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Model of Professional Experience

Professional Experience assists Pre-Service Teachers to critically and creatively apply content knowledge, skills development and moral understandings to a real context. Professional Experience provides links with theoretical components undertaken by Pre-service Teachers in their on-campus learning and encourages the use of on-going reflective practices to assist their understanding of the continuous nature of professional learning. The preparation of Pre-Service Teachers to become effective teachers is a collaborative exercise between Pre-Service Teachers, Mentor Teachers, Partnerships Schools and Murdoch University's School of Education.

The Professional Experience Program is underpinned by several key principles that are strongly supported in current international literature on Initial Teacher Education. As at the local level the DEST report Prepared to Teach. An investigation into the preparation of teachers to teach literacy and numeracy (2005) highlights the importance of critical reflection, active engagement in learning and developing strong links between universities and schools for effective initial teacher education.

Similarly the Department of Education and Training WA Competency Framework for Teachers (DET 2004) also emphasises the importance of reflective practice as a critical element in teacher competency.

The Professional Experience program seeks to build on these principles through its emphasis on Reflective Practice, Problem Based Learning, Teacher / Student Mentoring and School / University Partnerships.

Professional Experience acknowledges that as beginning teachers, students need to be provided with opportunities to be supported in their learning through the use of:

to assist students to become effective teachers.

Learning Triad

The Professional Experience Office believes that an important way to support student teachers’ learning is through the use of a triad. This model has been effectively used at Murdoch University for over 20 years and is supported by contemporary research by Walkington and by Hastings and Squires.

The school context and the interaction between the student teacher, the mentor teacher, the university moderator and the school can assist students to gradually understand the diverse and dynamic nature of teaching. The Professional Experience Office believes that effective collaboration between the school and the University, an on-going dialogue and open communication can be powerful means by which students are supported in their learning.

At the same time, it is acknowledged that students who take responsibility for their learning are more likely to demonstrate continued improvement in their practice.

Moderators have a crucial role to play as a key stakeholder in the Professional Experience learning triad. They are required to take on a number of different (and sometimes conflicting) roles to support student learning. Moderators are mentors, administrators and evaluators.

Learning Triad

Mentoring

Mentoring has as its goal the empowerment of others. The notion of the mentor is a complex but perspectives about mentoring are frequently referred to in terms of ‘positioning’. How does the mentor position her/himself in relation to the person being mentored? Who speaks? Who listens? Who asks the questions? Who has all the answers?

A common element of effective mentoring is the way in which the mentor guides the student towards answering their own questions. This perspective could inform moderators about how they may approach the task of mentoring student teachers. Posing questions about students’ perceptions of their performance (as described in their reflective journals and evaluations) may be a useful starting point for moderators to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Effective mentoring is also about the development of a professional relationship, based on mutual trust and respect. At times, this process may occur immediately whereas at other times, the process might take quite a lot longer.

The Professional Experience model builds on a three way mentoring partnership between the student, the classroom based mentor teacher and the university supervisor. The model is based on effective use of mentoring to provide a constructive and supportive framework to assist students understand the multidimensional roles of teachers.

Mentoring has been used as a key strategy in the Leadership Centre of the DET WA for the professional development of teachers and school leaders.

For the Leadership Centre, mentoring is defined as a

One-to-one relationship in which one person helps another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking. Mentoring facilitates the sharing of intricate personal and professional knowledge, experience and wisdom not necessarily accessed through formal learning mechanisms.

According to Carter and Francis (2000, AARE Conference paper):

Analysis of qualitative data establishes the importance of mentoring in moving teacher learning beyond the simple transmission of prevailing culture and professional norms.

These authors also point to the benefits of mentoring for the mentor teacher, citing that

Studies of mentors involved in internship and induction programs reported that serving as a mentor caused experienced teachers to reflect on their own teaching knowledge, beliefs and practices and broaden their professional knowledge.

The NEA Foundation’s ‘Creating a Teacher Mentoring Program’ highlights a number of key issues in the use of mentoring as a strategy for teacher development. In particular, mentors assist student teachers to:

Make sense of the realities they face in teaching, learn their significance, and use what they have learned to improve their teaching skills (Logue, p2).

As the art and skills associated with effective teaching can only be acquired through practice and on-going reflection, teachers are asked to be supportive of students as they develop conceptual and practical understandings of teaching and learning.

