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Innovative activity of teachers in the country of pre-accession to the EU: peculiarities and problems

Brigita Janiūnaitė
Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Lisbon, 11-14 September 2002

Abstract

Innovative activity of teachers becomes especially important in modern society and educational system when new educational paradigm, emphasizing learning as process, which is not related to systemic, organized teaching any longer, and it is considered as activity in which people develop their knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and experience (Jucevičienė, 2001 ), gains its foothold. Significant role is put on teachers working for secondary schools, as, according to Longworth (2000), Reece and Walker (1997), a teacher becomes a learner in his/her everyday activity as well as contributes to creation of collective mind. This is related to improvement of teachers' competence, particularly being emphasized in European educational dimensions as well.

For this purpose the research of secondary school teachers' innovative activity, the results of which are presented in the paper, was carried out in Lithuania, the country undergoing transformations and seeking the membership in the European Union. There were 600 teachers and 100 school principals participating in the research. the method of questionnaire survey was applied.

1. Introduction

Permanent and intensive social, economic, organizational and even personal changes are characteristic features of the modern society. The new educational paradigm, emphasizing learning as a process, is no longer related to systematically organized teaching. It is considered as an activity, through which people develop their competence (Jucevičienė, 2001).Educational systems, schools and the situation of teachers'activity also meet with great changes.

According to various researchers (Havelock, 1973; Hord, Rutherford, Huling - Austin, Hall, 1989; Fullan, 1998;Evans, Tomlinston, 1989 and others), the secondary school and its teachers obtain a particularly significant role. They have to provide all learners with equal possibilities to acquire education and abilities to adopt in the permanently changing environment.

It has been recently acknowledged that the main factor of educational change, school and even society development is teachers. They should bring up the youth, able to demonstrate life-long productive activity in the changing environment. But teachers (and education as such) are often the ones who, according to Rogers (1995), are being blamed for lagging behind the tendencies of social change. They are considered to be reserved, internal, using old and non-efficient technologies, slow to implement innovations. This , according to Fullan (1998), is due to the basics of the conservative educational system in which the teacher works. It would rather retain its status quo instead of changing. Nevertheless, teachers' activity nowadays is no longer the same as it was a couple of decades ago. According to the famous researcher of educational change Hargreves (1999), the rules of teachers' work change along with the changing rules of the world.

Nowadays teachers' innovative activity is in the focus of many researchers. In the scientific literature (Cochran - Smith, Lytle, 1990; Hord and others,1989; Burnaford, Fischer, Hobson, 1996; Angelovski, 1991; Podlasij, 1999; Janiūnaitė , 2000; Valiuškevičiūtė, 2001 and others) it is usually related to creation of educational innovations, their search, implementation and dissemination. Researchers are thoroughly analysing the context of this activity, its role in school development (Staessens, 1993; Mac Gilchrist, Myers, Reed, 1997' Joyce, Murphy, Showers, 1989; Mc Laughlin & Little, 1992; Zeichner, 1991; Fullan, 1998; Stoll, Fink, 1998; Hopkins, 1992; Hopkins, Ainscow, West, 1998; Woods, 1982; Dalin, Rolff, Kleekamp, 1999; Zagviazniskij, Dilmanov, 1998 and others), problems arising in the process of implementation (Gross, Giacquinta, Bernstein, 1971; Bennet, Rolheiser-Bennett, Stevahn, 1999; Nias, Southworth, Yeomans, 1989; Jackson, 1988; Sarason, 1971). The change of teachers' activity and its development through action research is discussed in the works of Altrichter, Posch, Somekh (1993), Calhoun (1994), Cochran - Smith, Lytle (1990); Burnaford, Fischer, Hobson (1996); Roderick (1999), Charles (1999). Some peculiarities of implementation of innovations among teachers were analysed by Angelovski (1991), Podlasij (1999), Balabanov (2001).

