Thanks to Punya Mishra for the cover image!
My dissertation research began in February 2020. I collaborated with four teachers at a rural school in Arizona as they strived to address problems of practice. Everything was going well–I was enjoying trying out creative activities and such. And, on March 4, 2020, this is what our work looked like:
Of course, we all know what happened after this. Although I worried that the move to online collaboration would ruin my research (after all, I was focused on being able to enact ideas, something very difficult to do in this context), it actually highlighted the complexity of teacher’s work. Ultimately, it helped me observe something that seemed to make it difficult for teachers to manage this complexity: the difficulty in seeing indeterminacy across their work.
In this article, I explore the idea of complexity and indeterminacy using examples from my research. This was a fun and theoretical piece to write. It will be part of an upcoming special issue in Professional Development in Education centered on complexity in teaching and leadership.
Warr, M., & Mishra, P. (2023). Learning to see complexity: Teachers designing amidst indeterminacy. Professional Development in Education, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2023.2253821
Scholars have called for considering professional learning (PL) through the lens of complexity. One lens for operating amidst complexity is design. Designers thrive in complexity because of the responsive nature of their work; a designer develops their practice in response to a particular situation, adapting as it changes. Thus, a design lens is useful for navigating complexity in teacher learning and practice. As a designer, a teacher learns and practices in a classroom amidst complex nested systems. Design calls for seeing beyond traditional, linear practice; experimenting with new approaches; and adjusting those approaches in response to the situation’s feedback loops. In this article, we illustrate the relationship among complexity, design, and PL through examples from four teachers who participated in a design-centred PL program before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program aimed to support teachers in a creative design approach to address a problem of practice. Analysis highlighted that when teachers needed to learn and practice amidst complexity, it was difficult to see possibilities outside of traditional practice and to perceive feedback from the situation. Our analysis suggests that a focus on finding non-traditional approaches and listening to disruptive feedback might support teachers to learn and practice amidst complexity.