Reflection on Research Methodology on Teacher Competence Case Study

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Introduction

Professional development for teachers remains one of the greatest concerns for educationists the world over (Winter & Maisch, 2005). This is because to remain relevant in a changing world, it is important to continuously retrain teachers to make them adapt to new requirements of the current world. Furthermore, the student of the 20th century is confronted by new challenges, which he expects education to help him surmount. It is only well-trained teachers who can effectively prepare students for such challenges. To study this topic, research was carried out to evaluate the status of professional development among teachers in a xxx school. The research questions were: 

  • What are the teachers’ common professional developments needs in my school? 
  • What do teachers consider as an appropriate structure for promoting effective collaboration among teachers?
  • What necessary actions do teachers/leaders think should be taken by the school leaders to support and sustain the professional learning community?
  • How do teachers/leaders think that  the school leaders should work on improving the teachers’ professional development to meet ADEC’s Standards?

In any research, the methodology is one of the most important aspects. Having studied the state of professional development for teachers and their feelings about it, this essay provides a reflection and analysis on the methodology used in this study, with the aim of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each method and discussing how effectively it was in the study. I also make a reflection on all the aspects of the research with the aim of making a linkage between the way the research was conducted, the relevance of the findings and the impact of this state of affairs on public education.

A Reflection on the Research

A reflection on the research is an important stage because it gave me an opportunity to make sense of the information I gathered in the field. While much information is gathered during the research, it is not useful to the researcher unless one tries to make sense of it, which is what happens during the reflection stage. Moreover, it is during this stage that one tries to establish a link between the various stages of the research such as the formulation of the questions, data collection, and report writing. It is the stage at which the researcher asks if he got what he went to look for in the field. Thus, reflection on this research work gave it meaning. Actually, it was the most important stage because it converted data into useful academic thoughts. This reflection served as an internal monologue and personal critique of the entire process of the research and gave me an opportunity to make sense of the information I had collected. 

Reflection on the Literature Review

One of the most informative processes of the research was the literature review. I reviewed the literature on the professional development of teachers, government policy on teacher development, and on the appropriate research methodology to be used in such studies.  It gave me an opportunity to know what other researchers have found out and written on this topic and the recommendations they had made. While some research was related to what I was studying, it was important to look at the methods used, and the results obtained and compare these with those I had proposed to use. Furthermore, reviewing relevant literature enabled me to make comparisons and test the generalizations of the findings to all sections of the education system. One important lesson I learned during this stage is that the education systems from various countries have almost similar problems although some peculiarities exist. Specifically, Winter & Maisch (2005) helped me understand the role of professional development for teachers, and that many institutions do not take the area seriously. Also, it made me understand that this is a world problem. Furthermore, Ary et al (2009) gave important insights on the process of carrying out educational research especially for beginners. It became clear from this review that the methods I has selected for this research were appropriate and had been used extensively in the world. 

Secondly, the literature review covered all aspects of the research, including the topic, the methodology, and data analysis. It gave me an opportunity to streamline my topic to a recognizable study subject. Actually, this step gave me an opportunity to reflect on the topic and come up with ways in which to break it down into manageable sub-topics. It was also during the literature review that I learned of the available options in research methodology and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Prior to the literature review, I had a topic with little or no idea on how to proceed to study it. However, after a careful literature review, I became an expert in the ways of research and felt ready to proceed to the fieldwork. Furthermore, the literature review gave me the confidence to talk about the research topic with confidence, which was important in explaining the concepts to the respondents. 

 I also learned that all research should be grounded on a detailed and in-depth review of relevant literature because a researcher who has undertaken a comprehensive review will avoid the possibility of having gaps in work. Most importantly, it reduces the likelihood of duplicating a research that has already been undertaken, which would be a waste of time and resources. Finally, reviewing literature remained a continuous process throughout the study because every time an issue presented a challenge, I looked for books and read. Many problems were solved in this manner, which shows how significant this stage of the research is. 

