Key words: professional development, educational effectiveness, approaches, collaboration, impact of CPD, education system, tips
Professional development is learning to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal learning opportunities situated in practice. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative stage. There are a variety of approaches to professional development, including consultation, coaching, and communities of practice, lesson study, mentoring, reflective supervision and technical assistance.
In particular, promoting the development of teachers’ competence in teaching transversal competences and heterogeneous classes, and collaborating with colleagues and parents, are seen as essential.
The forms of support to teachers’ professional development can consist in paid working time and substitutions (often discouraged for budget and organizational reasons), funding of CPD costs sustained by teachers, salary incentives, CPD as condition for salary progression and promotion, national policies and campaigns.
Literature on educational effectiveness seems to outline a conceptual framework that can be described as an «onion-rings» model, going from the micro-level to the macro-level perspective — with individual teachers’ personal characteristics (competences, beliefs and attitudes) at the core, a second layer concerning teaching effectiveness in the classroom (instructional repertoires), a further layer about teachers’ cooperation in school contexts, and finally considering national policies and organizational features (including issues of autonomy, accountability, evaluation in education systems) as the outer layer.
In a broad sense, professional development may include formal types of vocational education, typically post-secondary or poly-technical training leading to qualification or credential required to obtain or retain employment. Professional development may also come in the form of pre-service or in-service professional development programs. These programs may be formal, or informal, group or individualized. Individuals may pursue professional development independently, or programs may be offered by human resource departments. Professional development on the job may develop or enhance process skills, sometimes referred to as leadership skills, as well as task skills. Some examples for process skills are «effectiveness skills», «team functioning skills», and «systems thinking skills».
We frequently meet teacher leaders and coaches who ask for tips on giving professional development (PD). Their expansive job descriptions include delivering professional development, and yet they feel unsure of how to do this: For instance, Facilitating adult learning is different than working with children and very few of us have ever had explicit training in this area. Here some suggestions offered in a slightly random order:
- Facilitate Learning.
Consider your role when delivering PD to be one of a facilitator of learning. Your role is to guide this learning – even if it is about something you know a great deal about. As a facilitator, you do not need to know everything; you can be humble. However, your audience will respond better if you engage them as a facilitator.
- Plan, Plan, Plan, and Prepare.
Just as you plan for lessons that you hope will go really well, you must spend a good amount of time planning and preparing for the PD you deliver. Your facilitator's agenda should include extensive details for what you will say, how you will structure the learning, how you will transition between sections and so on. The success of your PD lies heavily in your plans.
- Allow for Choice.
You will want to offer lots of structure for your PD, but you must also allow for choice. Adults need to make choices about their learning — it is just a fact. We disengage if we cannot make some choices. A choice can sound like this: «I am going to give you a few minutes to reflect on what we just talked about. If you want to write about it, that is fine. If you prefer to just think, that is fine. If you would like to talk to a partner about your thoughts, that is fine, too». You can incorporate choices about who will be partner with, what they chose to focus on or read about, how they decide to practice their new learning, and much more. As a facilitator, it is most helpful to just keep in mind that adults need to make choices -- and to think about how and when we can offer that.
- Not Too Much.
One of the keys to a great PD session lies in the objectives. People need to leave your PD having learned to do something new. That means they need a little input or learning and a whole lot of practice. A common flaw I see in many PDs is that there are just too much packed into the allocated time. This often means that the presenter talks a lot and the participants walk away feeling overwhelmed and a bit frustrated. When you are planning, think about what you want people to walk away being able to do and backwards plan from that outcome. If this is a new skill, they will need a good amount of time to practice and get feedback from each other on their practice. Participants will be happiest if they walk away feeling that they learned something new and they can actually do something differently when they return to class tomorrow. When you are planning, prune, trim and cut and your PD will almost always be stronger.
- Treat Your Adult Learners Like Adults.
