When teacher clusters work: selected experiences of South African teachers with the cluster approach to professional development
Recent scholarship on teacher professional development has shown renewed interest in collaborative forms of teacher learning. Networks, communities of practice and clusters are related concepts that describe forms of collaboration between schools and/or teachers that encourage
such learning. In South Africa, teacher clusters represent a relatively recent and popular experiment in teacher professional development. However, there is no verdict yet about their effectiveness. While the utility of such collaborative structures for teacher learning is fairly well established in many developed countries, we still know very little about how the intended
beneficiaries (the teachers) experience these non-traditional structures of professional development. Using qualitative data from a large-scale research project, we explore teachers’ perspectives on what constitutes a successful clustering experience, and the kinds of professional development benefits they derive from their participation therein. Our major findings are twofold: First, clusters seem to enhance teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. Second, and somewhat unexpectedly, the teachers identified another set of benefits,
the so-called “process benefits” that include collaboration, instructional guidance and teacher leadership. In a context where teachers have tended to work solo and insulated their classroom practices from influence, the presence of the “process benefits” represents a significant finding.
We conclude the paper by exploring several possible directions for further research on these process benefits of clusters for teachers in South Africa and elsewhere.
Keywords: instructional guidance; professional development; teacher clusters; teacher collaboration; teacher leadership
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