A Bangla saying suggests that when people work together they enjoy the wisdom of engagement irrespective of the extent of accomplishment and final outcomes. This research reports and illustrates the development of a learning community of teachers in a rural Bangladeshi secondary school. I argue that a participatory action research process, in a many different ways, not only provides opportunity to explore existing conditions of teaching practice, but also offer explorative tools to collaboratively examine and reflect on the practices in order to strategically change them for better students’ educational outcomes.
The study is based on a Bangladeshi remote rural secondary school. It considers the wider context of current social and educational development within Bangladesh. The project works within the tension between external influences and the real needs of teachers, students and local community.
In terms of educational outcomes, the rural schools are far behind than the urban schools. However existing professional development programmes and in-service teacher training are centrally developed and top-down and do not fully align with the rural teacher’s needs. Thus there is a need for alternative processes that might better meet the educational needs of a rural community. The process of how one such school learning community developed and worked is important because it creates opportunity to make incremental and varying shifts in teacher’s understanding and actions. Moreover, there are no similar published accounts of such development in Bangladesh and this can therefore serve as an illustrative model of possibilities as well as the challenges and tensions inherent in such an undertaking..
The investigative focus of this project was based on two goals. The central goal was focused on the evolution of the teachers’ learning community and the changing understandings they developed of their role and their practice. The second goal was to reflect on my own evolving understanding of my role as facilitator and participant in the project and on what was happening through the project.
Therefore, this research examines and reports how the teachers and I undertook different activities that allowed us to explore changes to existing teaching practices. It utilises the teachers’ direct dialogues that I weave into a narrative of the process to show how we collectively and individually developed commitment and willingness to adapt and relate the emergent understandings with the students’ varying educational needs.
The study engaged the head teacher, teachers, and students in the research process and to enable them to see themselves as active agents in their changing conditions. Initially the project began as my initiative and then it was enabled to progress through two key factors. First the head teacher of the school envisioned the development of a teachers’ learning community as means to bring useful change in the school as well as in the community. And second the teachers showed commitment to the project and determined its overall direction through their active engagement.
The conceptual framework of this study draws on literature from three intersecting fields: research from Bangladesh, indigenous approaches to knowledge and the influence of colonisations, and notions of action research, reflective practice, learning communities and situated learning. It also describes the experiential context of the community and school.
The most significant observable outcome of the project was the sustenance of the teachers’ commitment in examining their practice for more than six months, despite having an already full workload, and despite the challenges, and occasional pain it created for them, emotionally and conceptually. This commitment to the research process gave rise to an attitude to and a practice of sharing and exchanging. Beneath these observable outcomes were less overtly visible shifts, including the gradual surrender of aspects of a role they had thought they had to act out, that of being the authority and expert in their classrooms, and beginning to explore other possibilities. I gained several understandings from the project. First I understand that if we look at the possibilities within our reach we can make some difference in rural schooling. My second key understanding is that the goal of emancipation in an educational setting can be a shift in thinking and part of an on-going process of reflection and so translate into informed action.
The study illustrates how teaching practice in a rural school can be improved for better educational outcomes for students. The outcomes and the shifts of teachers’ understandings provide exemplars for the forms of professional development programmes we need to create, for their content, and for the skills needed in facilitating them.
I conducted my research in a situated Bangladeshi rural school. I acknowledge that the outcomes are inspiring but limited to a specific context. However, the processes and the outcomes that were involved in my project can be adapted in other rural schools inside and outside of Bangladesh to generate further knowledge about learning communities, praxis and participatory action research process, and thus to improve our national capacity to educate our children