Another reflection – from PE Teaching to PE Teacher Education

It is my intention within this reflective learning journal to illustrate aspects of my new beginning in education. Reflective models will support the critical evaluation of my knowledge, understanding, and teaching practice. Additionally, reference will be made to a peer-review process, and I will explore the suggestions made by reviewers with a particular focus on how I can improve practice and student experience. Throughout this reflection, I will identify links to the areas of Activity, Core Knowledge, and Professional Values that are outlined in the UK Professional Standards Framework [UKPSF] (Advance HE, Guild HE and Universities UK, 2011). The process of critical reflection will provide an opportunity to identify areas for future development, to cultivate good habits in terms of self-evaluation (McNamara & O’Hara, 2008), and to continue to improve my knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning in Higher Education (HE) [A5, V3, V4].

When we embark on something new, such as a new job or course, there are almost always obstacles to overcome along the way (Bassot, 2020). Change can be both exciting and disconcerting at the same time, even when the change is something we have been looking forward to (Rudisill et al., 2010). I have long aspired to transition from teacher to teacher educator and, in September 2021, I was afforded the opportunity to start my journey in HE, commencing employment as a lecturer of Physical Education (PE) and Teacher Education. This transition was incredibly exciting and an opportunity for significant growth for me; however, it was equally as daunting.

Bridges (2004) presents a useful model of transition which suggests that all transitions start with endings and conclude with new beginnings. The first stage, described as ‘endings’, represents the process of letting go of what is behind us. This feeling is shared by many, as most of us prefer what we already know compared to the new and unknown (Bassot, 2020). Casey & Fletcher (2012) discuss the tensions felt during this phase and describe the notion of ‘un-learning’, suggesting it is important to try and unlearn previous pedagogical approaches in order to try and understand how the new environment works (Casey, 2010; Casey & Fletcher, 2012). Subsequently, stage two is recognised as ‘the neutral zone’, this is often an uncomfortable position where we begin to feel anxious about what lies ahead. This is an emotion I have been familiar with since my employment commenced with phases of significant imposter syndrome (Bothello & Roulet, 2018) and periods of low self-confidence (Sadler, 2013). However, Bridges (2004) argues that we must spend time in the neutral zone in order to discover what to do next. Throughout my experiences in this zone, I have been able to collaborate with and observe expert colleagues which has helped my development. For example, focussed observations and professional conversations have helped to shape my developing practice. Furthermore, enrolling on the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education has provided me with clear focus and direction. The final stage of the Bridges (2004) model is ‘new beginnings’, this depicts the next stage of our career as we move forward with purpose. New beginnings encompass new understandings, values, and attitudes. Well-managed transitions allow individuals to establish new roles with an awareness of their purpose, the part they play, and how to contribute most effectively. This reflective journal will therefore illustrate some of the trials and tribulations of my new beginning as a teacher educator.

It is possible that my teaching philosophy may transform as I shift from teaching in school settings into Higher Education. I have developed an everchanging philosophy throughout my experiences of teaching, which is currently encapsulated as: through building positive relationships and creating fun, engaging, and safe learning environments, I strive to provide meaningful experiences for all in PE. My tendency is to draw from a range of learning theories to inform my practice; however, I adopt a predominantly social constructivist approach (Vygotsky, 1962; Adams, 2006) strongly supported by humanism (Combs, 1981; Kolb, 1984) and behaviourism (Thorndike, 1913; Pavlov, 1927; Macdonald, 2013).

Creating a safe and positive learning environment is key to my practice as I consider this pivotal in encouraging learners to be confident, curious, and creative. Eliminating the fear of failure, encouraging deeper thinking, and promoting innovation are key themes that have always been a golden thread woven through my teaching practice (Martin, 2010). A safe, supportive, and structured learning environment helps to ensure that learners are emotionally ready to learn, and this is something I value highly (humanism) (Shernoff & Csikszentmihalyi, 2009; Veugelers, 2011). For learners to find purpose and meaning in learning, it is essential that we provide them with opportunities for agency and autonomy (Kann et al., 2018; Leisterer & Jekauc, 2020). Teacher instruction is key in this process; for example, providing clear and concise learning objectives, effective modelling, and higher-order questioning (Rosenshine, 2012; Sherrington, 2020). However, providing learners with greater choice and reflecting on student voice to optimise challenge are powerful tools to engage learners (behaviourism) (Hastie et al., 2013). This is an approach I have used within my previous teaching roles underpinned by the research surrounding meaningful experiences by Kretchmar (2006) and Ennis (2017). I have found success in using these approaches with children aged 5-18, therefore I am curious to see whether my philosophy and pedagogy may change as I begin teaching adults and experiencing the ‘dual role’ nature of teacher education (Korthagen et al., 2005).