I must admit that it was one of the most tedious processes because I had to go through many volumes of publications. Identifying the right material to review took long, and many hours were spent looking for relevant literature. However, I found out towards the end that one could save time by using digital sources, which help him, narrow down to specific topics. At the end of the literature review, one learns crucial lessons that can be used in future research studies. 

A review of government policy documents revealed that there are policies that govern continuous professional development and retraining of teachers. Furthermore, there are reports and research findings outlining the importance of professional development for teachers. Also, the specific methods through which such development courses need to be implemented and their impact on teaching and learning are well studied and documented. However, there was no direct relationship between the literature and the implementation of these policies on the ground. Some of the writings pointed to the disconnect between theory and practice, and one of the motivations of this research was the need to establish the reality on the ground and compare it with what is written in books and policy papers. 

The Research Methods Used

The study adopted several methods of data collection . These were interviews, personal observation, and questionnaires. Each aimed at understanding the perceptions of teachers and school administrators on professional development. 

My philosophical stance is that while professional development is important for teachers, it is not given the prominence it needs in education, many teachers do not get any professional help and when they do, it is upon their own effort and not the direct effort of administrations and governments. Since my focus in this research is on this area, the research will be mainly an interpretive one.

The research design will be a case study in which my own school, located in UAE was the focus of the research. The teachers at the school will be the respondents of the research. 

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Interviews

An interview is a verbally administered questionnaire to which the respondent gives verbal responses as the researcher notes down the responses. The research method was used to find out the personal feelings of the teachers regarding their professional development. Ten interviews were carried out with teachers at the school, and two with administrators, bringing it to twelve interviews. An interview guide was developed and used to moderate the sessions, with the intention of ensuring that the interviewer does not go out of topic, as suggested by Mertens (2015). To establish the reliability of the interview guide formulated, a pilot study was carried out to establish the effectiveness of the interview guide. Items that were found to make the respondents uncomfortable were deleted. For example, questions asking about areas that the teachers were incompetent in or those, which sought to know areas of weakness, were found to elicit feelings of discomfort among the teachers. These were left out of the main questionnaire.  The pilot study was an efficient way of establishing the reliability and consistency of the questions and the ease with which the respondent could understand them. After the pilot study, the interview guide was edited to remove the inappropriate or too tricky questions for the respondents to understand. Thus, only questions that were devoid of ambiguity were retained in the guide as suggested by Mertens (2015). 

Also, an interview was found to be a highly effective method of study because one can make follow up questions and seek clarifications on responses, which are found unclear or incomplete. Moreover, there is a lot of information one gathers through observing the body language and other non-verbal features such as facial expressions and tonal and variation of the respondent. It would not be possible in a questionnaire or other methods, which only elicit written responses. Therefore, the interview enabled the researcher to not only receive the factual response to the stated questions but also to obtain a feel for their feelings on given topics. For example, it was possible to tell which areas the teachers feel very strongly about, or those they did not consider very important, even when the responses did not explicitly state so. 

Furthermore, interviews were found to be fairly easy and quick to administer and effective in cases in which the respondent may be too busy to attend to other methods such as questionnaires. Actually, the rate of return of interviews is high, and the accuracy of the responses is higher than in other methods of research data collection (Kasi, 2009). Nonetheless, they are limited in use especially if the responses require an intellectual depth, such as detailed scientific explanations (Kasi, 2009). Also, well-conducted interviews enable the respondent to give unplanned responses, which are the most honest. There is little room for the respondent to consult others on the response, which could have led to the negative influence of the opinion. In addition, I learned that some respondents find it time-consuming and prefer questionnaires, which they can respond to at their own time. 

