Jack Whitehead's Reflections on the Conference

United Kingdom Croatian

Reflections on the conference "A Creative Approach To Teacher Education" held in Požega, Croatia, 28-30th September 2009
Jack Whitehead


Jack WhiteheadThis impressive conference was organised by colleagues from the Teacher’s Faculty of the Jusip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek in cooperation with the Town Council of Požega and the Education and Teacher Training Agency of the Republic of Croatia.

The aim of the conference organisers was to bring together those who are promoting creativity in educational processes, those involved in initial teacher education as well as those involved in the continuing professional development of teachers. The organizers hoped that the design of the conference would facilitate the presentation of educational problems, existing possibilities, interesting solutions and new ideas as well as educational dialogues between people in different phases of education.

The major significance of the conference for me was the willingness and courage shown by participants in accounting for themselves in opening creative spaces for learning, both for themselves, colleagues and students in Schools and Universities. Around the world there is a growing recognition of the unacceptable damage being done to learners (both teachers and students) by the imposition of inappropriate processes of testing, accountability, command and control:

It is clear that able, brilliant and skilled professionals do not thrive in an environment where much of their energies are absorbed by the need to comply with a raft of detailed requirements. There is a need to shift away from the regulation of processes through statutory instruments, towards establishing accountability for the delivery of key outcomes.(House of Lords, 2009, p.15)

It is good to recognise the damage being done by the imposition of inappropriate forms of regulation and the need for a different form of accountability. However, I believe that it is a mistake to focus on the ‘delivery of key outcomes’. The mistake is in a failure to acknowledge the importance of the values that motivate teachers in their educational relationships with their pupils. These values were expressed by contributors to the Conference as they expressed their love for education and the energy-flowing values and passions that give meaning and purpose to their lives in education. I am thinking of the values explicitly supported by the Educational Journal of Living Theories.

Many contributors also referred to the courage it takes to express their creativity in the face of institutional constraints that seem to reflect mechanisms of control and command rather than supporting the expression of the teachers’ voice and choice in accounting for what they do.

WorkshopI believe that the conversations between participants in the Conference show an understanding of the kind of accountability that is needed both to improve practice and generate educational knowledge. This accountability combines both freedom and professional autonomy with public accountability. Olliff-Cooper, et al. (2009) have advocated this combination as offering the kind of accountability that is needed to enhance practice. The contributors to the Conference have gone much further than advocacy in providing the evidence of how this accountability can be accomplished. Each participant offered an evidence-based account of practice for public scrutiny by peers. The quality of questioning in the workshops demonstrated rigor and validity. This was done through questions that focused on a concern for:

  1. comprehensibility,
  2. evidence to support the claims being made,
  3. an awareness of how socio-cultural issues can influence interpretations,
  4. a sustained commitment to show the presenter’s authenticity in sustaining a commitment to live their values as fully as they can.

Many of the contributors explicitly used an action research approach. By this I mean that they expressed concerns, imagined possibilities, used ideas from others, acted and evaluated. They generated their living theories as their explanations of their educational influence in enhancing creativity (Whitehead and McNiff, 2006; McNiff and Whitehead, 2006). They also integrated multi-media digital technology into their accounts. This included video-data from classrooms with pupils, as part of their evidence-based explanations. These visual narratives helped to emphasise the importance of including the energy-flowing values of teachers in explanations of their educational influences in learning.

The conference marks a break with imposed forms of regulation, oversight and scrutiny. It shows how the freedom to create their own accounts, by teachers and students, can serve to enhance the motivation and quality of learning of both. Spreading the influence of the insights of the presenters and organizers of the Conference would do much to make the world a better place to be. For example, a collaborative account by the organizers could explain how they generated the necessary conditions for the expressions of creativity and new forms of accountability. I am thinking of explanatory principles in terms of the values and understandings of the organizers. I believe that such an account would inspire others to develop the conditions in their own contexts for the spread of creativity and new forms of accountability.

Interactive plenum

Having attended the conference I can congratulate the organizers in having accomplished their aims. The warmth of the collaboration between the University, Town Council and Teacher Training Agency was clear for all to see in the care and welcome offered to all participants in Požega’s theatre, for the plenary sessions, and in a local school, for the workshop presentations. I should also like to congratulate Profil International Publishers for the support they gave to the Conference Proceedings.

I will end these reflections by emphasizing the importance of the quality of the collaborative relationships established between academics, civic representatives, teachers, students and the teacher training agency in Croatia in supporting the expression of pupils’ creativity through the expression of their own. I also want to add my own personal thanks to the organizers and participants for a most inspiring conference that will sustain me with the loving warmth of humanity that distinguished the conference proceedings.

Jack Whitehead
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McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J. (2006). All You Need To Know About Action Research. London: Sage.

Olliff-Cooper, J., Wind-Cowie, M. & Bartlett, J. (2009). Leading from the Front. London: Demos. Retrieved 3 October 2009 from http://www.demos.co.uk

House of Lords (2009). The cumulative impact of statutory instruments on schools: Report with evidence. London: The Stationery Office Limited Retrieved 8 May 2009 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/mar/13/lords-report-dcsf

Whitehead, J. & McNiff, J. (2006). Action Research Living Theory. London: Sage.