Job-Oriented Learning in a Group of Teachers – Case Studies
I. The Study Group from Vienna – AT
II. The Mentors’ Group from Cologne – DE
III. The Teachers’ Group from Ljubljana – SI
I. The Study Group from Vienna – AT
In 1991 a group of teachers, who in the previous years had met informally once a year for an exchange of views on teaching and education was elevated to formal, official status at the Institute for Music Pedagogy. This institutionalised group can now look back on an 18-year history. The change from a group of colleagues to a formal university organisation was important for its intended development into a study group. In order to understand the most important aspects of this development, let us take a brief look at the structure of this group that makes cooperation between schools and the university possible in the context of a degree course.
Distinctive structural features
Student teachers of music studying at the University of Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna are expected to do a practical that lasts three semesters and is supervised by a teacher at a school. In the federal province of Vienna, between 11 and 13 people are required for this activity. Until 1991 it was not usual for the university as the institution responsible for offering the course to arrange formal, official contacts between these teachers. But the institutionalisation of these teachers into a study group brought about a fundamental change.
The study group is called together twice a year for a weekend (from 5 p.m. on Friday to 1 p.m. on Sunday). At the Institute for Music Pedagogy a member of staff was appointed with special responsibility for supervising and coordinating these meetings. She is also in overall charge of the two weekends. The meetings take place at an attractive location near Vienna that provides facilities conducive to a very good working atmosphere, such as trails for walks in the immediate vicinity that make discussions in small groups possible outside the seminar rooms.
The weekends are planned by the members of the group and the person responsible at the institute. The topics range from issues of didactics, quality enhancement and evaluation to questions relating to current educational policy. In addition, guest speakers may be invited at the request of the group to work in fields such as gender, conflict management, the non-verbal body language of pubescent pupils etc.
The formal significance of the study group
In a degree course, those responsible for organising the practical training are often overlooked. Their colleagues from the fields of the arts, education theory and research are unaware of the work they do and this results in a discrepancy between theory and practice. The study group has become an important link between university studies and professional experience.
The policy of spending money from the university’s budget to pay for a group of teachers to spend four days in a hotel every year is an important way of highlighting the importance of the perspectives of professionals who work in schools in the context of the degree course.
This has been shown in many ways in the group cited here.
· A meeting organised for discussions with colleagues from the arts was well attended,
· Members have provided input for the course content.
· Members have participated in the commissions for entrance examinations.
· Members have attended conferences of our institute and
· the study group attended an international meeting with members of a similar group of mentors from Cologne – DE.
Non-formal learning includes learning ideas and activities that do not count towards any officially recognised qualification but are imparted by an expert. The subject is chosen by the learner him or herself as a result of personal interest, although the way it is approached is similar to learning for a qualification. Examples of this might be a course in conflict management or training in rhetoric.
The study group can, if they so wish, invite an expert to give a talk on a particular topic at the weekend meetings. A subject is chosen based on the group members’ own assessment of which specialist area they need or would like to strengthen and improve their proficiency. An example would be how to handle gender issues with pubescent boys and girls. Which elements of body language have which gender-specific meaning? What body language is used to convey the teachers’ leadership and what signals are sent subconsciously and involuntarily? What do research studies have to say on the subject? It is on the basis of questions such as these that the group expresses its desire for further training. An expert is contacted and invited to join the weekend meeting.
Didactic issues can also be dealt with more efficiently with the aid of experts. Guidance, a tailor-made set of methods as an accompaniment to development and work with portfolios are subjects that the members of the study group devote themselves to for one year. Such forms of non-formal learning have the power to link a consciously chosen learning phase with existing professional strengths and provide the opportunity to discuss these learning processes with the other members of the study group.
This process development towards a type of learning in an interplay of external impulses and self-direction is not part of the teaching profession’s structure and leads to a high willingness to learn. Although this professional learning is embedded in a formally predetermined framework, the participation of the group in decisions on content makes it a matter of learning and further development as well.
Informal learning can be described on the one hand as the knowledge and skills that the learner acquired entirely without realising it or, on the other hand, as knowledge and skills acquired as a result of the learner’s own initiative and with intrinsic motivation.
