Which direction should professional development of hpe teachers take for their training in health education?
This research raises the problem of health and physical education (HPE) teachers’ needs of continuing education in health education (HE) since the integration of the disciplinary competence “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle”. Which direction should professional development of HPE teachers take for better training in fulfilling such role? The analysis of teachers’ needs for in-service education is based on the Teacher Training Orientations (MEQ, 2001). A questionnaire has been mailed to HPE teachers across the province; 223 replied. A deductive qualitative analysis allowed for the classification of 280 statements. Results showed a high response on core professional competency for the Teaching Act (194/280 = 69.3%).
Teachers are most preoccupied with the availability of developed learning situations, pedagogical tools, and the means to following and evaluate the progression of students. HPE teachers also addressed numerous questions regarding the Foundations core professional competency (44/280 = 15.7%). However, HPE teachers expressed low needs for inservicing in the two other core professional competencies: 8.6% for Social and Educational Context, and 6.4% for Professional Identity. The question arises then, of how to direct their professional development to first address their needs.
This research raises the problem of Health and Physical Education (HPE) teachers’ needs of continuing training (CT) in Health Education (HE) since the implementation of the Curriculum Reform of the Québec Education Program (MEQ, 2001). This reform featured on a competency-based approach, brought important conceptual changes from teaching to learning paradigms (Jonnaert, 2002). Physical education has been entirely revisited and the HE component is marked by the competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle”. As shown in previous studies showed, this competency generated an expansion of contents, and challenges HPE teachers’ educational practices (e.g., Turcotte, Gaudreau, & Otis, 2007).
Furthermore, this educational reform has contributed to broaden teachers’ professional competency spectrum. As the new mission of the Québec school resulted in redefining roles and tasks of a practicing teacher within a heterogeneous and changing Québec society, the Ministerial orientations find expression by the issuance of a referential of 12 professional competencies (MEQ, 2001) consolidated into four categories: Foundations, Teaching Act, Social and Educational Context, and Professional Identity. The Professional competencies of the Professional Identity category emphasize the need to renew educational practices, to take ownership of professional development and of personal commitment in a CT program.
The MEQ defines CT as “The full spectrum of interventions and activities in which practicing teachers commit themselves, on an individual and a collective basis, in order to update and improve their professional practice” (1999, p.11). Even though numerous research conclusions emphasize CT needs for HPE teachers (e.g., Tinning 2004), researches referring to specific HE needs for these same HPE teachers are practically non-existent. Thus, the distinctiveness of this study is based upon using the professional competencies referential in order to analyze HPE teachers’ needs of CT.
AREA OF STUDY
According to the congress contents, the area of this study is Professional Development.
The framework of this research draws on studies’ conclusions presented on a unique and distinctive way in light of the referential, thus allowing to take into account not only teachers training orientations, but also changes occurring in the education community. The theoretical analysis framework used is based on four categories consolidating 12 professional competencies (MEQ, 2001).
Professional competencies foundations refer to the teacher as a professional inheritor, critic and interpreter of knowledge or culture when teaching students. From that angle, an analysis of HPE teachers’ needs of CT is chiefly vested in adding the health component to the HPE program.
The four competencies in this category highlight the complexity of the teaching act and of the various interactions with students. A teacher plans subject contents, supervises activities and evaluates students’ learning activities in a climate conductive to their development.
Social and Educational Context
The last decade was marked by a growing awareness of the importance of academic surroundings in order to address young people’s specific needs. Today’s school must answer more and more growing needs set forth by an extended education community. The referential proposes four competencies interrelated to three surroundings young people deal with: school, family and community. These competencies question new stakeholders in order to establish a necessary partnership with education communities in an extended vision of education; thus, teachers are asked to share their educational responsibility.
During the last years, Québec society went through a series of changes that modified the educational reality and required acquisition of high-level professional competencies. The complexity of settings and the shifting of contexts forced teachers to develop their expertise and take ownership of their CT.
This study draws on a qualitative/interpretive approach in order to feature HPE teachers’ needs of CT. A survey questionnaire dealing with identification and description of educational practices implemented by HPE teachers from elementary levels allowed direct access to the research topic, and polling of a large amount of people.
Between April and June of 2007, physical educators from every elementary school in Québec (n=1,700) received an envelope containing the questionnaire, a cover letter introducing the objectives of the study, a consent form and a pre-addressed and stamped return envelope. Four weeks later, a reminder postcard was sent to these schools. Furthermore, members of the Fédération des éducateurs et éducatrices physiques enseignants du Québec were twice individually canvassed by e-mail.
