Effective professional development (PD) - professional learning if you prefer - is critical to maintaining and enhancing practice (and thus learning) in schools. However, the most common forms of PD for teachers tend not to be effective - in the sense of leading to positive changes in practice which lead to improvements in young people's learning. This begs the question - what does effective PD look like?
Way back in 2014 Fiona Henry and I wrote a paper reflecting on this question. The key characteristics of effective PD which we identified then (see Figure 1 above) haven't changed. They include PD being:
- top down - so that it is strategic and impact focused (involving the senior management team, linking with the school development plan, and being integrated with the school’s systems and processes);
- school based so that it is context relevant (for example in terms of using resources that are available for teacher to use in their practice);
- informed by external expertise as well as recognising and valuing the expertise of school staff;
- experimental & reflective (valuing calculated risk taking, learning from mistakes as well as things that go well, and making tacit knowledge explicit);
- collaborative so that staff learn with and from each other;
- evidence/research informed to learn from the wider community and avoid 'obvious mistakes/dead ends';
- sustained so that there is time for it to impact on practice and enhance young people's learning (which ultimately is the purpose of education);
- evaluated (in relation to planned impact) so that it's cost-effectiveness is clear and future investment and professional development needs can be justified;
- practical - in the terms of cost (both financial and staff time). This includes being at the right level of granularity to integrate with teachers' work;
- bottom up so that it is perceived as being relevant and valuable to the staff involved, including building upon initiatives that emerge from teachers' personal interests and networks.
We analysed a range of different approaches to professional learning, such things as TeachMeets, personal learning networks (PLNs), and subject community websites as well as more traditional courses, conferences and workshops. We concluded that the most effective form of professional learning involved the school becoming a learning organisation - within which staff were supported in being practitioner researchers (but the value of practitioner research is the focus of another blog post which I have yet to write!).