Critical Reflection

In previous teaching experiences, I have been able to improve my practice through the use of reflective models (Kolb, 1984; Gibbs, 1988). Reflection, as part of my professional role and own development, was encouraged by my colleagues. This usually took place after taught episodes or lessons, as a form of reflection-on-action. However, through developed confidence my ability to critically reflect was extended through Schön’s notion of reflection-in-action (Schön, 1983). With experience, I began to think about what I was doing whilst I was doing it. This adaptive teaching approach is beneficial due to the diverse and organic nature of teaching and learning (Luttenberg et al., 2017; Westwood, 2018) [K5, V3]. Within this reflective learning journal, I have adopted two models to help guide my thoughts and to structure my response. For the peer-review process, Brookfield’s Four Lenses model (1995; 2017) will be applied and when identifying my next steps, reference will be made to the ‘What, So What, Now What?’ model developed by Rolfe et al. (2001).

The ‘Four Lens Model’ (Brookfield, 1995) was designed as a model for teachers who want to develop and improve their practice through critical reflections. The model illustrates that reflecting on practice at a deeper level requires the perspectives of others. Brookfield (1995) uses the lenses as a metaphor to highlight the importance of noticing things from different viewpoints. These perspectives are; self-reflection, students’ feedback, colleagues’ experience, and theoretical literature (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Brookfield’s Four Lenses Model (1995, 2017)

Self-reflection can sometimes be the least respected lens due to its subjective and anecdotal nature (Bassot, 2020). It is good practice to self-reflect; however, we all self-reflect differently and at different levels (Sun & Van Beveren, 2018). We could potentially limit our growth by listening to our own voice alone, it is therefore suggested imperative to listen to the opinions and perspectives of others (Fisher, 2003; Brockbank & McGill, 2007). That said, our own experiences can encourage us to explore our deeply held values and assumptions about practice, so that we can begin to question them.

Our colleagues’ experience is an important perspective yet receiving feedback can be quite challenging and intimidating for some individuals (Scales, 2017). Engaging in a feedback process can help us see things within practice that we were not previously aware of, whilst nurturing stronger professional conversations and relationships (Greguras et al., 2001; Piggot-Irvine, 2003; Yiend et al., 2014). In this case, a peer-review process was utilised to gain the perspectives of my experienced colleagues. Peer observations are known to be an effective developmental tool for lecturers, particularly when the process is supportive and based on collaboration and mutual respect (Hatzipanagos & Lygo-Baker, 2006; Taylor, 2009; Bright et al., 2021).

Feedback from our students is of paramount consideration, as viewing practice through the eyes of our learners is vital for meeting the needs of all (Brooman et al., 2015; Bassot, 2020). Yet, like many of us, students unconsciously hold preconceptions or stereotypical opinions that are represented during the process of feedback, and these can be misleading (Peterson et al., 2019; Rivera & Tilcski, 2019). Student feedback can be used to guide practice and provide focus for further reflection. There is significant research that highlights the impact and benefit of listening to the students’ voice to improve practice and course design (Seale, 2009; McLeod, 2011; Blair et al., 2014; Brooman et al., 2015).

The fourth and last lens of Brookfield’s model is that of scholarship.  He recognises that learning from those who have written about professional practice is an essential aspect of reflection. The model also notes that the use of literature surrounding theoretical viewpoints is instrumental in critical reflection (Scales, 2017; Bassot, 2020).  Research, and the critical analysis of research, has been a cornerstone for the professional development of teachers for decades (Berliner, 1980; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1990; McNiff, 2006). Kember (2000), Williams (2014), and Putman and Rock (2016) concur and note that professionals who wish to continuously develop will need to consistently review and implement current literature.