A total of 223 elementary level HPE teachers (64.1% men; 35.9% women) originating from 54 of the 62 French school boards, stemming from 16 of the 18 administrative regions of Québec, responded to our invitation. The sampling consisted of HPE teachers having a different range of experience: (a) 52.5% had 15 years or more; (b) 26.0% had 6 to 14 years; and (c) 21.5% had five years or less).
The self-administered questionnaire implemented by Turcotte (2006) was adapted and validated for this study. It was preceded by introductory guidelines, included three sections of questions along with answer scales, lists of items or requested short development answers. This paper presents the answers to two of these questions: 1) Do you believe it’s important to offer physical and health educators’ continuous training related to the subjectspecific competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle”? 2) On what components should continuous training be based in order to help you intervene in the field of HE?
The participants’ comments were submitted to a deductive analysis (Landry, 1998) where forethought categories paralleled the 12 professional competencies afore-explained in the Conceptual Framework Section. In a first phase, 280 statements derived from the 223 questionnaires have been independently classified by two members of the research team (agreement rate of 87.8%). The 34 otherwise classified statements were reclassified by consensus, allowing better defining of the categories and interpretation of the content of the analysis units. In a second phase, two other people have also independently classified a sampling of 53 statements, which was proportional to the breakdown of the entire corpus, having an agreement rate of 88.7% and 81.1%.
The necessity to offer CT linked to the subject-specific competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle” gives rise to concern for the majority of HPE teachers surveyed. The almost totality (93.7%) of the 205 respondents to this question answered yes and 163 of them expressed suggestions from which 280 statements (table 1) were related to training needs. The breakdown of these needs shows a predominance of the category Teaching Act (69.3%).
Table 1. Breakdown of statements by category of professional competencies
Table 1. Which direction should professional development of hpe teachers take for their training in health education?
The first competency: “To act as a professional inheritor, critic and interpreter of knowledge or culture when teaching students” collected 44 statements characterized by a better knowledge of the students’ program specifications. Many HPE teachers wonder about essential learning: Identifying minimal requirements for physical fitness, nutrition, sleeping, etc. (#12, referring to the survey participant’s number). However, some others were wondering about the breakdown of content depending on cycles: Better structuring would be welcomed according to what should really be in sight for each cycle (#209); breakdown they sometimes link to identifying learning objects: What knowledge should we transmit and on what level (#68)? At last, the general understanding of the HE field also concerns them: Some valid studies linked to this competency and its influence on young people (#104).
The 194 statements are broken down between four professional competencies. From the concept of teaching/learning settings (C3; 76 statements) arises two priority requirements for HPE teachers: a) having access to settings already developed and b) having availability to educational tools in order to facilitate their implementation. Having access might be in line with the need to acquire new ways of developing settings: Training should be based upon a way to develop thematic activities linked to various projects from the health component proposed during the year (#64); to share settings developed by colleagues: Examples of learning settings experienced before in a gymnasium (#212); to the opportunity to adapt settings to students’ needs: Scenario-based simulations for each cycle (#2) or finally, to participate in training seminars targeting specific study cycles: I would love to have CT for the elementary 1st cycle.
Quite often, I attended training seminars for elementary 2nd and 3rd cycles’ clientele (#157). Availability of educational tools often means access to a variety of tools that can’t be integrated into teaching/learning settings if we consider HE essential learning and students’ characteristics. Furthermore, some contextual factors influence the expressed needs, such as time: Tools to be filled in by students needing short time allocation. (#15), uniformity: A standardized and customizable document for the entire school board (#168), outside the school environment: On meaningful planning tools related to young people’s practices outside the school (#104); and a will for students self-management: To provide a variety of tools in order to foster young people to take care of their health (#98). Finally, the need to get training regarding operating procedures and follow-up of an educational tool such as a portfolio or a health diary was proposed. Relating to piloting teaching/learning settings (C4; 44 statements), three training needs were identified.
First, participants wondered about procedure types to value in order for the young to pursue learning at home, relevance of health capsules and means to value in HE educational input. The second need expressed by participants is based upon the type of commitment necessary in HE learning: The effect of theory implementation in class versus practice for students. Do we deprive them of active time (#127)? They wonder about the impact theoretical aspects can have on the active time during HPE classes. Third, HPE teachers want strategies identified during acquisition and transformation of life styles: We must demystify the magnitude of the job and pinpoint the more proficient interventions in the pursuit of acquiring healthy life styles (#211).