One of the most common complaints we hear about PD is that teachers feel they are treated like children. This is usually a response to feeling like they're being overly controlled, asked to do something that is not relevant, or subtly threatened with some kind of «accountability». Consider this: We cannot hold anyone accountable to anything. Everyone makes their own choices about what they will think and do. We can provide choices and options, but then we need to let go of control. Build the decision-making capacities of your adult learners and let go of control.
- Ask for Feedback.
At the end of every PD you facilitate, ask for feedback. For instance: What did you learn? What worked for you? What didn't work for you? What questions or concerns do you have? Is there anything else you want me to know about your experience today? In order to refine your PD delivery, you'll want to gather and reflect on this feedback every time. This is probably the number one way that you will improve your PD.
Try to end PD sessions with appreciations. This can be time when individuals appreciate others in the room or elsewhere and it can be a time to appreciate ourselves and silently acknowledge our own contributions, growth, and effort. When we close by acknowledging something that's gone well or someone we value we strengthen the pathways in our brains that recognize the positive. Leaving your participants with this kind of an emotional experience will help when they return next time.
Professional development opportunities can range from a single workshop to a semester-long academic course, to services offered by a medley of different professional development providers and varying widely with respect to the philosophy, content, and format of the learning experiences.
Some examples of approaches to professional development include:
Case Study Method — The case method is a teaching approach that consists in presenting the students with a case, putting them in the role of a decision maker facing a problem.
Consultation — to assist an individual or group of individuals to clarify and address immediate concerns by following a systematic problem-solving process.
Coaching — to enhance a person’s competencies in a specific skill area by providing a process of observation, reflection, and action.
Communities of Practice — to improve professional practice by engaging in shared inquiry and learning with people who have a common goal.
Lesson Study — to solve practical dilemmas related to intervention or instruction through participation with other professionals in systematically examining practice.
Mentoring — to promote an individual's awareness and refinement of his or her own professional development by providing and recommending structured opportunities for reflection and observation.
Reflective Supervision — to support, develop, and ultimately evaluate the performance of employees through a process of inquiry that encourages their understanding and articulation of the rationale for their own practices.
Technical Assistance — to assist individuals and their organization to improve by offering resources and information, supporting networking and change efforts.
To help young people learn the more complex and analytical skills they need for the 21st century, teachers must learn in ways that develop higher-order thinking and performance. To develop the sophisticated teaching required for this mission, they must be offered more and more effective professional learning. Meaningful learning is a slow and uncertain process for teachers as well as for students, with some elements that are more easily changed than others, according to the interplay with teachers’ deeply-rooted beliefs and attitudes.
Teacher learning should therefore be embedded in the daily life of the school and provide opportunities to inquire systematically about teaching practices, their impact on students and about other issues of teachers’ work.
Examples of different types of collaborative, job-embedded professional learning activities can be:
− the analysis of the school’s culture;
− peer observations of practice;
− small-scale classroom studies about students’ written work;
− analysis of student data;
− study groups;
− involvement in a development or improvement process (designing or choosing new curricula or textbooks; assisting with the school improvement plan);
− case studies about patterns in students’ classroom behaviour.
Finally, the overall impact of CPD programms on teachers’ practice, student learning and teacher efficacy ought to be evaluated within a conceptual framework, considering its relationships with structural features (contact hours, time span, collective participation), opportunity to learn features (content focus, active learning, follow-up support, collaborative examination of students’ work, feedback on practice).
- Anderson J. R., Greeno J. G., Reder L. M. & Simon H. A. (2000). Perspectives on learning, thinking, and activity. Educational Researcher, 29, 11–13.
- Bolam R., McMahon A., Stoll L., Thomas S., Wallace M., Greenwood A., Hawkey K., Ingram M., Atkinson A. & Smith M. (2005). Creating and sustaining effective professional learning communities.
- Desimone L. M. (2009). Improving Impact Studies of Teachers' Professional Development: Toward Better Conceptualizations and Measures. Educational Researcher; Apr 2009; 38(3); ProQuest Psychology Journals, 181–199.