Alternatively, Rolfe et al. (2001) introduced a framework for Reflexive Learning, this model was a product of adaptations made to Borton’s Reflective Framework (1970). Rolfe et al.’s model is based on three questions: What? So What? Now What? These questions are repeated at three levels with increasingly deeper reflections at each, the levels are: descriptive, theoretical, and action-orientated (Rolfe et al., 2001). Working through the same questions at different levels can be used to move from novice to expert (Bassot, 2020; Scales, 2017). Through critical reflection and analysing the themes that manifested through my peer-review observation, I will use Rolfe et al.’s model to set clear targets for the development of my teaching practice moving forward.

Peer Review

The reflections within this section refer to a formal observation that took place in January 2022. The session I asked to be reviewed was a practical lecture that introduced the concept of ‘Active Starters & Plenaries’ as a pedagogical tool for consideration when teaching PE lessons. The intended learning objective was to build on students’ prior knowledge of starters and plenaries, and to provide opportunities for application within a practical setting (Appendix A). The session was designed for BEd (Hons) Physical Education – Secondary Education students, with accompanied resources accessible through Canvas (the universities online learning platform).

As a focus for the peer review, I invited general feedback regarding my competency against the UKPSF framework (Advance HE, Guild HE and Universities UK, 2011). However, I also requested specific advice about a question I have been asking myself since embarking on my new beginning. This question was: ‘I often feel like I am wearing two caps [as a teacher educator] – the lecturer of students (1) but also modelling the secondary school teacher (2). Are there any effective ways of doing this? (Appendix A).’ My curiosity arose because I have found achieving the right balance challenging. Therefore, this peer observation proved a good opportunity to use Brookfield’s Lenses (1995, 2017) to gather the perspectives of others, in an attempt to clarify my thoughts around this question [A2, A4]. Within this section, my reflections are closely aligned with the UKPSF’s Areas of Activity; [A2] ‘teach and/or support learning’, and [A4] ‘develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance’.

Peers

After my peer-reviewed lecture, I had a debrief meeting with the observer, during this meeting I was provided feedback through a professional conversation alongside written comments (Appendix A). Many positives were identified with particular strengths in planning, strong relationships and professionalism, managing layers of cognate activities, and incorporating digital technologies (Appendix C & D) [A2, A4]. There were also numerous areas for further consideration such as the variety of content and utilising different verbs when writing learning objectives. However, there was one particular aspect from the feedback that I would like to focus on. The reviewer suggested:

I have chosen to reflect upon this particular statement because there is a striking similarity between this comment, the feedback received from students in attendance, and my reflections.

Students

Immediately after the lecture, the students were asked if they could construct a collaborative email as a form of feedback for my reflection. Gratefully, the students agreed and sent through a response that contained many positive comments. Most notably, the students said they were engaged from start to finish, that they enjoyed the modelling of practice and felt my subject knowledge was excellent [A2, A4] (Appendix B). In terms of improving the lecture, I would like to focus on one point they raised, collectively the students commented:

This point is in congruence with the comments made by the peer reviewer around pace and the culture I might impress on my students. Therefore, key questions might be: how long did I spend modelling practice in contrast to the time given to students for applying their knowledge and understanding? Upon reflection, in this lecture, perhaps too long.

Self

From a personal perspective, I was happy with the teaching and learning that happened in my peer-reviewed lecture. I felt that students made good progress in line with the learning objectives, they were suitably challenged, and they had the opportunity to explore and apply the content introduced in the lecture [A2, A4]. However, on reflection, I also agree that more time should have been given for the students to consider, question and apply the pedagogy of starters and plenaries. I believe I may have implicitly modelled for too long, almost presenting a PE lesson rather than a lecture for trainee PE teachers looking to develop their pedagogy. This links to the point made about showing a bias towards a particular way that PE lessons should be taught. I also felt that a large part of my modelling within the lesson had two flaws. First, my modelling was mostly implicit, meaning my focus was to demonstrate practice rather than justifying my reasons and allowing for critique. Secondly, my modelling could perhaps suggest to the students that this is the way I expect to see things taught, which certainly is not my aim.

