Professional learning and development (PLD) is about an individual’s ability to acquire knowledge and skills related to their work or practice, or to look for information and keep themselves well informed in their professional field.
According to the National Council for Teacher Education (NCFTE, 2009, pp. 64–5), the broad aims for PLD of teachers are to:
explore, reflect and develop one’s own practice
deepen one’s knowledge of and update oneself about one’s academic discipline or other areas of school curriculum
research and reflect on learners and their education
understand and update oneself on educational and social issues
prepare for other roles professionally linked to education/teaching, such as teacher education, curriculum development or counseling
break out of intellectual isolation and share experiences and insights with others in the field, both teachers and academics working in the area of specific disciplines as well as intellectuals in the immediate wider society.
SCERT works with DIETs to provide most (if not all) of the official PLD for teachers. This usually takes place at specially organised workshops that require personal attendance. The training can be problematic as it can only ever address general issues and very often serves primarily as an information outlet for new policy initiatives and interventions.
The skill levels and development needs of your teachers will vary. Their differing motivations and characteristics will also mean that you will need to use different approaches to encourage them to engage with PLD on an ongoing basis. The example of Mrs Gupta (below) shows someone who obviously has some PLD needs but who may also be reluctant to engage. Mrs Gupta may remind you of someone you know. This case study will be used in Activity 3.
Case Study 1: Mrs Gupta’s teaching
Mrs Gupta has been a teacher for 16 years at the same elementary school. She takes great pride in her displays, bringing paper from home and having a special box with scissors, glue, stencils and drawing pins. She has the best displays in her classroom, organising them with two ‘able’ girls. The parents and other visitors often comment on the displays when they visit. She takes great pride in receiving such praise.
Generally, Mrs Gupta likes her work but there are some chapters in the science textbook that she does not like to teach because she is unsure of the theory and content. Sometimes she gets a bit bored with teaching but in general she likes the contact with the students, especially the bright ones whom she asks to sit at the front of the class; she is not ashamed of having her ‘favourites’. She does not pay as much attention to the less able students, at the back of the class, and is relieved when poor attendance at harvest times means that there are fewer students to deal with.
Mrs Gupta has occasionally attended training workshops at the DIET, but tends to avoid these if possible. She does not like travelling or going to places where there are people she does not know. She is supportive to other colleagues on a personal level but does not really engage in conversations about teaching practice or in wider discussions about school improvements. She simply comes to school to teach her class and then goes home to look after her family. She used to be a keen dancer in her spare time; she now runs dancing lessons privately once a week at another school. One year she organised a dance display with the final year students, but feels now that this is just too much work to take on alone.
Consider how you, as the school leader, could have a conversation with Mrs Gupta to introduce the idea of CPD. Obviously, you do not know Mrs Gupta, but you may know other teachers like her. Imagine talking to her about her strengths and how she could develop as a teacher. Make notes in your Learning Diary.
How could you start a discussion about her development needs?
What strengths could you focus on, as well as her weaknesses?
How do you think she could react?
What actions could you take to achieve a positive outcome?
Look at the template in Resource 1. Consider how it could be used in relation to Mrs Gupta. What types of issues and ideas could arise and in which sections would you record the comments?
You may also find it useful to look at Resource 2, ‘Storytelling, songs, role play and drama’, which concerns alternative methods that can be used in teaching – Mrs Gupta is obviously a very creative person and the students could stand to benefit a great deal from her creativity if it was used more in their lessons. The key resources that accompany these Open Educational Resources (OERs) focus on different topics and can be useful tools in discussions about PLD. You will come back to these notes in the next activity, when the focus moves to planning PLD activities.
Although, PLD is often structured and managed, it can take place both formally and informally. It can happen individually, in small groups or on a larger scale, and can include approaches such as action research, reflection on practice, mentoring and peer coaching. It is important to value and recognise informal learning in your school as well-structured training programmes to ensure that the full range of development opportunities are used.
Information and communications technology (ICT) – including TV, radio and the Internet – is useful for providing access to knowledge, or for wider dissemination of important and new information. ICT will help your teachers to engage with relevant experts and also to access information. The internet provides an opportunity for you and your staff to harness free resources (many of which are delivered online as OERs, including TESS-India) and the National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER), coordinated by the Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET) in the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), to feed into professional development in your school. Links to these online resources can be found at the end of this unit.
