Effective Teacher Development: Theory and Practice in Professional Learning
reviewed by Laurel Puchner - June 19, 2018
Title: Effective Teacher Development: Theory and Practice in Professional Learning
Author(s): Bob Burstow
Publisher: Bloomsbury, London
ISBN: 1474231853, Pages: 152, Year: 2017
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Bob Burstow spent many years in U.K. schools, and in this short book he shares his wealth of experience on the topic of teachers professional learning. One strength of the book is Burstows exploration of the full possible range of teacher education programmes (p. 29). This idea is first presented in Chapter One, and is illustrated with a model depicting the three dimensions of programs: top-down vs. bottom-up in origin; individual vs. organization in terms of the main beneficiary; and profession vs. craft in terms of whether the program is more research/theory-based or practically/experientially oriented. He places different types of initiatives within these three dimensions, creating seven categories of learning programs. For example, teacher research falls into a cell where bottom-up, individual, and profession intersect, while initiatives focused on teacher collaboration fall into a cell where bottom-up, organization, and craft intersect. Each dimension is actually a continuum, a fact that tends to get a bit lost when placing programs into cells, but the model is still a helpful tool for looking at professional learning from a broad perspective. In introducing this model (and throughout the book), the author provides examples from his professional experience to illustrate his points. Another strength of the book is his acknowledgement of the complexity of schools and of teachers lives, and how these make it very difficult to predict the outcome of a given initiative. Another nice feature is the inclusion of text boxes labeled pause for thought which provide thought-provoking questions that encourage the reader to stop and think about the ideas and issues presented and apply them to their own experience.
The book contains seven chapters, beginning with an introduction focused on the history and current context of professional development in the United Kingdom. This is followed by Chapter One, titled Positioning Teacher Development, which introduces keys concepts and then combines them in the model described above. Chapter Two provides an overview of top-down approaches, which he describes as originating anywhere from department heads to world opinion. Chapter Three is about bottom-up approaches, which he admits to preferring. Included in this chapter are two interesting case studies of bottom-up programs.
Chapter Four is a key chapter about the teacher as researcher. It begins with three examples of university-initiated partnerships with schools focused on teacher action research, then moves on to the lessons gleaned from each partnership. One key takeaway is that such partnerships are fragile because they depend so much on particular actors and circumstances. Burstow concludes that neither a completely bottom-up nor a completely top-down approach will work; the former because of the complexity and messiness of schools, and the latter because school staff understandably do not like to obey orders from above. The author argues for a middle ground, such as initiatives begun by the head of school but with autonomy and control then handed to the teachers.
Chapter Five is about evaluating the impact of teacher development initiatives. The chapter begins with the design cycle, describing the typical planning, execution and evaluation stages (p. 85). He then provides a couple of examples, followed by a consideration of what one should evaluate and how. This discussion is helpful as it goes beyond student learning to include items that are not always taken into account. This chapter also contains an interesting section on teachers receptiveness to training and learning in general over the course of their career. The section covers research on how teacher receptiveness to learning is a combination of their environment, including colleagues, as well as their personality. Burstow cites Huberman in saying that a teachers personality and early work experiences interact to develop a mindset that tends to become set within the first six years of their career. These issues of individual teacher characteristics and career trajectories are not always considered in discussions of professional development programs, however this topic seems somewhat misplaced in a chapter on evaluation.
Chapter Six focuses on leadership and on matching leadership style to audience, situational needs, and type of professional learning. For example, the table on page 107 indicates that, except for a coercive style, a variety of leadership styles can be effective, from pacesetting to affiliative to coaching, but that different styles work better under different circumstances. The final chapter, Chapter Seven, appropriately returns to the professional learning model introduced in the first chapter and focuses on the different ways in which the model can be useful to planners and others.
Although the book is organized into chapter headings that make sense, and each chapter generally deals with an important set of concerns and contains some interesting insights and observations, the book has some writing and coherence problems. First, the book appears to be too heavily based on the authors existing writings, lectures, and personal experiences, without enough attention to filling in the gaps in order to make the chapters coherent. The abundance of examples provided is a strength, but the book seems too heavily driven by the specific examples that Burstow is familiar with, making the book feel disjointed. The overall lack of coherence is exacerbated by two other writing-related problems. First, the writing is hard to follow in some spots, especially in the introductory sections of chapters. Second, the book is poorly edited and is replete with distracting typographical and grammatical errors, especially (but not limited to) misplaced commas and missing punctuation. In that vein, for example, a figure on page 13 is supposed to present the different types of research that have been conducted since 1972, but is indecipherable because it relies on the printer and the reader being able to distinguish between six different shades of gray.
The book provides background and theory to enable individuals to step back and use a strategic approach to planning teacher development programs. It also provides a range of examples and covers a range of contexts. Whether these positive qualities adequately compensate for the writing and coherence issues is unfortunately unclear.