Teacher Driven Professional Development in Doha
by Peter Frey
1. Introduction and Contextual Background
According to the Doha News on 2 October, 2014, Qatar’s population had reached 2,187,326. This increase is sustained by an annual growth rate of 7.48%. As development continues at a rapid pace in preparation for the 2022 World Cup and 2030 National Vision, client requests for English language training are becoming more diverse, including:
– safety and technical English for the energy sector,
– English for finance, focusing on H.R.,
– professional writing in English for mid-level managers, focusing on Marketing.
Delivery of these types of courses demands a high degree of flexibility from teachers,
which has caused tensions to emerge regarding professional development. For example, some staff have resisted observations from both peers and managers, whilst others have rejected reflective journals. Consequently, in order to move forward with an effective professional development programme, the following research questions were formulated:
- What are IH Doha teacher attitudes towards professional development?
- What direction do teachers think professional development should take at IH Doha?
- In what ways can professional development contribute to teachers’ own careers?
2. Theoretical Framework and Literature Review
This writer understands development from the perspective of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, outlined in Bailey (2006:40-46). This perspective considers learning as a “socially mediated process” (Kao, 2010:118-121). According to Tharp and Gallimore (1998) in Kao, this learning takes place within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), as participants move through four stages, the first three being:
- activities in which the learner is regulated by a more capable other: DoS/Trainer-led workshops,
- activities in which the learner begins to use self-regulation: peer observations, and
- activities that are wholly self-regulated: reflective journals.
Based on additional literature, professional development in this paper is viewed as bottom-up, contextualized and jointly constructed by participants.
In line with the research questions and corresponding focus on individual teachers at IH Doha, this investigation is informed by an interpretive framework, which, according to Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2007:21,115), “is characterized by a concern for the individual.” Rather than attempting to “get at the root” of what is happening, reality is “multiple” and “socially constructed” (Radnor, 2001: 21, 33-34). In this exploratory study, the emphasis is on “understanding,” as opposed to “problem-solving” (Allwright, 2005).
Procedure and Method
As in Flowerdew (2001), the method for this research is the interview, which has potential limits and is not a “neutral tool” for questions and receiving answers according to Fontana and Frey (2005:698) in Denzin and Lincoln. Consequently, in terms of social constructionism, the interviewer brings his/her own viewpoint to the interview, impacting on what is asked and how (Burr, 1995).
Sampling for this research is purposive and does not, therefore, “pretend to represent the wider population” (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2007:115). Furthermore, these individuals were accessible and represented all teaching staff at the time of this research, with the exception of the two current Academic Managers (Troudi and Alwan, 2010).
All five teachers are qualified, from the United Kingdom, 25 to 40 years in age, and hold a university degree. There is a wide range of teaching experience, starting with E, a recently-qualified teacher, followed by P, with three years experience. M, S and D have nine to ten years experience, with S the only casual teacher.
Data Collection and Analyses
Data analysis consisted of first confirming and adjusting topics based on interview transcripts. Categories were “constructed” within each topic and initially grouped according to similarities and differences. In a number of instances, respondents seemed to be at odds with themselves, especially concerning changes in attitude towards professional development. Referring to Potter and Wetherell (1987), Burr clarifies that these variations in accounts within the same interviews is the “rule rather than the exception.” This is consistent with a constructionist understanding of ‘attitude’.
Authenticity Criteria and Trustworthiness
Recognition of this writer’s roles as teacher, researcher and manager helped to establish trust with teachers during the interviews. In addition, asking teachers to check the accuracy of transcripts, as well as the Findings and Analyses and Conclusion, contributes to establishing credibility, (Creswell, 2007).
Findings and Analyses
In this section, results for each research question are presented, followed by discussion. Consequently, teachers’ attitudes towards professional development will first be examined.
Whilst S, M, E and P express generally open attitudes, D is “somewhat skeptical of all notions of development.” At the same time, E, M and S refer to varying degrees of changes in attitudes since they began teaching. However, D and P assert that there has been little or no change over time, but then appear to contradict themselves by giving examples of attitudinal shifts. These apparent contradictions are instances of the variations Burr reminds us of in Potter and Wetherell (1987), suggesting that the attitudes of teachers are not stable or fixed, demonstrating varying degrees of changes over time.
Direction of and Teacher Contributions to Professional Development
Scheduling of activities can impact on the direction of professional development (Diaz Maggioli, 2004) and is raised by IH Doha teachers, with E and M requesting regular workshops led by more capable others. At the same time, D and P want more self-regulation with team-teaching and impromptu peer observations.
Contributions vary, with S and D respectively offering to lead workshops on IT and teaching connected speech. M and P suggest sessions with more self-regulation, in which “teachers could involve themselves” and “…I could learn more myself.” Recently-qualified E also requests more self-regulation by working individually with experienced teachers to remind them of what they “used to do” in the CELTA.
The Contribution of Professional Development towards Career
Just as teacher attitudes towards professional development seem to change and different people need more or less ‘other’ or ‘self-regulation’ in the ZPD, teachers seem to view the contribution of professional development towards their career in a different light. In general, they divide into two groups – those who see professional development directly contributing to their career and those who do not.
M, P and E seek to advance their careers through professional development, with P viewing it as “beneficial for my career.” These stances are similar to Bailey, Curtis and Nunan’s (2001) observation that professional development can contribute to moving up the “career ladder.” In contrast, S “questions the word career,” claiming that “I’m more interested in being the best teacher I can…”. D has career aspirations as a writer and explains that, “I decided to teach English because it improved my English.” Accordingly, these two teachers appear to view professional development more from the perspective of Huberman (1993b) in Tsui, considering job satisfaction to be more important than promotion.
As an exploratory, qualitative study, investigating teacher attitudes from a constructionist perspective has contributed to an understanding of apparent contradictions and variability that occur in the interviews. Through the lens of sociocultural theory, these attitudes may be understood in terms of teacher development within the ZPD (Bailey, 2006:42).
In practical terms, this range of attitudes and perspectives from within the ZPD suggests that a prescriptive approach to professional development could result in a limited learning experience for some, if not all, participants. In terms of reflexivity, as Director of Studies (at the time of this research), this limited learning experience for teachers could impact on overall quality at IH Doha.
To summarise, taking into account the specific context of this investigation and the small number of teachers involved, there is a need for a programme of professional development that, based on this research, could include the following:
- awareness by all stakeholders of changing attitudes/stance towards professional development as teachers transition from “more capable other-regulation” to “self-regulation,”
- regularly-scheduled workshops,
- embedded team teaching and impromptu peer observations,
- CELTA criteria reviews in pairs, and
- equal participation for full and part time teachers.
In conclusion, it seems clear that putting the above points into practice could support a programme of professional development at IH Doha that is context-sensitive and focused on “choice, rather than prescription” (Freeman, 2002:11).
This investigation is only a first step.
A copy of this paper and bibliography are available upon request.
Author’s Bio: Peter is now an Education and Training Consultant at IH Doha, after two years there as DOS. He has also worked as Director, DOS and ADOS at other IH schools. With an MA TESOL and an MEd in Educational Research, Peter is interested in curriculum and professional development.