences". However, as she identified elsewhere in her interview, due to the limited use of dialogue, teachers were able to learn from each other only to a limited extent.

The assessment of teachers for their participation in the programme was another learning activity in which they were engaged. This was basically a written essay in one of the subjects offered as well as exams in Information Technology for those teachers attending the programme in the context of the Philology Department. The findings show that teachers had no involvement in deciding on assessment methods and that all of them with one (1) exception (the extraordinary case of the teacher who did not want her needs to be identified) felt the need to have been involved in deciding about their assessment. One of them was representative. He said: "It would have been ideal to have been asked about my assessment".

5.4. Climate

5.4.1. Physical environment

Two aspects of the physical environment were identified in the findings: the typical classroom set up and the learning resources such as books, notes, slides, tapes and other audio-visual aids. As far as the classroom set up is concerned, the data reveals that half (11) of the teachers interviewed as well as three (3) of their tutors perceived classrooms used in the course of the programme as not being comfortable, therefore they felt that environment was not conducive to learning. They justified this on the basis of the fact that universities have no policy for the in-service training of their graduates therefore, there is a lack of appropriate infrastructure there.

With regards to the learning resources, the data indicates that the majority of the schoolteachers (21) in the sample were not satisfied with the provision of books, notes and photocopies as well as with the means used for the presentations. They asked for "more resources" to have been used and "more creative" sessions to have been delivered by academics. They certified this position by explaining that this is what "is required by teachers in a classroom", therefore in order for them to put it into practice they should have experienced it first.

5.4.2. Human and interpersonal climate

This was explored in terms of the relationship between secondary teachers and their tutors and in terms of the relationship among schoolteachers. With regards to the former, as revealed in the findings, individuals experienced a range of different aspects of this. In particular, almost half of the schoolteachers in the sample, thirteen (13) out of the twenty-two (22), argued that relationships with most of their tutors were not good. They felt they had experienced a distance between secondary and tertiary education, which represents the theory-practice gap that influenced relationships and therefore learning in the course of the in-service. The following quote from an interview with a teacher of twelve years of experience indicates this. He claimed in terms of the relationship with his tutors that:

There were tutors who presented themselves as being autocratic; Who are you? Who am I? I’m an academic. You’re teachers…I felt there was a distance between theory and practice…some of the tutors had never taught in a school, therefore by being stuck in theories, they couldn’t understand us. (Teacher, 9)

The above teacher went on to define relationships with tutors on the basis of their behaviour towards schoolteachers. Thus, according to him, some of them were "autocratic" with secondary teachers, implying arrogance and detachment. As a result, he experienced discrimination, "a distance between theory and practice" and viewed himself as not being understood by his tutors. Similarly, the majority of the teachers in the sample opined that they were seen by most of their tutors as being inferior as well as representatives of another world and as a consequence, they were not comfortable expressing their views and queries in the course of the programme.

Four (4) of the teachers interviewed as well as two (2) of their tutors felt that the teacher/tutor relationship was superficial, occasional and in no situation went into any depth. It is interesting that five (5) schoolteachers pointed out that this relationship varied according to the personality of the tutors, their background, post, degree of involvement in the programme’s organization, subject taught and co-operation with the assignments. One of them, in particular, argued that relationship with tutors depended on whether they were "Professors", "Lectures" or "school people". She went on to say that "the third category had absolutely no problem in communicating" with them, since "they’ve all been n the classroom", while problematic was the relationship with the first category.

As far as the relationship among schoolteachers is concerned, the data indicates that the answers of the respondents varied. Four (4) teachers claimed that, as a result of sharing common demands and needs, relationships with each other were amicable and good; three (3) experienced diversity in relationships and justified this by explaining that the same relationship could not have been developed with everyone; and finally, five (5) teachers said that relationships among them were not good. They presented three main arguments for this: first, teachers did not have the time to relax and get in touch with each other, as a result of continuous tension caused by the organizational problems of the programme; second, since not all of them arrived in the in-service having common expectations, there was a lack of communication and antagonism among them; and third, due to the fact that most of the teachers were people with family obligations, special relationships could not be developed, especially in the case of those teachers who moved from other places in order to attend the programme.

