ALTERNATIVE MODELS FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: WHAT CONSTITUTES EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION TO HELP MAKE A SCHOOL MORE EFFECTIVE?
Krishan Sood & Malini Mistry
Nottingham Trent University, UK. & University of Bedfordshire, UK.
The study aims to explore what professional development (PD) do teachers need in effectively led schools in England by conceptualising what constitutes effective professional development. The concept of professional learning by professional communities is poorly understood and therefore offers practitioners a tool for analysing practice. Some key features of effective PD are analysed and presented in the paper. The key driver facing 21st century school system in England is The Children’s Plan - Building Brighter Futures recognises that:
‘The single most important factor in delivering our aspirations for children is a world class workforce, able to provide highly personalised support …’(DCSF, 2009)
This world class workforce will presumably require high class professional development to carry out their roles. Professional development is important as teaching is now seen to be a Master’s profession linked to high quality teacher calibre. Often, this PD happens in isolation and is dependent upon input from outside ‘experts’. An alternative model for PD in all schools is proposed by investigating effective collaboration between schools and a University. Collaborative action research model for professional development is proposed which actively involves teachers in reflection and decision making. It also develops their appreciation of research as a personally meaningful process.
Information is obtained from primary and secondary school teachers in three separate institutions. The University runs an MA programme in these three schools and uses an opportunist approach to capture data through interviews and module evaluation analysis. Qualitative data are examined in terms of similarities and differences between these three groups. The emerging research evidence suggests that effective PD engenders a sense of a learning community. Participants of the research considered that opportunities to work with other colleagues helped to improve their professional abilities and classroom practice. They also noted that successful PD development required PD leaders to put in place easily understood structures and systems to make learning accessible. In contrast to poor professional development practice attributed to poor leadership. The most worrying aspect that was reported was on the recycling of ignorance and any evaluations being too bureaucratic and rarely used to measure impact on the individual or practice.
The study concludes that a strong focus on people development, support and modelling appropriate values and practices lie at the heart of professional development. Leadership is closely allied to teacher development, as is the promotion of research based pedagogy. The study advocates that school leaders need to place PD at the core of teacher work. Identifying professional development needs is the first step to staff development. But this is not as easy as it sounds, as there are no formal identification tools or mechanisms to apply, nor is it advisable to rely on toolkits mainly because one-size fit regime rarely works.
An alternative model for PD is proposed based on collaborative action research involving participants in reviewing their own practice as reflective practitioners and their role in PD. What is not so well documented is how to disseminate the products of teacher research away from individual classrooms. The role of PD leaders is important here to develop strategies to share the collaborative research capabilities more widely within the school and beyond.
In creating a vision for collaborative partnership for effective PD, leaders are likely to need additional preparation, training and professional development to enable them to succeed through persuasion, rather than, by authority. There is also growing acceptance of the need to consider value-for-money and the impact on practice. Effective PD requires focused resources as people will judge successful PD if it is relevant and inspirational and is based on valid, theoretical underpinning and good practice.
Keywords / Phrases: professional development; professional learning; leadership; management; action research; professional learning communities.
This paper starts by defining what professional development looks like in a changing world of the school workforce in England. The vision of professional development (PD) is considered, followed by reflection on what constitutes an effective PD experience. The concept of professional learning is synthesised as it’s poorly understood and offers practitioners a tool for analysing practice. Some key features of effective PD and what constitutes effective success criteria are analysed. A strong case is made for strong leadership in order to lead and manage a diverse workforce and diversity. In summarising, ideas for new challenges for PD are suggested in developing schools for future.
Vision for professional development in schools and Professional Development
There are a number of drivers facing 21st century school system as indicated in various DCSF publications in England like: 21st Century schools: A world class education for Every Child; 2020 Children and Young People’s Workforce Strategy; National Council for Educational Excellence: Recommendations; The Children’s Plan-Building brighter futures; CUREE (2003). The Children’s Plan - Building Brighter Futures (2009) recognises that:
‘The single most important factor in delivering our aspirations for children is a world class workforce, able to provide highly personalised support …’
We look at some of the above challenges and refer to why professional development is important. In ensuring that every child succeeds in education, PD needs to develop the leaders by acting as consultant leaders or executive heads, thus modelling leading learning. Improving teaching that leads to good qualifications and skills for children and young people requires a sharp focus on improving teaching skills.
