The 19th ISATT Biennial Conference

"Education beyond the crisis: new skills, children's rights and teaching contexts"

1 - 5 July 2019, Sibiu, Romania







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ISATT and reform

John Olson
Professor Emeritus at Queens University, Ontario, Canada

In 1982 much of the contemporary research on teachers involved them as sources of stimulus in various classroom studies within a behaviourism paradigm. Few studied what teachers thought about what they were doing. Concerned about this, Rob Halkes in the Netherlands proposed a conference to explore more teacher focused research. Chris Clark, who was doing research on teacher planning at the time, was very supportive this plan as I was. So in October 1983 the first ISATT conference was held in Tilburg, Netherlands. ISATT books based on this and subsequent conferences provide an excellent record of the evolution of the interests of the association. While some of the earlier ISATT books are out of print, selections from them are recently available in:

Kompf, M. and Denicolo, P. M. (eds.) Teacher Thinking Twenty Years Later. Lisse: Swets and Zeitlinger, 2003, and Denicolo, P. M. and Kompf M. (eds.) Teacher Thinking and Professional Action. Taylor and Francis, 2005.

At the third ISATT conference in Leuven, Belgium in 1986 it was evident from the program that the cognitive approach to psychology was much in vogue. However, paralleling this structural approach to thought, were papers on what teachers valued and how their work embodied those values and reflected the tensions teaches face in the political world of education. Emblematic of this focus was Philip Jackson’s presentation of an analysis of a poem about teachers which alluded to the moral dimension of teaching. Bringing the professional universe of teachers into view has been one of the defining aspects of ISATT. Such a focus has run against the tide of educational policy.

The US No Child Left Behind legislation is a good example of such policy.

This legislation in the US has led to scripting the work of teachers with a view to achieving success on external high stakes testing. The teacher is squeezed between mandated outcomes and high stakes testing. Jonathan Kozol has noted the baleful effects of this squeeze play in his essay in Harper’s magazine (August 2007). Teachers have been left to complain about these policies. Their feedback is ignored. Norbert Wiener, some 50 years ago, said that systems need negative feedback to work. Argyris and Schon picked up this need for feedback in their work on the reflective practitioner. Teachers can provide such feed back and research on their views supports the acquisition of this valuable input to policy making. Others in the panel have noted the importance of research on teacher thinking for policy and I would like to underscore this as well.

So as the pressures of the system increase to engineer teacher compliance, so does the need for research on teacher thinking in the framework of reform. The Brock conference shows this focus on what teachers think to be alive and well as members of ISATT continue to illuminate the work of teachers in the larger frameworks of curriculum and school reform.