The teaching profession includes many skills and abilities that would not be possible without a degree of informal learning. This applies to every learning activity that has the ultimate aim of promoting an individual’s autonomy. If no personal responsibility is taken for the topics to be learned there will be no professional growth.
Design of the internal survey
The meNet project asked the members of the study group how they assess their own informal learning in the context of the study group. In an initial phase, the following questions were put to them:
· Has my participation in the study group influenced the way I view my work as a teacher?
· Where do I see benefits for me?
Before the interviews were held, the participants were informed about the work being done by the meNet network. In a review of the group’s history, an explanation of what the group’s leadership held to be its most important characteristics was given. Afterwards the members had the opportunity to choose a significant experience gained from the group’s activities to date and discuss in pairs.
These experiences were then collected and discussed in a first plenum. This initial consideration of the question of informal learning produced the following responses:
· influence on the way work at school is directed and planned,
· horizon broadened through contacts (more information results in a qualification of assessment),
· form of communication (openness and respect; equality and communication based on democratic principles),
· balance between listening and being listened to as a model for discussions,
· consideration of other points of view, questioning of statements,
· reinforcement or modification of personal points of view,
· balance between duty and openness,
· improved ability for observation,
· appreciation as a personal boost,
· exchange of views that heightens awareness,
· ideas for one’s own work and
· reflection and considered feedback
A summary of these replies shows that the members held the following aspects to be particularly important for their work:
· appreciation: to feel appreciated and express appreciation;
· reflection and feedback: to shift from being distant to thinking about oneself and one’s work;
· listening and being listened to: attentive perception and an understanding characterised by listening and inquiring in stark contrast to the jumping to conclusions and quick judgements experienced in everyday school life.
These still very general statements, based on a consensus reached within the group, were put into more specific terms in discussions held over the following three months.
In the next phase the group members were asked to think about the following questions:
How has the way you view your work changed with respect to
· yourself as a teacher,
· music education,
· the institutions school and university,
· the pupils?
On the basis of these questions six people from the group who had replied to them were invited for one-to-one interviews. These interviews lasted from 35 to 75 minutes. The statements made in these interviews reveal the following about informal learning:
· “The study group has enabled me to recognise what my characteristics are as a teacher, what I stand for and the values I want to promote in my lessons and in the subject generally.”
· “For me, the most intriguing thing was always to observe the way the group actually reaches the stage of intensive discussion. What has to happen so that people become active of their own volition and how the motivation arises. For me, this is still the crucial question: how much input is required in a music lesson to activate the others so that they work on their own and one can slacken the reins? I learn a lot in this group about how that works.”
· “The appreciation we teachers have received from the university has made me much more willing and has motivated me enormously to examine subjects relating to general educational theory. It has given me the feeling that what I teach is important to other people.”
· “I have been able to use a lot from the forms of the discussions and the way they are led for the development of our school. I have joined a steering group that is working on a manual for quality enhancement and have been able to bring my experiences from the study group into this group.”
· “The group is tremendously important for me. I have realised this because I have recently returned from two years’ maternity leave and I now realise that I need the group. I always experience a shift in perspective in the group. This is partly because we can say what’s on our minds and discuss it objectively with enough time afterwards for reflection, and partly because I realise how different things can be at other schools compared to mine. This always makes me grateful that I have the chance to work there because it’s a paradise compared to other places …“
Key elements for informal learning out of the statements
Increase in motivation
The statements made about informal learning show that the increase in personal motivation is a key element.
Appreciation of one’s work by others
In the teaching profession it is evidently very difficult to retain the conviction that one’s work is useful and important. This view is confirmed by the statements of all the respondents.
Appreciation of one’s work by an authority higher up the hierarchy
Furthermore, forms of official recognition are necessary to strengthen the teachers’ commitment. They need to know that their opinions carry weight in official bodies such as curriculum committees or commissions for entrance examinations and that they are appreciated as schoolteachers by those who teach at universities and colleges.