I also learned that some of the questions were not framed well because they elicited single word responses from the teachers. This taught me that it is important to frame questions in a way that makes the respondent give descriptions instead of single answers. For example, a question, such as “Do you think professional training courses are important for a teacher?” can elicit the answer “yes, they are.” The respondent gives a summarized answer that leaves the researcher with little information for his report writing. On the other hand, a question such as “describe the importance of professional development courses for a teacher” gives room for the respondent to give a detailed description that will enable him to make a more detailed and informed report.

Finally, the interview method helped the researcher learn that to obtain accurate and detailed information, there is need to make the respondent feel free and comfortable. The interview method proved to be a good way of winning the confidence of the respondent because unlike the other methods that appear too formal, the interviewer has an opportunity to make the session appear more relaxed. Actually, the interview is said to be the most interactive of the data collection methods (Curtis & Curtis, 2013). Furthermore, when responses are given in an atmosphere in which the respondent is relaxed, the responses are more reliable (Curtis & Curtis, 2013).  On the other hand, responses given in a tense atmosphere can be skewed towards giving those responses that the respondent would like to get. This is particularly the case in circumstances in which the response is critical of the institutional administration or those that seek to point out poor governance practices. This was a valuable lesson learned in the use of the interview in this research. 

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Actually, the use of interview in the ethnographic approach is an important research method because, in addition to the raw data that is collected via the recorded responses of the teachers, interviews allow for an interpretation of the respondents’ feelings. As an interactive process, I was able to gather a lot of information by observing and interacting with the teachers. Kasi (2009) observes that an interpretivist approach gives the researcher an opportunity to personally understand the meaning of various phenomena in addition to the views of the participants. Therefore, during the interviews, it was possible to note the ideas, views, and thoughts of the participants because of the interaction. Moreover, the use of survey as a method of study helped in the elimination of the bias usually associated with qualitative research.

Questionnaire

A questionnaire was administered to the teachers to test the rat or level to which professional development courses are implemented in schools. First, I carried out a pilot study with two of the teachers at the institution to test the appropriateness and effectiveness of each of the items on the list of questions. I left out those that I found to make respondents uncomfortable or those that were not clear. Just like for the interview guide, the pilot stage was an essential way of establishing how the respondents understood the questions and if they would elicit the required answers. During this stage, I gave the questionnaires to a smaller sample of the respondents and studied their responses to determine if they were appropriate and relevant to the research. After this, I edited the questionnaire to remove those items that were eliciting ambiguous and unclear responses, or those that many respondents did not answer, or those eliciting single word responses such as ‘do you think professional development courses are important?

A questionnaire has some advantages when carrying out research, such as the availability of enough time for the respondent to give detailed responses. In fact, it is the most preferred mode of data collection in cases where accurate or technical responses are required (Mertens 2015).  It is not like an interview that requires immediate responses. Also, the respondent has the luxury of privacy, meaning he does not feel embarrassed to give certain responses which he may find uncomfortable, especially if the questionnaire does not require the respondents to identify themselves. Actually, it is the most effective tool when seeking information that one would consider private such as details on sexual behavior or drug abuse (Grinhell & Unrau, 2010). 

Furthermore, I found out that a questionnaire is a practical data collection method. It is inexpensive and easy to design and can be administered easily by physically distributing it and explaining to the respondents the importance of honest and accurate responses. Moreover, it does not require an expert to administer, especially if the instructions have been stated and the questions designed well. Lately, some researchers have administered questionnaires using the internet, making it possible to collect data from respondent across the world and in a short time. The questionnaire was administered to each of the teachers at the school and collected after two days. Also, the use of multiple-choice items makes it possible to use computers to analyze the data qualitatively, saving time, and increasing the accuracy. Such formats also enable the researcher to limit the types of responses by giving the respondents choices from which they pick responses. This prevents the possibility of getting long descriptions, which may give the researcher detailed information that makes analysis difficult, as suggested by Cohen et al. (2013).  