On the issue of student evaluation (69 statements), identification of pertinent means of follow-up for the student’s progress and of evaluation at end of cycle expectations (C5), constitute two components needing clarification. HPE teachers wonder about means to astutely follow-up the student’s progress: Notebook to follow the child’s evolution (#94). Others would like to identify means to evaluate this competency outside the school: How to make a fair and precise judgment call in order to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle? […] what can we implement to insure changes in home behaviour regarding sleep and nutrition (#128)? Finally, they ask for evaluation educational material, and training for developing tools:
They should also enable us to develop adequate evaluation tools enforceable in this field (# 174); and on the implementation of an operational summary allowing them to make a judgment call on the degree of competencies acquisition: To receive simple documents to achieve an operational summary for students (#79). Of a more minor nature, the needs for training relating to operating procedure in the classroom-group expressed by HPE teachers (C6; 5 statements) are based upon usual classroom activities such as: 1) HE class time management; 2) health diary management; and 3) students’ management in co-teaching setting. It appears that the time variable is the common denominator for the 5 statements in this category.
Social and Educational Context
In this category, the 24 statements break down between four professional competencies. To adapt their interventions to the student’s needs and characteristics (C7; 3 statements), HPE teachers mention the necessity to participate in training seminars in order to develop teaching/learning settings and educational material useful in various socio-economic environments dealing with a diversified clientele.
With regard to the professional competency related to information and communications technology (C8; 4 statements), HPE teachers wonder about types of procedures to value in order to support HE in school and family environments. In reference to training needs related to the ninth competency, which deals with partnership (9 statements), HPE teachers wonder about the implication of parents: How to involve the family? Quite often, young people want to involve themselves, but parents don’t (#208), and of other stakeholders, such as school principal, full professors, specialists and nurses: To be able to meet other teachers from the same education community in order to share aspects and thematic developed as well as efficient means (#91). Finally, to work together with the educational team members (C10; 8 statements) implies that all stakeholders are involved in HE.
That being said, needs expressed by some stakeholders demonstrate the necessity to propose CT to the entire educational team so they can be materially privy to HE. These HPE teachers wonder about the interdisciplinary nature of the subject-specific competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle” and about other members of the educational team’s contribution in the education community.
The 18 statements derived from this category brake down between two professional competencies. HPE teachers mention that CT enables communication and reflection on educational choices made in HE (C11; 15 statements). They want to share their educational ideas, their actual experience: To allow physical educators to meet in order to promote sharing (#4); and to jointly prepare educational projects: I would like to work with groups of teachers in order to construct and discuss the competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle” (#74). Finally, in order for them to commit in their professional development, HPE teachers need to be offered a variety of training seminars in every region of Québec; to be granted financial resources for interim during training; and that time vested into training be sufficient to result in reinvesting into their professional practice.
The competency referring to ethical and responsible professional behaviour in the performance of his or her duties is greatly influenced by common standards shared by a group of professionals (C12; 3 statements). But, there is no doubt that HE inclusion in HPE modifies the common standards shared by physical educators and leads to questioning with reference to professional practice such as the expected contribution from HPE to young people’s health improvement. Furthermore, when HE interferes with behaviours and values conveyed by the family, HPE teachers wonder how to insure respect and equity for the student: We must better identify the problematic surrounding this competency and the role of parents.
We often get the impression that we evaluate the family rather than the student (#221). Finally, to raise the level of health implies personal commitment and cohesion between professional interventions and actions achieved outside the school. A need expressed in this study is to collectively ponder on values to communicate: If we want to teach students to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle, I believe we must be fore-runners (#76).
Let us reiterate that the objective of this study is to demonstrate PEH teachers’ needs of CT related to HE, in light of the referential issued by Quebec ministerial orientations. From the outset, respondent PEH teachers were unanimous regarding the importance of providing them CT interrelated to the subject-specific competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle”. But what about the expected content of these training seminars? It seems they are associated, in various proportions, to each category of the referential.
Foundations PEH teachers who took part in our study set forth many questions regarding HE in the PEH education curriculum. In their own way, they expressed themselves in the viewpoint of the Foundations approach. What is HE? What elements of essential learning must they teach and what is their respective content? As discussed by Turcotte and Desbiens (2007), the ambiguous role vested in HE in the context of PEH might explain PEH teachers questioning this topic and the lack of precise answers to their questions. How to decipher the expression of their needs faced with the urgency to document HE training content and to structure them by teaching cycle? We believe it’s important to better define HE as a subject-specific field by way of an extensive collective reflection involving practicing and scientific communities.