The way teachers get involved into implementation of innovations was tackled by Hord, Rutherford, Huling - Austin, Hall (1989), Havelock (1973), Angelovski (1991), Potashnik, Lazarev (1995). Tomic, Browers and others dealt with the sources of generating innovative ideas in the aspect of teachers' activity.

On the one hand, teachers are the most important agents in the stimulation of changes in the educational system and even society. This is so because they are expected to educate young people, capable of continuous productive engagement in constant changes. On the other hand, teachers are frequently reproached for not responding to the trends of changes in the society, for being closed, using old inefficient methods and rather slow implementation of innovations. These aspects are of utmost importance in the countries, which are undergoing transformations in the process of transition from unified totalitarian rule to democratic way of life and integration into the EU. Why? There are some clear controversial points.

These aspects determine the importance of the research questions: What innovations are implemented by the teachers and what are their sources? What motives and aims influence teachers innovative activity?

Aiming to answer these questions, the research was conducted in Lithuanian secondary schools at the period of 2001 and 2002.

The aim of the article is to analyse innovative activity of teachers in the country of pre-accession to the EU: peciularities and problems.

The object of the article is teachers' innovative activity.

2. Research methodology and sample

Research methodology consists of:

Figure 1. Structure of teacher innovative activity

On the basis of these methodological statements a questionnaire for teachers and school principals was formed. The questionnaire consists of 8 diagnostic blocks. In this article I will consider the results of 3 blocks from teachers' and school principals' questionnaire: variety and sources of educational innovations, motives and aims of teachers' innovative activity (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Diagnostic blocks in teachers' and school principals' questionnaires

The methods of descriptive statistics, factor analysis, correlation analysis and χ2 criterion were applied for the analysis of research data (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Methods of statistical analysis

750 questionnaires for teachers and for school principals were distributed in the process of research design, aiming to represents wide demographical characteristics of the respondents (according to gender, age, qualification, urban or rural place of residence). The respondents were selected according to the so called 'bouquet principle'. 21 secondary schools in different regions of Lithuania were selected in a random way (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Sample of quantitative research

Now I would like to present the firs results of the research.

  1. Research results

One of the questionnaire blocks was devoted to the issue of innovations, implemented by the teachers, their character and sources.

In most cases, implementation of educational innovations is a way of solving certain problems of teaching practice. Educational innovations are developed by the teachers or adopted from different sources. The research results have demonstrated that only 4,1% of the teachers develop innovations; 47% of them both develop innovations and adopt them from other sources; 30% of the respondents try to adopt the innovations, implemented by their colleagues (see Figure 5). According to statistically significant differences, the teachers with high qualifications develop their own innovations rather than adopt them from other sources.

Figure 5. Development or adoption of innovation (teachers' responses)

What kinds of innovations are most popular among the teachers? Most frequently applied innovations are new teaching methods and project work. Most teachers would like to use different information technologies in their classes ( see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Teachers have implemented or would like to implement the following educational innovations

According to research literature, there may be different sources of innovative ideas: the needs of the country, region, district, city; different educational documents, achievements of education, psychology, sociology and other sciences; positive educational experience (at other schools of the country and abroad), teachers' experience, intuition, and creativity; mass media, people, information systems.

The research results have demonstrated that most productive sources of new ideas for Lithuanian teachers are the seminars and lectures given by foreign researchers and teachers, educational publications, different activities organised by Lithuanian researchers and educational practitioners. Another important source of ideas is related to participation in international projects (e.g. SOCRATES). Thus the respondents gave positive evaluation of educational publications, courses, and seminars, especially those given by foreign specialists, as sources of educational innovations (see Figure 8). Since courses and seminars are important part of professional development, this fact may be interpreted as related to the recent increase in the requirements of teachers' formal qualification.

Figure 7. Sources of innovation (teachers' responses)

Seminars, lectures, international projects and visits to schools in foreign countries are pointed out as sources of implemented innovations by the school principals. In comparison to teachers' responses, educational publications are not pointed out as a source of educational innovations.