Furthermore, the use of survey questions promoted the use of positivism, a quality that governs qualitative studies. An interpretivism helped me address the research questions from different perspectives, as observed by Vogt (2014). Due to this, the reliability of the data collected was increased. Also, the high number of the respondents in the questionnaire makes it possible to eliminate bias and error, meaning the findings can be generalized to wider populations.  from the findings,  the data collection methods led to positive results and that both interview and questionnaire helped me collect the information that I needed to make valid conclusions in the research.   

The data was analyzed through SPSS method and qualitative methods of description and comparison. 

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Ethical Considerations in the Research

There were ethical considerations that were considered during this research, and these were important in ensuring the reliability and authenticity of the findings. One of them is to explain to the respondents the importance and purpose of the research, which serves two purposes. One is to make them aware of the reasons why they need to provide honest answers to the questions asked. In this case, I explained to them that the information needed was for academic purposes only, and not for pursuing changes to the administration or punishing those who might have performed below standards. Secondly, I explained to them that all information obtained from the research would be treated confidentially and that I cannot be used to victimize any of them. Once the respondents understand such issues and feel assured of their welfare and privacy, the respondents voluntarily participate in the research with clear knowledge of its purpose and use (Oliver, 2010).  

Secondly, participation in the research was purely voluntary, with respondents who chose not to participate were allowed to do so. In fact, I explained to them that they were free to decline participation if they found it uncomfortable or if they were too busy to do so. Additionally, the respondents were not coerced to answer all the questions in the questionnaires or the interview, and they were not required to explain their reasons for declining to answer some questions. 

 More importantly, the anonymity and confidentiality of the respondents were assured. I learned that to gain valuable and reliable information, and the respondents must feel that they will not be called upon to defend or explain the reasons behind their responses, especially if such answers are against the establishment or the administration. For this study, the confidence of the participants in the level of confidentiality was assured by expressly telling them that the information they provide and the identity of the participants were assured. Also, as mentioned above, the participants were not required to provide details, which would lead to a disclosure of their identities. I also used pseudonyms and distorted any information that I felt could lead to the identity of the respondents. This is in line with what Ary et al., (2009) state when they say that the researcher should ensure the confidentiality of the respondents and the information they provide. 

Actually, I learned that all types of information, including those that the researcher considers public and not worth of confidentiality, should be kept private. Some of the details that one may deem public knowledge are confidential according to the person in consideration, which means that what is private varies from one person to another. This means that the researcher should not attempt to be the judge of what can be disclosed and what should not. Instead, he should keep all details in strict confidence so that the respondents feel convinced to disclose information to him or other people (Bankert & Amdur, 2006). 

Furthermore, as I carried out this research, I learned that once data has been obtained, it is sensitive and valuable. The respondents have trusted me with details about themselves, the school, and their colleagues, including their bosses. Some of this information can lead to the downfall of institutions or individuals or could give competitors an undue advantage over them. Therefore, it is my responsibility as the researcher to ensure that the information is protected from theft, damage, loss, unauthorized access or disclosure and malicious modification. Maintaining the highest levels of confidentiality is one of the most critical ethical issues in research as it builds trust (Lowrance, 2012).

Finally, the ethical consideration of beneficence formed a significant part of the decision making process. Beneficence is an important consideration in educational research because it deals with human beings as items of study. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that while studying humans, they are not exposed to any harm (Brooks, Te, & Maguire, 2014).  In this case, the first step towards ensuring the beneficence of the respondents was to seek permission and authorization from the administrations of the institutions in questions. After that, there was a consent form that ensured the respondents would not cause them any physical, emotional or mental harm, and that the information they gave would not expose them to any danger. Every participant signed an informed consent that ensured that before taking part, they understood what the research was for and the activities involved. I also assured them that participation was voluntary and that they were free to decline participation if they felt they were not interested in the process. 