5.4.3. Organizational climate

The following two aspects of the organizational climate were highlighted in the participants’ responses: timetable and teachers’ compensation for participating in the programme. With regards to the former, as the data indicates, half (11) of the schoolteachers interviewed felt that they had experienced a badly organized timetable which brought about physical fatigue, pressure and irritation. They talked about a tense atmosphere, which lasted throughout the programme and hindered both personal and professional learning. Teachers attributed this to the fact that the organizers of the programme "didn’t take into account" their age, family obligations and the difficulties they might face while working in a big city.

Teachers’ payment for participating in the in-service was another aspect of the organizational climate outlined in the findings. As all the participants in the study stated, the money issue had been a great source of anxiety for them. They criticized the policy adopted on two grounds: first, "the initial plan" announced to teachers "at school" was modified without them being informed about the changes which had taken place. Teachers "had agreed to participate in the programme" under rules different than those put in practice and; second, no money was given to teachers despite the programme coming to an end. As a consequence, the "atmosphere was disturbed" and "a negative climate" emerged. Some of the interviewees among others described their feelings about the money problem using the following expressions: "great disappointment", "annoyance and suspicion", "unacceptable handling", "a complete fraud".

5.5. Evaluation

5.5.1. Reaction evaluation

This involves getting data about how the participants are responding to a programme as it takes place, what positive and negative feelings they have. The findings reveal that individuals had both agreeable and disagreeable moments in the course of it. A theme emerging across all the interviews with schoolteachers was the perceived gap between the theoretical knowledge provided by academics and the practical knowledge expected by teachers. The latter perceived the in-service courses offered as being remote from the every day classroom practice and their "real" needs and being "wasted" on theoretical issues. Similarly, almost all the participants in the study experienced a lack of proper organization in the programme. One of the basic reasons cited was the continuing lack of co-operation between the Ministry of Education and the university departments. Finally, the majority of the teachers (19) and tutors (4) interviewed experienced a climate unfavourable to learning, which lasted throughout the programme and hindered professional learning.

Despite much critical evaluation, a majority in both samples felt the programme was at the very least an attempt to bring secondary schools and higher education closer together. A tutor was typical when she claimed: "It’s quite positive that there is a contact between higher and secondary education, a shift of ideas from tertiary to secondary". Moreover, all the teachers in the sample perceived their participation in the in-service as being positive in terms of breaking from the classroom and refreshing themselves. A typical comment was that of a female teacher who felt that the courses had given her "a chance to breath…it’s revitalizing being in another environment…Distance is fairly useful, it helps you to view things from a different perspective’. Some other teachers in the sample viewed their participation in the programme as being positive in terms of giving them the chance to meet up other colleagues, to discuss and exchange ideas as well as getting to know tutors and their interests. A further positive but incidental outcome of the training programme was the fact that being a learner again gave teachers greater sympathy and understanding with their own students.

5.5.2. Learning evaluation

This focuses on the learning the participants engaged in the course of the in-service and the perceived effects on the growth of their professional knowledge. The findings reveal that only a small number of individuals (7) felt they had gained "new knowledge" or had "learned something different". Most of the teachers (16), however, felt that they had gained virtually nothing tangible from attending the courses and their learning had been limited. This was often put down to the lack of interest and expertise emanating from the tutors. They argued that tutors - with some exceptions - were not interested in helping them to learn from their experience and as a result the courses became "one- dimensional". Many teachers also claimed that the formal sessions were too theoretical, and "too distant" from the "practical needs". For one teacher this lack of any connection meant his learning became passive and as a result he became disinterested; another felt that he too "wasn’t helped at all by the in-service course".

Only a small number of the participants in the study, three (3) tutors and four (4) teachers, claimed that they had experienced an extended form of professional learning during the programmes. This manifested itself mainly in the acquisition of some subject and pedagogical knowledge. These were mainly university teachers who had learned new things in the course of preparing and giving their lectures. The schoolteachers were helped in terms of being provided with a bibliography, some theoretical knowledge regarding the effectiveness of certain teaching methods, and help with information technology. One of the teachers commented: "It would be irrational to argue that I got nothing out of the programme despite the fact that my needs were not met…useful were the sessions on new technologies in education and teaching methodologies. Some of the trainers also proposed us a quite good bibliography.

