A good and worthwhile life: The nature and impact of elementary teacher personal learning
Engagement , Phenomenology , Career Stages , Teacher Learning , Informal Learning , Lifelong Learning , Personal Learning , Curriculum , Elementary Education
This three-phase qualitative study examined the significance of personal learning in the lives of full-time elementary school teachers in Ontario, Canada. The research aimed to provide an awareness of the effects of engaged personal learning on teachers’ in-school practices and on student engagement in school. An online questionnaire was used as the initial exploratory tool. The questionnaire was completed by 87 Ontario elementary teachers, and results were stratified by age, gender, range of learning experiences, and career stage. The questionnaire was used to generate descriptive statistics, identify how elementary teachers pursue personal learning interests across different career stages, and gather open responses, in order to determine how teachers characterize their engagement in personal learning opportunities. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eleven participants to characterize the teachers’ learning experiences, and to explore their views as to how their learning affected them personally and professionally. Classroom observations ensued with three of the interviewees. The data analysis indicated that the nature of personal learning varies across different career stages, and that such learning occurs most often in an informal setting. It also revealed the significance of learning opportunities that both challenge and extend knowledge in real-life contexts and/or that is social or collaborative in nature. Three themes—connections, self as learner, and vitality—emerged from the reported effects of teachers’ personal learning on their students and their classroom practice. The teachers’ passion for learning was evident in the many ways that they provide meaningful, collaborative, and challenging opportunities for their students in a very supportive and nurturing environment. Through the data collection and analysis, it became clear that some of the most profound learning experiences were not preplanned or intentional in nature, but arose as a result of life. In some cases, the participants did not consider these experiences to be learning—until they began to detail the effects that these experiences had on them, both as individuals and as educators. Suggestions for future research are offered to continue learning from teachers who take part in personal learning, and from the students that they teach.