Scholarship

Teaching about teaching should not be confused with simply modelling teaching practice. Teacher education goes beyond the traditional concept of modelling, it involves unpacking methods in ways that gives students access to the pedagogical reasoning, doubts and predicaments of practice that are inherent in understanding teaching (Loughran, 2006). During their education, doctors do not serve as role models for the actual practice of the profession i.e., they do not treat their students. Teacher educators, on the other hand, educate their students as well as teach about teaching. It is this dual role that so complicates teaching and learning in teacher education (Korthagen et al., 2005).

One way of considering modelling in teacher education is as an appetiser to the ideas and underpinnings of practice so that opportunity can be provided to break down, analyse and then reconstruct methods and approaches to pedagogy. Although modelling is a means for demonstrating practice, modelling alone is not sufficient for learning about practice (Korthagen et al., 2005; Lunenberg et al., 2007). One of the intents of modelling is to offer trainee teachers an opportunity to not only grasp a deeper understanding of how to use particular teaching procedures but see the value in developing an understanding of why to use them. This is a stark contrast to the misconception that modelling is a faux teaching demonstration or an implicit call for trainee teachers to teach like me (Loughran, 2006; Lunenberg et al., 2007)

Lunenberg et al. (2007) posit an important distinction between implicit and explicit modelling of teacher education practices. Implicit modelling appears when teacher educators show the practices that they wish their trainees to consider as a part of their pedagogy. Explicit modelling requires teacher educators both to use the practices that they wish to promote and to think aloud whilst doing so (Loughran, 1996). The effectiveness of implicitly modelling practice is questionable at best (Lunenberg et al., 2007). My developing pedagogy of teacher education has taught me the value of learning from, and collaborating with, trainee teachers. I have discovered that I must place more focus on explicitly modelling my pedagogy, rather than assuming that trainees can recognise and understand what I am aiming to do.

Depending on the students’ stage of learning, my approach to modelling might change. For example, a conscious effort to be more explicit with year one undergraduates in comparison to adopted approaches used with PGCE PE students. I have noticed that 3rd year trainee teachers and PGCE students are more likely to be curious about and question my decision-making, and my choice of pedagogy when modelling. Whereas, 1st year undergraduates tend to take my practice at face-value with less questioning, discussion, and critique. It is not my intention to create carbon-copy versions of me as a teacher, but to guide trainees in the development of their own teaching philosophy.

As a PE teacher, I regularly strived to teach high energy lessons that challenged the learners through active and engaging tasks (Fletcher et al., 2021). I feel that, although there is certainly a place for this, I may need to slow the pace of my teaching and activities to allow opportunity for the trainees to learn, consider, and apply practice themselves. My high-paced and energetic lessons certainly fit a narrative and perhaps impress a particular culture of what a PE teacher should do and what PE lessons should look like (Casey & Fletcher, 2012). However, one approach to teaching is not a panacea for effective learning, a combination of alternative approaches is often required (Campbell et al., 2001; Scales, 2017). Teachers and Teacher Educators must have an awareness of their own values-based positions, regarding teaching and content they teach (Faria, 2015). Therefore, it is important that I explicitly model a range of approaches regularly, rather than resorting to particular forms of pedagogy that I believe in and have comfort in using.

Moving Forward – What, So What, Now What?

This reflective journal and the peer review process has highlighted strengths in my practice, I am able to support the learning of my students and I can create effective learning environments [A2, A4]. However, it has identified an aspect that I would like to investigate further moving forward. I want to find the right balance of modelling teaching practice, analysing pedagogy, and providing opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and understanding.

The literature suggest that explicit modelling is an effective pedagogy to use with trainee teachers, as the sharing of good practice and vocalising thought processes can allow students to analyse pedagogy for themselves (Loughran, 2006; Lunenberg et al., 2007). Planning carefully for a balance of explicit modelling and physically active and challenging tasks is now my focus moving forward.

I will continue to critically reflect on my practice using Brookfield’s lenses (1995, 2017) as I have enjoyed the process of evaluating my teaching and philosophy from different perspectives. I endeavour to gather and analyse regular feedback from my students, alongside focussed observations of experienced colleagues, asking for advice and ideas when possible. Finally, I will read current and appropriate literature to support my practice, turning to reflective journaling (Watson, 2010) and self-study methodology (LaBoskey, 2004) to further investigate my teaching practice and identity as a teacher educator.

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