Appreciation from the group as a member of the group
Opportunities for active involvement and a say in organising activities are necessary to ensure that the various different personalities can always be made aware of a common denominator. The group’s value for the teachers’ own learning was repeatedly cited as an important feature. Only the group provides the teachers with a mirror in which they can recognise their own professional profile more clearly. But this presupposes that one is respected and appreciated as a member of the group.
Literature on the study group
· Malmberg, Isolde / Wimmer, Constanze (ed.) (2007): Der Arbeitskreis Unterrichtslehre. In: Communicating Diversity: Musik lehren und lernen in Europa. Festschrift für Franz Niermann. Forum Musikpädagogik Vol. 79. Augsburg, pp. 272-277.
II. The Mentors’ Group from Cologne – DE
A group of mentors has been working systematically with the Cologne Music Academy since the academic year 2004/05. The group consists of teachers at secondary schools, especially high schools (Gymnasiums) and comprehensive schools in Cologne and the surrounding area. These twelve music teachers collaborate particularly closely with the lecturers in music education for student teachers.
The make-up of this group is a result of a special selection procedure in which music teachers who showed interest were visited during their lessons and invited to an interview in which they were asked about their views regarding the supervision of practicals. The group members are affiliated to the academy by virtue of the fact that they give lectures there. The group acts as a living bridge, so to speak, between the academic and professional protagonists in school education and regularly meets for further education sessions that take place under the aegis of the Music Academy.
The study group’s principal task is professional supervision of practical training undertaken at schools by student teachers. Students taking a degree course in music in combination with a second subject are expected to do two practicals in their main subject. Students taking music only are expected to do four (one of which must be at an institution other than a school). Further practicals are organised through the university. Around three hours a week are set aside for each of these practicals which have differing forms and objectives. In the “teaching practical”, for instance, the student regularly accompanies the music lessons of a class for a whole term. The “project practicals” provide insights into interdisciplinary projects of all kinds that are carried out at schools and involve music. Students taking music only are also expected to do an “ensemble practical”. For this, the mentors place all kinds of vocal and instrumental ensembles at their schools at the disposal of the students and involve them in the work. This means that project and ensemble practicals can also be planned as a compact course.
The mentors’ group meets once a term for a training day at the Music Academy. The day is organised by the lecturers in music education. An external guest speaker is regularly invited who has many years’ experience of putting such groups together and of adult education and coaching. These meetings usually take place at the Music Academy itself. Two of these training sessions were extended to three days and carried out in cooperation with the mentors’ group from Vienna. The subjects covered in the initial sessions were set for the group in advance. Since then the group has become increasingly autonomous and chooses the topics itself. So far the topics have focused on issues relating to the enhancement of the quality of music education, greater professionalism in guidance, accompaniment of students that is oriented towards their resources and heterogeneity or have dealt with subjects relevant to guidance issues such as lesson planning. In addition to these specifically planned activities, numerous other forms of cooperation between the mentors have emerged that have a fundamental influence on the group’s official status.
Official status of the study group
Teachers do not normally receive any recompense for supervising students or student teachers at German schools. It is regarded as an intrinsic part of a teacher’s duty. The fact that in this particular case teachers have been given positions as lecturers and are systematically integrated into various sections of university life is seen both internally and externally as a way of improving relations with the professional field.
Regular cooperation now takes place
The fact that three members of the mentors’ study group are also responsible for training student teachers has also proved significant since it offers a good opportunity to monitor subjects during a number of phases, e. g. planning during the practical first in theory, then as a student teacher and thirdly as an experienced teacher.
Although the academy assumes responsibility for the organisation of this study group it is not obliged to do so. Membership of the group on the part of the teachers is voluntary. They take part in a selection procedure and subsequently accept the guiding principles and structure of the group. It is, therefore, a typical non-formal learning setting.
The subjects covered at the training sessions are broadly defined by a particular view taken by the leading group of the support given to students embarking on their professional careers. The specific topics can then be developed together using the following guidelines:
Against the background of these principles the group increasingly deals with topics it has chosen itself. It is currently working on the introduction of elements of the portfolio during the practical that should serve as the basis for a concluding evaluation with the students.