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A Reflection on Findings

The findings helped answer all the research questions that were the focus of the study . I learned that professional development for teachers is important because it helps them keep up with the pace of the changing world in terms of study and technological development. Actually, the teachers are aware of the challenges they face and the need for the professional development. Furthermore, they know the kind of professional development that would help them cope with these problems. However, they do not always attend the professional development courses when they need them due to lack of resources or time for extra study. This had also been observed in the literature review. The data showed that only one out of the ten teachers at the institution had undertaken professional courses in the last one year, and even this one was not supported by the administration of the school. 

Secondly, collaboration among teachers at departmental level was not supported by the administration of the institution. This is the most cost-effective way to help the teachers learn from each other as they execute their daily duties. One of the for the low levels of collaboration is the heavy demand of duty, which makes the teachers only focus on delivery of their work only, leaving no time for personal development. I also learned that school administrators had not put in much work in helping the teachers develop professionally. Many have declined requests for study leaves, and many institutions do not have any mechanisms of sponsoring teachers for in-service courses. The need for teachers to pay their fees has discouraged many from enrolling for courses. Also, long working hours have made it difficult for teachers to take time to study. School administrators and governments should support teachers by providing scholarships and leaves so that they can undertake further studies. Also, there should be deliberate efforts to enhance collaboration between teachers at the departmental level. 

Reflections on the General Outcomes of the Research

The research findings helped me understand the gap that exists in educational setups between the training offered to teachers and the continuous training needed to keep them relevant and updated on the needs of their work. Teachers need continuous training, support and collaboration to remain equal to the challenges they face while handling students. For example, there are new barriers brought about by the exposure of students to the internet, which results in indiscipline and mob psychology cases. In such cases, teachers need to be trained on these new emerging cases and the latest methods of addressing them. Furthermore, students can positively use the internet for the search of knowledge if they are given proper guidance. This can only be possible if teachers are ready and trained in the available options. Additionally, knowledge is continually changing, especially in areas such as science, history, linguistics, and law. A teacher must inspire his students by demonstrating that he has the latest information on such changes. 

Also, it became clear that while teachers are aware of the central role they play in students’ development and the overall learning process, those who had stayed for a long time without getting any further training feel unprepared for their work, which makes them lack confidence while dealing with students. Such situations lead to poor delivery of the subject content, making the rate of learning slow. 

Implications of the Research & Suggestions for Further Research 

A significant finding is that while some teachers attended professional courses, they felt that they do not have much impact in their career. Some attend them for certification purposes only with the hope of promotion in their career. The method of delivering such courses and the limited time they are offered makes it difficult to change the delivery methods effectively. Thus, the emphasis should not be on the availability only but also on the effectiveness of these methods. The designers of these courses need to make them relevant to the needs of the teachers to help the teachers improve. 

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Further research areas exist since this study only concentrated on the awareness and delivery of professional development. For example, there is need to study the direct impact of professional development courses for teachers and the performance of students. Such research would explore if, for example, a teacher’s attendance of a training course for a period leads to improved student scores. Also, one could study the possible financial impact of lack of professional development on a country by linking the quality of graduates produced as a result of the professional courses with a direct economic impact to the country. 

Conclusion

The research was a learning opportunity for me, as I understood the importance of professional development for teachers and the reality of its weak implementation on the ground. I discovered that while there are detailed reports and policies on the need for continuous teacher training, the players in the education sector were not implementing them. Moreover, teachers were aware of the need for constant training and collaboration in their work but had not followed this with a real implementation of training programs. In some instances, administrators looked at the training programs and courses as a waste of time and blocked efforts by teachers to enroll. In turn, teachers became demotivated and stopped trying. These factors are among the reasons learning in public schools remains below standards. Teachers are the most central players in the education system after the students, and any effort to make education relevant must start with ensuring that they are adequately trained and ready to handle the evolving modern challenges of the education system. The objective can only be achieved through continuous professional development. Such an approach makes teachers aware of their role in student’s life other than delivering academic content.   

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