Designing Professional Development to Support Teachers’ Learning in Complex Environments

Merrilyn Goos, Shelley Dole, Katie Makar


The new Queensland Mathematics Years 1-10 Syllabus differs from previous syllabuses
in that it has an outcomes structure that describes how students think, reason, and
work mathematically. The main challenge for secondary teachers implementing the
new syllabus lies in taking a more investigative approach to “working
mathematically”. This paper reports on a professional development project that
supported a group of secondary mathematics teachers in planning and
implementing mathematical investigations, consistent with the intent of the
Queensland syllabus. The project was guided by a professional development model
that applies Valsiner’s zone theory to teachers’ learning in complex environments.
Participants were four pairs of mathematics teachers from four secondary schools in
or near a Queensland regional city. Over five months the research team made three
visits of two days each to work with the group of teachers. Follow up interviews
were conducted nine months after the project’s conclusion to investigate issues
concerning sustainability. Implementation of the professional development model is
illustrated by two case studies demonstrating different configurations of personal
and contextual factors that supported or hindered teachers’ learning. The outcomes
of the project have implications for building a professional culture in schools,
developing teacher leadership capacity, planning for sustainability, and scaling up.


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