Moderators and teachers may reflect on their own early experiences as a new teacher and use these images to assist them to support students.

Reflective Practices

Reflective practice is one of the ways in which teachers continue their learning. The School of Education places a strong emphasis on developing students’ understanding of and facility with a range of reflective practices, including journal writing, written evaluations of each lesson and discussions with others about ways to improve practices.

Effective reflective practice is frequent and regular and students are encouraged to keep an open mind about ways to improve. Reflective practices should become a natural part of a student’s professional learning and mentor teachers are encouraged to discuss students’ perceptions of their progress at regular intervals and sight examples of their written reflections.

The on-campus component of EDU101 and EDU 1011 Introduction to Teaching introduces students to this concept and the majority of campus-based and school-based units require some degree of reflective practice as part of their unit requirements. The Professional Internship provides further opportunities to explore what different reflective practices may ‘look like’ in reality and the types of actions that may result from effective reflective practices.

A reflection in a mirror is an exact replica of what is in front of it. Reflection in professional practice, however, gives back not what it is, but what might be, an improvement on the original.

Biggs (1999)

Bobis in DEST, 2005 cites research showing that:

Graduates of ‘critically reflective’ teacher education programs retain their progressive, student centred attitudes and ideals in spite of the pressures and constraints encountered in the classroom

DEST Report p25

Amuyla (N.D. CRCP) suggests:

The most powerful technologies for reflective practice are stories (narrative accounts of experience) and dialogue (building thinking about experiences out loud).

Major strategies used in the Professional Experience program to support the development of reflective practitioners include the use of reflective journals, action learning, case studies, mentor teachers, campus workshops, Teaching Portfolio, Problem Based Learning and performance based assessments.

By embedding reflective practice in the Professional Experience program we aim to enable students to engage in critical reflection about their own beliefs and practices, the diverse roles and responsibilities of the classroom teacher, the differing abilities and needs of students and the function of schooling in society – and how they might be a better teacher. In this way, students are in a stronger position to consider a range of approaches that may be enacted in their classroom.

Typically, the reflective cycle may look like this:

Reflective Practice

Tripp, D. (1997)

Reflective Journals

These enable students to reflect on critical incidents that occur during their School Experiences. They encourage students to ask questions such as:

  • What happened?
  • Why did this happen?
  • What might be the relevant internal or external causes?
  • What possible alternative strategies may be used to address the situation?
  • What can be learned from others or from the professional literature?
  • What can I/we do next time?

Reflective journals encourage students to think of their learning and their professional practice as an active process where they are required to think critically about their experiences and draw on both theory and practice to improve their teaching.

These may be written in the student’s Professional Experience File or Teaching Portfolio.

Teaching Portfolio

The Teaching Portfolio that is contained in each student’s designated Professional Experience File should be linked to the DET Competency Framework for Teachers so that students provide evidence that demonstrates their degree of competence across the Five Dimensions. Students include narratives about critical incidents that demonstrate their engagement with the 5 dimensions, evidence of their engagement and action plans for future professional development.

Students enrolled in the Professional Internship are required to complete and submit their teaching portfolio for assessment (not assessed by supervisors).

Problem Based Learning

Throughout the Professional Experience program, students are provided opportunities to identify and actively engage with real problems in a school setting. They may, for example, in collaboration with their mentor teacher, identify an area of literacy need in a cohort of students, develop a plan or program to address this, implement the plan with the support of their mentor teacher and then evaluate the outcomes. Several School Experience units including the Professional Internship and EDU3163 focus on problem based learning as part of their unit requirements.

Professionalism

Murdoch University places a strong emphasis on student professionalism whilst completing workplace units.

All students enrolled in the ITE program are required to abide by Murdoch University’s policies on Professional behaviour in the Workplace and Code of Conduct. Prior to the first School Experience, each student is required to read and, when advised by the Professional Experience Office, sign, relevant University policies related to professionalism.

These documents may be accessed from the Murdoch University site

For education students, the professional behaviours that are deemed important include:

  • Appropriate standards of ethical conduct
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Standards of punctuality and dress
  • Collegiality
  • Compliance with relevant school policies
  • Other, including exercising initiative and acting as an ambassador for Murdoch University
  • Indicators of each of these attributes are found in the Professional Experience Unit Guides and are referred to in the final report in all Professional Experience units.