If many studies have exposed PEH teachers’ constrained approach, often limited to safe practice of physical and sport activities or to physical fitness (Cogérino 1999; Beaudoin, Rivard, Grenier and Caty, 2008), none has looked into the rationale underlying their approach. In the light of the results of our study, two questions arise: 1) How does the initial training in PEH conceive essential learning to be taught in HE? 2) How does CT manage to answer PEH practicing teachers’ needs?
Respondents to our survey also mentioned the necessity to have educational tools in order to facilitate implementation of teaching/learning settings (C3) in the context of an approach by competency. Even though this quest for tools closely linked to development seems legitimate for practicing teachers, some researchers suggest it rather should follow a period of ownership of the education reform (Lafortune and Lepage 2007), since it would be premature to provide practicing teachers with turnkey educational tools if the foundations underlying this reform still flutter in ambiguity.
Incidentally, Michaud (2002) clearly indicates that PEH teachers’ expressed needs not only apply to training activities, but also to coaching when developing educational material and during projects follow-up. Would it be a course of action to value to insure an ownership period assisted by the education reform? Guskey’s model for change in teachers (2003) and Fiszer’s work (2004), which look at teachers population’s professional development, no matter what specialisation field they are, also mention this need of continuous follow-up in order to support or even motivate efforts necessary to any change brought by education reforms. Teachers also talk about issues of evaluation (C5), especially in end of cycle expectations and of difficulty to assess a healthy and active lifestyle outside the education environment. These results substantiate prior works’ results (Grenier, Boudreau, Raiche, Richard and Boudreault, 2008).
Social and Educational Context
Respondent teachers relate to the role and commitment of various stakeholders in students’ HE. On the one hand, they look for means to motivate parents to cooperate to school educational projects (C9). However, as mentioned by Deslandes (2001) and other researchers, the implementation of a positive partnership between school and family brings many challenges. Besides, teachers want to know how to involve parents in the challenges of acquiring the subject-specific competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle”; especially when the student’s potential is limited within family environment.
Therein, teachers raise the problematic of having to educate not only the student, but his or her family too. On the other hand, they try to multiply communication time with other education partners (C10) such as full professors or other specialists in order to coordinate and support implementation of health mechanisms. This implies the notion of an essential partnership for any HE school initiative, which has been freely brought up in literature (Mérini, 2004). Concerted interventions must be valued since the great changes issued from the reform call upon teachers to promote cooperation with one another and to revise their rapport to knowledge, such as subject-specific, educational, didactical knowledge, as well as various competencies students need to develop (Graber, 2001).
What if the ownership period for the reform, so much criticized by the scientific community, was put forward for constructing teachers’ professional identity? In fact, many of our respondents relate to values to be conveyed and the role model they have to play in the context of HE in school.
If collective reflection about values to share is an expressed need for training in this study, researchers such as Tinning (2004) and Macdonald, Hunter and Carlson (2002) raise the role of teachers’ beliefs and values in constructing their professional identity. In the context of initial training for He in PEH, Tinning discusses the necessity to find a new approach and way of thinking about health in order to construct a new identity that will be both personal and professional. This way, if we adhere to the idea that a teacher teaches what he or she is, challenges of teaching the subject-specific competency “To adopt a healthy, active lifestyle” reach the teacher in his or her own lifestyle, in and out of the school.
To summarize, HPE teachers’ needs of CT related to HE are numerous and varied. The development of educational tools and evaluation constitute their greatest concerns and they also wish for training that would insure individualized coaching. Furthermore, HPE teachers’ testimonies are part of a socio-constructivist perspective, as they would like to collectively acquire new abilities promoting the implementation of new teaching/learning settings, customizable to the students’ needs; portable to various practising contexts and promoting personal auto-management. Therefore, it seems accurate to conclude that CT, the way it’s actually offered to HPE teachers, doesn’t entirely answer their needs.
So, how should CT related to HE be offered to HPE teachers? Guskey’s meta-analysis (2003) enabled to identify 21 characteristics to consider when implementing a professional development model for teachers, such as the importance to improve teachers’ educational and content knowledge, to provide enough time and resources, and to promote the collegiality of cooperation. Fiszer (2004) stresses that a continuous professional development model needs a cooperation culture; thus implying a huge cultural change that must be done within education communities.
As it happens, couldn’t this change in culture begin with taking teachers’ needs into account? Therein, we feel that new approaches in research, such as action-research or cooperative research would allow practicing teachers to take place within the process as co-researchers, where their double role would allow them to both bring their insight and to lay a reflective eye on their practice.
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