PLD activities in classrooms should be the primary vehicle for improving teaching and learning. It is vital that teachers are given the time and space to reflect on and improve their classroom practice. However, all teachers, no matter how effective they are, will also learn much from observing good practice of others. This may often be available in the school but may be ‘invisible’ in that staff may not know whom to observe or which practice they may benefit from. In this way the leadership role can often involve being a conduit to help make ‘invisible’ good practice more visible to the staff community, and therefore valuable to others. This requires you to understand where good practice exists in the school and being able to use this for the benefit of the whole teaching community. The first step in this process is to help every individual teacher become an effective learner about their practice and feel empowered to take steps to improve it.
There are several ways that teachers can learn in the classroom, all of which are underpinned by situated learning – where the teacher tries out something new or adapts something that they already do. Teachers need to have enough confidence to try out new ideas for themselves, accepting that sometimes this will go wrong; they then need to have the opportunity to reflect upon what happened and why it went wrong, so that they can further modify their practice. Situated learning can take place and be supported in a number of ways; listed below.
School-based PLD activities
Action research, where the teacher decides to explore a specific area of interest or concern, tries a new approach in the classroom to develop their practice, reflects on the impact on student learning, and then reviews what needs to happen next. Action research is cyclical, as the final phase of identifying next steps provides the impetus for exploring the next new idea (see Resource 3).
Collaborative learning, where the teacher will engage with other teachers to learn together by comparing and contrasting, sharing practice, and developing plans. This should be convened to address a particular aspect of practice (e.g. a working group to look at assessment across the school).
Team teaching, where two teachers work together to deliver a lesson or sequence of lessons using their combined skills to enhance variety, pace, student focus, novelty and demonstration, and learn from each other or try out new approaches together.
Reflecting on practice, which can be a solitary activity but can equally be shared with others with reflections prompted and probed by questions from a colleague or in a group. An important opportunity for prompting reflection is the discussions that follow lesson observations by colleagues.
Participation in teacher networks, school-based networks and school-twinning partnerships are other ways of encouraging your teachers to share their experiences, discuss problems, be exposed to ideas by their peer group, and reflect and plan for the future. You could explore this with other school leaders who are responsible for schools close to yours.
The TESS-India subject units provide many opportunities for teachers to work together or individually on different aspects of their teaching and of student learning. The TESS-India key resources also provide excellent reference points for development activities on the following topics:
You will notice that in all these examples of learning, the teacher (either alone or together with colleagues) identifies the area of development and is then actively involved in planning and engaging in the learning. In other words, it is not something that is done to them, but something that empowers them to improve themselves. This does not mean that as a leader you do not have an opportunity to highlight or suggest developmental needs, but this must be done in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration in learning together. As a school leader you act as an enabler of others’ learning, both teachers and students.
Activity 3: Identifying learning opportunities
Following on from your consideration of Mrs Gupta in Activity 2, use the five types of PLD learning above to identify PLD activities that Mrs Gupta could undertake. You may want to think about options for her active learning, reflection on practice, individual learning, learning as part of a group learning, and/or coaching by a peer or school leader. Do not feel constrained by the limited amount of information you have for the case study: you can add to it when you suggest ways she could develop, or she may remind you of a colleague, so you could do this activity with that person and your own school in mind.
Make some notes in your Learning Diary about a suitable activity.
Activity 4: Formulate an action plan
As a school leader you have worked on identifying the needs and opportunities for Mrs Gupta. Now you need to turn your attention to your own staff and school. Work with one or two teachers who are likely to be enthusiastic about their PLD and motivated by your interest in helping them. For each teacher, go through the process identified in Activity 2 (using the template in Resource 1) and Activity 3 (identifying the opportunities), and then work with each of them to formulate a plan. Resource 4 has a template that you can use for the planning.
Do not set too many actions; a maximum of four or five would be ideal. Do not make them too complex as you will need to be able to organise this alongside all your other responsibilities. Remember that PLD is a continual process and therefore your teachers can develop year-on-year.
You may like to have a session at a staff meeting where you introduce the idea and ask for volunteers for the first PLD discussions, or you may do this informally. But either way, you need to have a plan as to how you will roll out a system of PLD to all staff in your school. You may find your two volunteers helpful in taking this forward. There must be an element of challenge in the plan you devise, so that it stretches the ability of the teacher and therefore carries them on to new ground. But the plan must also be attainable and viable within a realistic time frame. It is essential that each target is underpinned with the goal of improving learning outcomes for all students.