6. Discussion

In exploring the findings with the intention of illuminating the professional learning processes in the in-service training concerned, the purpose was to achieve "the careful confrontation of principles with cases, and of general rules with concrete documented events" (Shulman, as quoted in Stones 1992, p. 309). As a result, a number of important dimensions emerged which constituted not only greater theoretical clarity but also highlighted the essential elements of the phenomena.

The first overarching dimension relates to what Hoyle (1974) and Evans (2002) have called professionality. The former uses the term to refer to the knowledge, skills and procedures employed by teachers in the process of teaching. The following aspects linked to professionality came to the fore. They can be described under the headings: the restricted versus the extended; theory versus practice; and propositional versus procedural.

In terms of the first, the majority of the teachers in this study appeared to be very much what Hoyle (1980) identifies as restricted professionals. Teachers in this group expressed the desire to attend in-service training courses providing solutions to practical classroom problems and advocated the necessity for their practical needs to be met and for gaps to be filled throughout these. Only a small number of the schoolteachers in the sample came into sight with a profile of an extended professional, who, according to Hoyle (1980, p. 49), "is interested in theory and in educational developments…becomes involved in various professional activities and is concerned to further his own professional development through in-service work". Those of the teachers who were placed at the extreme pole of extended professionality appeared to have various interests apart from school teaching and projected as main reasons for taking part in the programme the aspiration to get knowledge for personal satisfaction and fulfilment, the desire to renew their relationship with the university, research and the episteme of philology, while they reassured that they did not feel insufficient in secondary education.

The theory/practice relationship emerged several times throughout the study taking the form, first, of theoretical knowledge provided by academics as opposed to practical knowledge (Clandinin & Connelly, 1995) favoured by teachers and; second, of theory seen in terms of rules and premises which were presented in abstract and contrasted with practice. The theory/practice relation was also presented in the disjuncture between the espoused theories of the tutors and their theories-in-use (Argyris & Schön, 1974). As two of the teachers in the study indicated, the tutors taught them all about team-working, collaborative learning and open dialogue, elements that they did not put in practice during their sessions.

The final thread in this theme relates to the propositional knowledge (Eraut, 1994) that most of the academics exhibited compared to the procedural knowledge (Eraut, 1994; Knight, 2002) traditionally held by schoolteachers. The tutors in the study, particularly those who were not related to secondary education, were viewed by the teachers as delivering a stream of abstract principles and ideas rather than a stream of actions. Their stated purpose was to help teachers open their eyes and see the world differently and they believed they could best achieve this through the transmission of abstract theoretical knowledge. In contrast, schoolteachers seemed to bring to the sessions a kind of insider knowledge that most academics did not possess. This was what some call ‘lived experience’ (Connolly & Clandinin, 1988). The differences in the types of knowledge held by academics and secondary teachers made collaboration between the two difficult in the programme. It was only tutors with experience in secondary education that seemed to possess and use both practical and explicit knowledge. They believed that the two were complementary in nature rather than binary opposites. Dreyfus & Dreyfus (1986), Eraut (1994), Tomlinson (1999) and Knight (2002) all agree with this complementary character of procedural and propositional knowledge, which relies on the assumption that a clear-cut distinction between theory and practice is false (Eraut, 1994).

A second common theme running through the data was mutuality. Put simply this means the involvement of all parties concerned in the educational enterprise, in its preparation and delivery. Knowles (1990) identifies mutuality as being a central element in the andragogical model for programme development. However, it can be inferred from the findings of the study that a hierarchical rather than a collegial model (Lortie, 1964) was adopted in the programme. In particular, teachers had no involvement in deciding about aspects of this. Almost all of them presented themselves as being self-directed learners and argued for mutual participation, collegiality, shared power and authority. They felt that others were imposing their wills on them (Knowles & Associates, 1984) and went on to interpret their degree of involvement in making suggestions about their in-service, in the light of teachers’ status and power in Greece. They stated that the latter have very little control over their work and almost no involvement in making decisions concerning their professions. They also claimed that this is the status quo in Greece, expressing disappointment and frustration about the whole policy framework. For instance, a female teacher who talked of feeling marginalized and neglected while working in secondary education used the metaphor of "a cog in the machine that is of no worth" to highlight teachers’ role in making decisions about their work.

