INVESTIGATING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:

EARLY CHILDHOOD MUSIC TEACHER LEARNING IN A COHORT GROUP

 

Lisa M. Gruenhagen

Director, Early Childhood and Elementary Music, Levine School of Music

PhD candidate, Eastman School of Music

lisa.gruenhagen@levineschool.org

 

While some of the most common professional development experiences for teachers have often been organized as in-service days, a workshop or class, and other such one-time events planned and organized by someone other than practitioners, many researchers over the past decade have been advocating professional development that by contrast is teacher-centered; is situated in practice; is an ongoing process; fosters collegiality, collaborative inquiry, and critical discourse; and is linked to improving student learning (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Little, 1999; Nieto, 2003; Wilson & Berne, 1999; McDonald & Klein, 2003). Several researchers illustrate the importance of focusing on teachers and teacher learning in the workplace and assisting in developing and expanding the knowledge base of teachers (Shulman, 1999; Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1999; Scribner, 2003).

This session details my work with a cohort group of early childhood music teachers engaged in monthly conversations that serve as one form of professional development. My goal in designing this particular model is to better understand teacher learning while at the same time providing support for this learning. The guiding idea being that if a framework is provided for teachers to meet and work together they themselves are capable of creating powerful learning experiences. My investigation focuses on what happens when early childhood music teachers engage in professional development as a group, and more specifically, what happens when inservice music teachers engage in collaborative conversation and how this experience impacts their learning, development of professional knowledge, and their practice. The teachers meet voluntarily once a month for 3 hours to discuss issues related to music teaching and learning within the diverse contexts of the large community music school in which they teach. These conversations offer support in a safe and comfortable environment that provides opportunity for the teachers to socialize, to determine meeting agendas, to raise and identify issues, and to problem solve together.

Discussion will focus on emerging themes from the conversations and on the experiences and reflections of the teachers during the first year of implementation of this model of professional development. Emerging issues provide insight into teacher learning and teacher practice; ways in which to address the needs of a community of teachers whose background, training, and skills differ greatly; diverse teaching contexts and the impact on teacher practice; and the nature of a developing teacher professional community. These ideas may assist individuals and organizations in developing supportive, teacher-centered professional development programs that promote teacher learning in a community and positively impact teacher practice.