The work with the mentors includes specific objectives that pertain primarily to the establishment and development of quality standards for guidance. However, working as a mentor and participating in this study group lead to learning effects that concern the mentors’ own teaching practice and alter their perspectives. The survey of this group focused on these aspects that were, so to speak, learned as a by-product.
At this juncture I refer the reader to the definition of informal learning and the structure of the survey that have already been explained in the report on the Viennese group. I will restrict myself here to a list of aspects cited by the music teachers as consequences of their involvement in the mentors’ group.
On a personal level
For the institution
Overall, what is especially noticeable is the great emphasis placed on the development of a distinctly defined self-image as a teacher and within one’s own institution. Assimilating what was informally learned represents a great challenge and was only touched upon here. It is not necessarily conscious and tends to be automatically classified as empirical knowledge rather than the result of learning. A more in-depth examination of this topic, for example through one-to-one interviews, is planned for a later date and, carried out in a group focused so intently on analysing teaching and learning, seems to offer great potential.
III. The Teachers’ Group from Ljubljana – SI
Within the non-formal teacher training programmes in Slovenia, which are under the patronage of the Ministry of Education and Sport, The National Education Institute of the Republic of Slovenia, there are various study groups. Altogether there are more than 1000 teachers’ study groups which since 1993 have been connecting teachers from different disciplines. The activities in study groups are evaluated and as such enable teachers to be supported.
The main objective of study group activities is to give teachers the opportunity to revise, broaden and develop their personal and professional competences and to become familiar with new findings in the field, to exchange ideas, opinions and material, and to be part of active cooperation in the process of researching and reflecting.
Music study groups connect teachers from music schools, pre-school education, primary schools (including primary schools for children with special needs), secondary schools, and choral conducting with different stages and experiences in their profession. Each school year teachers are formally invited to participate in two meetings (one of them in a network classroom) to present and discuss the innovative process of work in a specific field of music education. Regular meetings take place in schools, classes, on web sites, at festivals etc. and also include class observation with discussions.
The issues planned are chosen by the leaders but also often arise from the needs which are identified by teachers themselves such as planning educational work, the culture of student evaluation, concepts of learning and teaching, school legislation, ICT, flexible curriculum, descriptive assessment etc.
The participants have the opportunity to find their own position among the others using the forms of reflective learning, learning by doing, experienced learning, cooperative learning, discussions, demonstrations, lesson observation, workshops, individual work, teamwork, e-learning etc. This gives them the possibility to gain arguments for their profile and to manage their self-discovering, self-reflected and self-initiative learning. Teachers’ participation in study groups is voluntary and depends on their inner initiative and motivation. These seem to be important aspects of informal learning.
Non-formal significance of study groups
· Are provided in the workplace through the activities of the Ministry of Education and Sport, The National Education Institute of the Republic of Slovenia;
· are evaluated, giving the teachers the possibility to be supported;
· include planned educational activities outside the established formal educational system with the intention of serving music teachers during their professional careers;
· encourage learning by doing through exchange of experiences from – to the job;
· are supported by experts in the field of music education;
· are fostered by self-assessment and peer assessment using the precept of “critical friends”.
Informal significance of study groups
· Attendance is voluntary and depends on teachers’ inner initiative and motivation;
· issues often arise from the needs which are identified by teachers themselves;
· non-threatening environment with possibilities for explorative learning through discussions, demonstrations, lesson observation, workshops, individual work, teamwork , e-learning etc.
· cooperative learning with sharing of participants’ experiences, beliefs and values.
The Case Study
In the school year 2008-09 the study group for music teachers at secondary schools had its first meeting at the beginning of November. Among the 34 invited teachers from secondary schools were 22 who participated voluntarily and had different degrees of work experience in their profession (from 2 to 36 working years). The topics covered included the implementation of an updated music curriculum for secondary school, examples of good practice in an interdisciplinary approach and the presentation of the meNet project with the focus on lifelong learning. The participants expressed great interest in the project and actively took part in the lively discussion. Through the discussion they developed their understanding of formal, non-formal and informal learning and also of criteria for developing lifelong competences (the connection between personal and professional development, reflection on work, focus on the learner) defined by the meNet subgroup for lifelong learning.
