Professional Development as Empowerment? The Case of Learning Communities

By Isabel Sandra Fernandes and Flávia Vieira.

Published by The International Journal of Adult, Community and Professional Learning

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Professional empowerment towards educational change can be enhanced through critical inquiry undertaken in the service of democratic values, and learning communities are believed to help achieve this goal. The GT-PA (Grupo de Trabalho-Pedagogia para a Autonomia/ Working Group-Pedagogy for Autonomy), a learning community founded in 1997 at the University of Minho (Braga, Portugal), has strived to bridge the gap between academics and schoolteachers in the production and dissemination of educational knowledge, and in the promotion of pedagogy for autonomy in schools. In this paper we focus on the extent to which the GT-PA promotes empowerment towards democratic educational change, on the basis of interviews to fifteen of its members who are teachers and/or teacher educators working at schools or at the university. Although these interviews are part of a larger study, preliminary results seem to suggest that the interviewees value and experience processes of empowerment as participants in this learning community. They develop a critical view of education, manage local constraints so as to open up spaces for maneuver, promote pedagogical approaches centered on learning, and interact with significant others. Nevertheless, a critical issue arises related to how learning communities may distance their members from their working contexts, which may reinforce a gap between personal and organizational empowerment.

Keywords: Professional Development, Empowerment, Teacher Education, Learning communities

The International Journal of Adult, Community and Professional Learning, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp.1-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 506.891KB).

Isabel Sandra Fernandes

Researcher, PhD Student, Institute of Education, University of Minho, Braga, Braga, Portugal

Isabel Sandra Fernandes has been an English Secondary School teacher for sixteen years. She has taken her teaching degree in English and Portuguese at the University of Minho- Braga, Portugal in 1996 and her Master’s in Education in the same university in 2005, in the area of Pedagogical Supervision. Her master thesis focused on analyzing student teachers’ reflective practices during the practicum as they developed action-research projects based on a Pedagogy for Autonomy.

Prof Flávia Vieira

Full Professor in Education, Teacher Trainer, Institute of Education, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal

Flávia Vieira is professor in education at the University of Minho (Braga-Portugal), at the Institute of Education. She works in the areas of language education for learner autonomy, reflective teacher education, and pedagogy in higher education. Since 1997, she has coordinated a community of schooteachers and academic researchers/ teacher educators whose goal is to explore and investigate pedagogy for autonomy in schools, along with teacher development for learner autonomy.