Change laboratory as a formative intervention method to foster teachers’ expansive learning in school

There are deep constraints and built-in obstacles to collaborative selforganizing and expansive learning among the three dimensions of an activity system in schools: the “socio-spatial structure of encapsulation,” “temporal structure of punctuation,” and “ethical structure of success-as-grades” (Engestrom, Engestrom, & Suntio, 2002). Such constraints are embedded in traditional school learning, which focuses on texts, exams, and grading, thus making school innovation very difficult. Similarly, teachers’ work and the division of labor in schools are largely compartmentalized, segregated, and individualized. “One of the effects of these constraints is to make it very difficult for school communities to collectively analyze and redesign their practice” (p. 211).

In Japanese schools, especially elementary ones, “Lesson Study” sessions held by teachers as typical on-the-job training in schools represent a traditional intervention method for developing teacher learning and expertise. However, it is difficult to generate teachers’ learning and agency to break through the above-mentioned socio-spatial, temporal, and ethical constraints embedded in a school activity system by simply conducting “Lesson Study” sessions. Teachers have traditionally been limited by the fact that only ingenuity and specific measures of technical aspects of instruction aimed at fixed lesson goals are targeted for “training.” In terms of the collective activity system model (Figure 2.2 in Chapter 2, Section 3), such an intervention method confines teachers’ learning to instruments of instruction within the small triangle of “subjcct-instrumcnts-object” in the upper part of the model. By contrast, the aim of the activity-theoretical formative intervention is to promote an expansive learning process in which teachers question themselves and engage in collective design and change over the entire activity system, including the “rules-community-division of labor” relationship that serves as an invisible social infrastructure of the activity system.

It is for this reason that formative interventions in expansive learning are much needed, to enable participants to be facilitated, supported, and followed by collectively reflecting on their practices and engaging in exploring possibilities of transformation. During the professional development of teachers, it is essential to expand their overall exploration of the activity system, so collaboration among various participants at the activity-system level is emerging as a new facet of teacher expertise. “Lesson Study” concerns only the technical expertise of the teachers themselves and seldom provides perspectives about the development of teachers’ collaborative and transformative expertise for the collective analysis and redesigning of the wholeactivity system. Moreover, “Lesson Study” is also limited to a non-historic, non-theorctical (non-systemic) approach and, in terms of learning, constitutes a level of inductive and empirical generalization, with no objective meaning-making, personal sense-making, or conceptualization at the activity-system level. In other words, from the perspective of “levels of artifact mediation on the basis of the type of epistemic work,” as conceptualized by Engestrom (2016b, pp. 94-97), it is possible to state that “Lesson Study” cannot mediate such epistemic work as “where to” artifacts at the epistemic level of visions and “why” artifacts at the epistemic level of system models to the participants.

In-school training such as “Lesson Study” is built on traditional and standardized technical notions of expertise and professional development. According to Aleksei Leont’ev’s (1978) theory citing a three-level hierarchical structure of human activity (operation, action, and activity), as shown in Figure 2.1 in Chapter 2, Section 2, we can sec that teacher training processes such as “Lesson Study” could advance such training up to or beyond the operation level, but the actual learning remains at the action level and fails to reach the activity level. Additionally, a shift toward conceptualizing teachers’ new expertise is necessary, to bring about transformation through collaboration and break away from the conventional framework of regarding teachers as entirely passive agents of educational policy. As for conceptualizing the expertise of the teacher who focuses on transformative agency, we can support the teacher as an expansive learner and collaborative change agent. This notion of the teacher being both learner and agent focuses on the expertise of teachers who collaborate in transforming activity systems while making their social infrastructure visible.

Formative interventions in such teachers’ professional development facilitate, support, and follow their expansive learning by means of questioning, modeling, and experimentation in the new generation of the entire activity system (new instruments, rules, and patterns of educational practice) in schools through teachers’ dialogue and debate. Engestrom and the Finnish School of activity theory developed a new formative intervention method under the generic name of the “Change Laboratory” (Engestrom, 2007, 2016b; Engestrom, Virkkunen, Helle, Pihlaja, & Poikela, 1996; Sannino & Engestrom, 2017a; Sannino, Engestrom, & Lemos, 2016; Virkkunen & Newnham, 2013) in the mid-1990s. It is already a well defined and fully realized “formative intervention toolkit that has been implemented in a large number of intervention studies, in settings ranging from post offices and factories to schools, hospitals, and newsrooms” (Engestrom, 2016b, p. 226).

Change Laboratory interventions have carried out “work practice by the participants in dialogue and debate among themselves, with their management, with their clients, and—not the least—with the interventionist researchers” (Engestrom, 2007, p. 370). The Change Laboratory can be seen as a rich set of tools available for facilitation, support, and the following cycle of expansive learning by participants: analyzing, reflecting, criticizing, and discussing perceived disturbances and contradictions in their existing

Teachers as collaborative change agents in redesigning schools 103 work and organizations. After modeling and implementing a solution for the new practice, they move onto mastering their own models and visions for the future of the community and organization. “The Change Laboratory serves as a microcosm in which potential new ways of working can be envisioned, designed, experimented with” (Engestrom, 2016b, pp. 138-139).

In the Change Laboratory interventions, teachers’ joint analysis of contradictions in the whole activity system of their own existing educational work and modeling of a solution for the new practice bring about their collaborative and transformative agency to change (see Yang, 2015, p. 29). As Yuri Lapshin and his colleagues (2015, p. 188) point out, the “renewal of [the] shared object of activity” fosters and exercises “collective agency,” which means teachers’ collaborative and transformative agency. Similarly, Roy Rozario and Evan Ortlicb (2015) combine the emergence of teachers’ agency with “video reflection” as follows: “From this standpoint of AT [activity-theoretical notion of human agency], one could conclude that the reexamination of the Activity System by the teacher in the form of video reflection will create new tools and forms of activity which will lead to transformed teacher practices” (p. 303).

In the next section, I analyze the emergence of teachers’ own expansive learning actions in a Change Laboratory intervention conducted by our research group with teachers at the Tennoji National Elementary School attached to Osaka University of Education.

 
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