Figure 8. Sources of innovation (school principals' responses)

Both the school principals and teachers have indicated the importance of seminars and lectures, delivered by foreign and Lithuanian researchers and teachers. Therefore it is important for educational policy makers and researchers to realize the outstanding role of knowledge and information transmission and the competence of those who act as transmitters and users. Why is it so?

Educational experience in different countries is an object of interest for not only specialists in education, but also for those who are not related to the science of education. Hirst (1969) notes that educational information may be formalised as scientific knowledge only after it is treated by educational expertise. As we live in the 21st century to take a cautious approach towards 'travellers' stories', which were popular in the time of Marco Polo, and those educational innovations which are promoted and implemented by non-professionals in education. In terms of innovation implementation, we also have to consider teachers' competence, their ability to adapt, implement and evaluate educational innovations.

The research results have shown that a significant source of innovations is international projects and cooperative visits to schools in foreign countries, which implies that a considerable number of educational innovations come from foreign countries. It is important to note that education is related to different cultural contexts, so there are variations in educational ideas; the same idea has different expressions in different cultures. For this reason, before innovations are implemented, it is necessary to evaluate them, to compare them in sociocultural contexts of the countries involved in their transmission and reception. It is also important to evaluate if the local context has been considered in the process of innovation implementation, the competence of the implementers, the degree of innovation implantation or adaptation in the local context, etc.

An important element of teacher innovative activity is its aims.They reflect teatchers aspirations, expected results, and mental projects of their personalities. The aims are attained in a definite context of school, teachers' motives, interests, and competence; therefore, these variables greatly affect the way the aims are attained.

Different researchers distinguish various aims of teachers' innovative activity, for instance, testing new ideas in practice, improvement of existing situation, stimulation of active learning, acting according to the requirements of the executives (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Aims of teachers' innovative activity

Some of the aims may result from teachers' inner need for personal changes, improvement of the existing situation; other aims may be stimulated by the requirements in the school or the surrounding environment. Thus the aims may be internal or external.

The aims of teacher activity are interrelated with underlying motives. Opportunity of self -expression, gaining new insights, experience, pleasure of positive results, as well as aspiration to change oneself or to try something new may be listed among internal motives. External motives encompass increased salary, higher qualification category, public recognition, incentives of school executives and colleagues.

The research has shown that the respondents tend to point out the improvement of teaching process and learning results as the principal aims of their activity, whereas the ideas acquired during seminars and aspiration to improve teaching effectiveness are listed among the most common motives.

These aims and motives reflect teachers' internal motives and aims, as they are directed towards the teaching process, learner, and their learning results; they also express teachers' inner aspiration to renew and improve themselves. It is interesting to note that the statements - attitude that it has to be like this, fear of lagging behind, adjustments to executives requirements -, which express external motives, aims, and 'top down' strategy, were not popular among the respondents (see Figure 10).

Figure 10. The aims and motives of teachers' innovative activity (teachers' resposes)

In contrast the teachers' responses, the school principals pointed out the requirements of educational reform and teacher certification as the main aim of teacher innovative activity. In other words, they focus on the external aspect of teachers' motivation. According to the respondents, ideas found in educational publications, fear of lagging behind, requirements of some projects are of minor importance (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. The aims and motives of teachers' innovative activity
(school principals' responses)

Both the teachers and school principals have pointed out that the increased effectiveness of teaching and improved learning results are among the most important motives for innovation implementation. However, at present we are facing the change of teaching paradigm into learning paradigm. A number of researchers emphasize that as the post-modern age focuses on the processes of learning and knowledge management, the primary task for teachers is explication of the learning process and development of learning skills. Teachers become managers of learning rather than teaching; they facilitate learning. Therefore, there is no doubt that the great number of innovations is related to the process of learning, learning empowerment and teaching for learning.

To sum up, the following conclusions may be drawn on the basis of the research results:

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 11 December 2002