The teachers who most enthusiastically espouse Curriculum for Excellence may be marooned unless they can join forces with like-minded colleagues in other schools, soon-to-be-published research suggests.
It shows how five subject-based "associated school groups" have boosted the efforts of Highland Council teachers to push ahead with innovations in the classroom.
The research - a collaboration between Stirling University, the University of the West of Scotland and Auburn University in the USA - drew chiefly on detailed case studies of five teachers, alongside focus groups and field notes from meetings of the five cross-school groups. It highlights the crucial importance of "ongoing opportunities for teachers to meet outside of school in a semi-formal manner with colleagues to discuss professional issues such as pedagogy".
The researchers pointed to "Drew" (a pseudonym), a maths teacher in a small, remote school. He was "swimming against the tide" in his own department amid colleagues who were "very resistant to change".
Working with teachers from other schools, many of whom shared his educational values, provided him with ideas and moral support, and he became more confident in Assessment is for Learning techniques.
"Vanessa" wanted to try innovative approaches to numeracy in science, but it was only by sharing her "wishy-washy" ideas with sympathetic colleagues in her cross-school group that they became more "concrete".
"It was the dovetailing of her personal beliefs regarding the value of AifL with those of the wider group that provided the key to facilitate and sustain change," the report states.
"Helen", an English teacher, believes her involvement with the wider group "enhanced her identity" within her own school.
"She is seen as someone who gets involved; people therefore think of her name when they are planning projects and come to her for advice," said the report.
Helen also said, however, that the English group would have worked even better if there had been greater use of email and virtual learning. The most useful dialogue took place during face-to-face meetings, but teachers were more reluctant to use web-based communication. Other findings include:
- support from senior management for experimentation and a culture of professional inquiry provides a "significant boost" to teachers' ability to innovate;
- publicity for successful innovation, such as Highland Council's publication of formative assessment case studies, provides encouragement for other teachers;
- the role of Kevin Logan, the Highland education officer who led the council's formative assessment project, provided a "major source of impetus", by bringing people together to share ideas and backing up teachers' innovations in school.
The article has been accepted by the British Educational Research Journal, but will not be published for a number of months.