After the discussion they were invited to express their opinions using a questionnaire with the following questions:
1 Which milestones have lately changed you as a teacher?
2 What is the influence of the study group’s work on your self-esteem, your work with pupils, your work with institutions outside your school?
3 What do you gain and what do you miss in the study group’s work?
Among the benefits of attending study groups the teachers pointed out several aspects of informal learning including:
· motivation for further work;
· cooperative learning;
· acknowledgement of participants’ opinions;
· openness of relationships;
· stimulating working environment;
· the flow of ideas, reflection and experience, as well as encouragement for a different approach to work;
· being on equal terms with the organisers;
· help with solving problems;
· encouragement for one’s own creativity;
· extended communication through cooperation with institutions outside the school.
The next step was done through interviews in which five participants expressed their views on informal aspects of their learning in study groups. Interviews were carried out in November 2008 and contained the questions:
How does your participation in study group:
· help you to be a good teacher and to teach well?
· influence changes (concrete example) in your teaching practice?
· influence changes in your work with the pupils?
What would you miss if your study group ceased to exist?
Answers relating to informal learning
· “The study group meeting has given me a lot of hope and encouragement although I’ve been feeling helpless for quite some time (I’ve been considering the idea of changing my job).”
· “The study group definitely has an influence on me, and it makes me change. I am starting to think about things I have never thought about before and asking myself how I could react in such a situation.”
· “The study group gives me security and protection: you are not alone, you learn to listen and you learn to be listened to.”
· “I have changed a lot, I have become more courageous and self-confident: if others dare, why shouldn’t I?”
· “When I went home I had a positive feeling and a lot of energy. I have a feeling that the study group leaders will say a word in our favour to our principals.”
· “The group gives me support in the search for new methods and approaches to work. There is a lot to do, but there is some kind of force that always gives me energy and strength to work in a different way and the pupils always find a way to reward my effort.”
· “It is important to exchange good and bad experiences, as then I can see what is good and what is bad in my work. I often ask myself why I wouldn’t do something this way or how I could do it in a different way. Positive as well as negative experience is of the utmost importance.”
· “Direct communication with my colleagues is very important and can be compared with an experience at a concert - being at a concert is much more valuable than listening to an excellent recording.”
· “It seems important to get respect from the Institution, in this case The National Education Institute, which has invited us to participate in the group for teachers’ mentors.”
· “The study group invited me to participate in an international project which enabled me to get in touch with colleagues and pupils in a partner school.”
· “The study group makes it possible for me to keep in touch with other musical institutions, most recently with the Slovenian Philharmonic; I cooperate with them by inviting musicians to our school.”
· “If the study group decided to give up, I would miss meetings with my colleagues a lot, as I exchange opinions, ideas and practical experience with them. You get the feeling that you are not alone when working on teaching challenges. My colleagues always respond immediately.”
The study group provides opportunities for informal learning in non-formal contexts through key aspects such as intrinsic motivation for learning, support and respect for every individual's work, establishment of an effective network of partners and reflective exchange of ideas, experiences and personal views with feedback information.
Participants considered the intrinsic motivation for learning in different contexts (in our case in the non-formal context of study groups) as an important aspect in the process of developing their teaching practice. It seems that the process of personal and professional growth depends on one’s willingness to “be changed” and to be interested in and open for transforming personal values, emotions, attitudes, knowledge etc.
Working teachers realise how important it is that their colleagues and institutions support them, acknowledge and respect their work. Furthermore, the environment plays an important role when recognising teachers' work. A stimulating working environment makes an individual feel secure and accepted (he can listen and he can also be listened to). An effective network of partnership between educational and cultural institutions as well as participating in national and international projects is also of the utmost importance. Connections in and outside the school are seen as an opportunity to reflect on one's own teaching practice and to gain feedback information. Open communication with colleagues will help a lot to discover one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. In such cases colleagues are seen as “critical friends” who will support and give teachers useful feedback information.
Contact Persons: (AT), (DE), (SI)