A third significant theme across the data was a much neglected aspect of the professional learning processes - the emotional dimension. According to Koestler (as quoted in John, 2000, p. 1), however, "emotions are at the heart of the learning process". "In fact it can be argued that the denial of feelings is also the denial of learning" (John, 2001, p.1). In this study, the majority of the secondary teachers presented themselves as having experienced very little emotional understanding (Denzin, 1984). This was mostly in their interaction with colleagues, as a result of sharing common needs and expectations, and while they were working with trainers experienced in secondary education. Conversely, teachers felt distant with the majority of their tutors, mainly with those who had no experience in schools, and they perceived their relationship with them as being not good and superficial. Five of them also highlighted the lack of emotional understanding among colleagues, as a result of the organizational problems they had experienced, the antagonism among them and their family obligations.

It was also revealed that the organization of the programme, in terms of its actual timetable, time needed for teachers’ adjustment and ice breaking, classrooms, material infrastructure, finances, teachers’ involvement in decision making, teachers’ selection and information received, raised lots of dissatisfaction, frustration, anger, anxiety and pressure to both teachers and to some of the tutors. This had a negative impact on the interrelationship between teachers and tutors as well as having a limited effect on the interrelationship among the teachers. This consequently hindered their personal and professional learning in the programme.

Inaccuracies of emotional understanding, as these described above, amount to what Denzin (1984) terms spurious emotionality. This is a pervasive feature of everyday interactions where human engagements are not based on the kind of shared experience that fosters close and common understanding (Denzin, 1984). Therefore, since emotional misunderstanding strikes at the foundations of teaching and learning, by lowering standards and depressing quality, successful teaching and learning depend on establishing close bonds with trainers and colleagues and on creating conditions for teaching that make emotional understanding possible (Hargreaves, 2001), something that should have been taken into account in the in-service programme under investigation.

Formality also proved to be a useful construct during the interpretation of the data. It refers to the range of approaches adopted concerning the provision of the university in-service. In the first instance, the programme was presented as being centrally controlled and imposed from the macro (government) to the micro level (universities and teachers). As tutors, responsible for organizing the programme, identified, the in-service course was constructed within a predetermined and fairly rigid context set by the government. This was due to the fact that the course was funded centrally, therefore universities, despite being fully self-governing entities of public law (Eurydice, 1999), acted under lots of commitments and restrictions.

Central control had an impact on the in-service training provided as well as learning in the course of it. For instance, it was to blame for the clash of policies adopted with regards to the implementation of the programme - there was inconsistency in the planning and implementation stage, which created a huge delay in the implementation of the programme; information distributed - both teachers and tutors assessed information received about the programme as being incomprehensive and inaccurate; teachers’ selection - all the teachers in the study perceived their selection process as being poorly organized; finances - rules and promises changed while the programme was in progress. Moreover, as a result of the event-delivery model (Dadds, 2001) of in-service adopted, the majority of the teachers experienced a gap between expectation and provision.

7. Professional learning: A complex process or a step-by-step event?

From the analysis and the discussion it can be conjectured that the process by which teachers and tutors grow professionally in the course of the in-service training programme is complex rather than linear, a step-by-step event. It involves and is affected by different factors and conditions, such as the conceptual inputs (Huberman, 1995) participants bring to the courses, the social and educational context of the programme, the sort of feelings triggered. All these interrelate and can either support or hinder learning. Therefore, when looking to restructure professional learning processes and programmes in Greece, and elsewhere, these should be taken into account. In particular, as both Hoban (2002) and Knight (2002) outline, what is needed in professional learning is a shift in emphasis away from individuals and courses to systemic, complex understanding of the ways in which learning is created and shared in communities of practice.


The author M. N. Gravani would like to acknowledge the Greek State Scholarships Foundation (I.K.Y.) for its financial support (Grand No. 8107381017) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) of Great Britain for her current Post-Doctoral Fellowship (Award No. PTA-026-27-00886).


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*Correspondence Author:

Dr. Maria N. Gravani

Graduate School of Education
University of Bristol
35 Berkeley Square
BS8 1JA Bristol, UK
Tel. +44 (0) 781 7921383 / +44 (0) 117 928 9000
Fax: +44 (0) 117 925 4975

This document was added to the Education-line database on 17 September 2004