International Panel: Bridging Policy and Practice
A Focus on Teacher Preparation
A Brief Description of the Idea of Working Groups of Teachers and Their Relation with Pre- and In-service Teacher Education in Brazil
Prepared by Carlos A. Francisco and Romulo Lins
Working groups of teachers (WGTs) consist simply of an organized group of teachers, with one or more coordinators, preferably chosen by the members of the group. WGTs should be the place where teachers discuss professional matters with the dual objective of improving their current teaching in a practical way and of improving their teaching in a lasting way. The issues around which work will happen are determined by group members, which may highly improve the level of commitment and interest, while at the same time it guarantees that the discussions are not some kind of formal exercise. WGTs greatly benefit from their membership in a network of WGTs, as this membership optimizes access to other people's contributions and to a variety of materials. For instance, members are exposed to others' suggestions on how to treat a topic or how to deal with a given situation and have greater access to books and other texts, games, didactical material, web resources, et cetera.
WGTs should be at the center of in-service professional development processes because they embody cooperative work and learning, offering self-organized professional support for the teachers involved. It is clear that being a member of a WGT is not something to which most teachers will be accustomed. They have to somehow learn to work cooperatively. For this reason, two aspects of WGTs are important: (a) the creation of networks of WGTs should be done in a way that does not make it mandatory for all teachers; and (b) pre-service education of teachers includes a component in which future teachers will develop their ability to work cooperatively.
Point (a) suggests that strategies must be developed and carefully discussed to stimulate the creation of networks of WGTs. One strategy could involve projects like the Foundation for School Development (FDE) Project presented by Professor Romulo Lins. Another strategy could involve a group proposed by one or more teachers (difficult in Brazilian experience) or professors (as in the origins of GPA, the action-research group that Professor Carlos Francisco identified. An additional strategy could involve organizing regular short workshops for teachers (day-conferences) in which the possibility of forming groups would be gradually introduced and discussed, as control of the workshops moved from the "leader" to the members.
Funding is, of course, an issue here, but in each situation this has to be handled according to local conditions. It seems important that local educational authorities are somehow involved in stimulating teachers to belong to WGTs. One suggestion is that every teacher education center could be associated with at least one WGT, so part of the teaching practice would consist of students taking part in the group as junior members. It is important that the WGT be a real one as that would provide one way of immersing student-teachers in the profession's culture, at the same time that allows them to face real problems and solutions coming from real teachers.
In Brazil, it is important that a network of WGTs is seen by the groups as successful overall with respect to the two objectives mentioned-solutions to more or less immediate problems and a lasting professional development. With that in mind, it seems highly useful that networks have newsletters, a web site and a network conference.
The coordinators or leaders of the WGTs in a network should form a group themselves to discuss the advances and the problems in the functioning of different groups and possibly to transform this reflection into a form that can be disseminated and serve to help the formation of other WGTs or networks. The content here is not the same as in the groups-issues and problems coming from the teachers' practice-but issues and problems related to the functioning of the groups. It seems important that groups of coordinators invite an experienced teacher educator to act as a supervisor of some sort, more in the sense of a psychoanalyst than in the sense of a school inspector.
It is not possible to foresee what content will be discussed or produced in particular WGTs. This is bound to be a major source of anxiety for those teacher educators with an inclination to and a belief in "objective intervention produces objective development (if done correctly)." It is the form of WGTs that carries most of the responsibility for the expected positive development that will happen, precisely because in them actual concerns and questions will compose the real situation that has to be addressed. It is against that background that decisions on whether to use workshops, longer courses, lectures, to study one or more books, to search the internet or simply to drop the topic, for instance, will be made. Also, those actual concerns and questions will bring in, distilled through eyes of the teachers, educational policies and testing issues, for instance.
Content in WGTs can be partially induced if educational agents offer them material to be discussed, be it curricular guidelines, assessment guidelines or other types of material. But it would be up to the groups to decide what to do about those materials, as much as it is up to them to make decisions in their classrooms/school.
Finally, WGTs and networks of them, promote the notion of autonomy as a socially negotiated and collectively developed and possessed value, rather than that of autonomy as an individually acquired and individually possessed virtue. It is only by working cooperatively to deal with their real issues and concerns that teachers will develop a legitimate understanding and an adequate value for getting their students to work in a similar fashion in their classrooms.
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