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Gallo, Elena (2012): University language teachers as autonomous learners: how university language teachers approach and pursue their own professional development. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty for Languages and Literatures



The present empirical study investigates how university language teachers approach their own professional development (PD) and which forms their development can take. Research into teacher professional development largely tends to concentrate on school teachers, whereas in this study university language teachers are the focus of interest. Furthermore, the role of teachers’ personal contributions to their own professional learning is the main concern of the study rather than which features of teacher programmes might have a positive impact on teachers’ development. The way the teachers proceed in accomplishing their PD task has been documented through a Grounded Theory approach to data. Questionnaries and follow-up semi-structured qualitative interviews were used to explore the approaches of ten university language teachers. Two professional profiles were identified and were named the 'Learners' and the 'Developers' because they correspond to Vygotsky’s (1978) distinction between learning and development and because this best characterises the teachers' differences in this study. The characteristics of the two profiles centre around their awareness, the way they arrange their learning environment and their attitudinal orientation. The teachers with a “developer”-profile display a high capacity of ‘professional self’-revision, have a highly developed awareness of their own learning concerns and set long-term and demanding professional goals that require them to go beyond routines. They maintain a focused attention on their goals and on the various tasks to pursue them, and are attentive to their positive emotional well-being as teachers as well as to their cognitive needs. One critical result is that they adopt and develop appropriate strategies that lead them to their goals. As a consequence, they enter a cycle of change and ultimately achieve their affective goals. The teachers with a ‘learner’-profile on the contrary are less attentive to all the relevant dimensions involved in their own professional learning. Contrary to the ‘developer’-colleagues, they lack the strategies appropriate for them to realise their goals and to reduce the complexity of the teacher development task. Their personal contribution to their own development is limited, their learning environment is consequently more secure, but less challenging than for the previous profile, and requires less effort on their behalf. Overall, they do not seem to be completely in charge of their own learning and reproduced “traditional” learners’ behaviours. Their attitudes towards their own professional development did not accord with their lifelong learning goals. Their ‘professional self’ could be more intensively developed. The present study aims to complement the existing debate on language teachers’ professionalism and to add new insights on the dynamic way in which teachers make sense of their professional development. Based on the results, it is hoped that a contribution will be made to bridging the gap between research and practice by indicating how to augment existing reflective tools, such as teachers’ portfolios, designed to sustain reflection in language teachers and thus advance their professional development.