This dissertation explores the complexity of collaborative professional development by analyzing the learning experiences of participants in a Fellowship for Israel educators. Using a practitioner inquiry approach, I asked how the practice of Critical Friendship and other group learning experiences shaped teachers’ thinking, assumptions, and beliefs about their teaching practice. Data collection took place over the course of the year, and included facilitation and observation of monthly meetings, classroom observations, and interviews with each of the seven participants in the study.
Prior literature on professional learning suggests that a “gold standard” of supportive, sustained collaborative learning opportunities such as professional learning communities or Critical Friends groups can lead to significant teacher growth and development. Making use of transformative learning theory and constructive developmental theory, I analyzed the ways in which individual teachers experienced the significant challenges and opportunities of critical reflection and collaborative discourse that are crucial elements in this type of professional learning. While the Fellowship was considered successful by all involved, individual participants as well as the facilitators experienced the success of that learning process in significantly divergent ways. The learning that resulted ranged from the acquisition of specific techniques for teaching about Israel to a greater appreciation of the breadth and complexity of the field of Israel education. Some Fellows deepened and reinforced their previously held beliefs about their work, while others began to consider new perspectives on their goals and approaches. The highly contested, intensely political field of Israel education shaped participants’ individual goals for the Fellowship experience and had a significant impact on their willingness and abilities to reconsider their own assumptions about their practice.