Transforming early childhood teachers’ professional learning and development : a study of research, provision, and potential : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Massey University, Manawatū, Aotearoa New Zealand

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Effective professional learning and development (PLD) is recognised as a key mechanism to strengthen teachers’ knowledge and pedagogical practice and improve the quality of education. However, PLD is not always effective for its intended purpose. Effectiveness depends on the match between the PLD approach, the participating teachers, and the desired outcomes. Although it is important to have a range of approaches to PLD, it is also important to be aware that different approaches will serve different purposes. In recent years, coaching has been increasingly evidenced as a PLD approach that supports teachers to develop knowledge and effectively implement new pedagogical practices. Yet, coaching is under-utilised and under-researched in the Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood education sector. The multiphase study in this thesis with publications investigated PLD in Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood education settings, with a focus on coaching as a component of the PLD. The research included a further focus on pedagogy to foster toddlers’ social-emotional learning. There were three successive research phases, designed to investigate: 1) early childhood education PLD research literature; 2) the PLD provision that early childhood teachers have received in recent years; and 3) a PLD coaching intervention to support early childhood teachers in their implementation of teaching practices to foster toddlers’ social-emotional learning. The first phase of the investigation was a study of PLD research. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) protocols were used to guide a systematic literature review of PLD research in the Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood education field. Fifty-six studies were reviewed with the intention of identifying key characteristics of the research, including how or whether coaching had been studied. The results identified Aotearoa New Zealand ECE PLD research as predominantly qualitative and descriptive, characterised by practitioner-researcher partnerships and models of PLD based on collaborative inquiry or action research. Overall, there was limited attention paid to how PLD interventions were implemented, including the strategies that facilitators used to support teachers’ professional learning. There was limited attention to coaching. Within the studies that reported using coaching as a PLD component, there were multifarious coaching definitions and descriptions. Results of the systematic literature review suggest coaching is under-researched and possibly misunderstood in Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood education. The first research phase has identified a need for a stronger and more intentional focus on a range of PLD interventions and research, including who is involved, what content is covered, and how interventions are delivered. The second research phase was a study of teachers’ PLD experiences. A nationwide survey was completed by 345 early childhood teachers who answered questions about their recent PLD experiences. A key finding was that isolated workshops predominated as a PLD model. Many teachers also engaged in reflective discussions with PLD facilitators, however, facilitation strategies that are associated with coaching, such as observation and feedback, were not common. Overall, the survey’s findings indicate there is limited emphasis on PLD models that are designed to support teachers in their implementation of new pedagogical practices. The second research phase has identified a need to support teachers’ and leaders’ access to evidence-informed PLD that promotes shifts in teaching practice and fosters positive learning outcomes for children. The third research phase was a study of coaching as a component of PLD. Practice-based coaching protocols were adapted for use in an Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood education setting, and a PLD intervention was developed. The PLD intervention combined practice-based coaching with workshops, with the intention of supporting a teaching team’s implementation of teaching practices to foster toddlers’ social-emotional learning. The relationship between the coaching and the implementation of teaching practices was analysed using single-subject multiple-baseline methods. The single-subject experiment demonstrated a functional relation between the PLD intervention and teachers’ implementation of the social-emotional teaching practices. Results suggest that some teaching practices were maintained 9 weeks after the intervention, despite staff changes. The participating teachers were interviewed to seek their perspectives of the PLD and coaching. Teachers reported that coaching with a focus on social-emotional teaching was a positive experience that improved their teaching which, in turn, improved toddlers’ social-emotional skills. The third research phase has foregrounded the potential of coaching to support and strengthen early childhood teaching. This phase has also identified pathways for further research into, and application of, coaching in the Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood sector. The findings from this thesis with publications challenge current approaches to PLD, emphasising the need for a more coherent and informed approach. The unique professional learning needs of toddler teachers and the importance of PLD that effectively supports social-emotional teaching are highlighted throughout the thesis. Coaching is affirmed as a PLD approach to promote shifts in teaching, enabling teachers to implement new pedagogical practices. Numerous recommendations are made for further PLD research, provision, and potential for maximising positive outcomes. These recommendations include the development of a shared PLD definition and conceptual framework to support rigorous PLD research and application in Aotearoa New Zealand, and to support teachers and leaders to select and engage in PLD experiences that meet their needs. There is an identified need for further research that investigates how, why, and under what conditions PLD works. The thesis advocates for greater attention to evidence-informed and coaching-driven PLD. The research and recommendations within this thesis have been developed to advance and strengthen PLD systems and programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood education.
Early childhood teachers, In-service training, New Zealand, Employees, Coaching of, Social skills in children, Study and teaching (Early childhood)