Activities that are likely to enhance professional development are areas like bespoke subject sessions; innovative ways in developing teaching and learning or specialised development opportunities to tackle barriers faced by young people. In addition to these are qualifications like the new Masters in Teaching and Learning. There are qualifications such as, licence to teach and new entitlement for newly qualified teachers, and, for those returning to teaching. Opportunities for professional development can be by tackling the new secondary curriculum by 2010, the new primary curriculum by 2011 and the Diplomas by 2013. Maybe the pupil guarantee described in the White Paper (DCSF, 2009), that sets out a new entitlement to personalised support for every child can also be extended to the wider workforce. ‘Every school: a well-led and skilled workforce’ (DCSF, 2009), then becomes a reality to embrace and promote this vision for PD.
In contrast, there are a number of pressures facing schools that are likely to impact the management of professional development. Accountability and achieving standards to learners, parents and the governors, and to Parliament through inspection regimes are on-going pressures. Tomlinson (2009) has identified that personal development for staff is important but there are tensions in how best to manage this against competing priorities of financial accountability (Pedder et al. 2008).
Professional Development has seen an embracing of the wider school workforce where the role of paraprofessionals is being acknowledged more than before and a move away from courses to a much broader approach where pupil’s personal and school needs are closely matched. With greater accountability comes an increasing acceptance of the need to consider value-for-money and impact on practice. We are seeing more providers and greater opportunities for accreditation like PGCE, induction, leading from the middle, leadership pathway, National Professional Qualification of Headteachers, Masters in Teaching and Learning and Advanced Skills Teachers. With new challenges – such as, the wider school and community agenda, the integrated agenda, for example, early years, play and social care, we are seeing different and creative partnerships and collaborations like initial teacher trainees working with social studies and health students and multiple placements (Menendez, 2009).
In achieving a world class children’s workforce in schools means all children and young people will benefit from a learning culture and this could be reinforced through individual and institutional development. Lomas (2009) offers a perspective on the principles which underpin PD in schools in England and is presented schematically in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1. Principles to underpin professional development (adapted from Lomas, 2009)
The concept of entitlement and professional responsibility for self development is embraced through the Lomas model, in addition to a hint of the need for monitoring and evaluating successes.
So why is Professional Development important?
According to Tomlinson (2009), some of the key reasons are to do with the standards/improvement agenda; personal/professional development; recruitment and retention and career development. The emerging research evidence suggests that effective PD engenders a sense of a learning community. Pedder et al. (2008) consider that opportunities to work with other colleagues help to improve their professional abilities and classroom practice.
However, successful school workforce development requires PD leaders to put in place easily understood structures and systems in place to make learning accessible. In contrast to poor professional development practice where there is no overall PD leader, thus the danger of no strategy and coherence. The most worrying aspect could be the recycling of ignorance and any evaluations are bureaucratic and rarely used to measure impact on the individual or practice.
Concept of professional learning
According to Earley (2004), leaders need to create an ethos in which everyone who works in a school, are learners in their own right. However, leading PD is ‘particularly challenging for school leaders’ (Karagiorgi and Nicolaidou, 2009, p. 71), as there are competing demands on ever decreasing resources and tensions between school needs against individual needs within PD planning cycle.
Sheppard and Brown (2009) define organisational learning as the ‘professional, organisational and leadership capacity, and processes within a school…to maintain and improve organizational performance…collaborative learning…with the intent of improving student learning’ (p.41-42). Central to this definition is the notion of leadership for learning which is closely aligned with Senge’s (1990) team learning discipline focusing on the importance of teachers building collaborative work cultures. Good practice in organisational learning requires strong leadership to facilitate meaningful reforms and shared decision-making. Fullan (2002) believes that in transforming professional learning in schools, school leaders need to rethink and redefine PD.
The emerging research on professional learning and development suggests a greater focus on partnerships and finding creative ways to minimise traditional hierarchical bureaucracies between schools and partners. This provides much more promise than just increasing opportunity for collaborative learning (Rusch, 2005).
Leadership and staff development
A strong focus on people development, support and modelling appropriate values and practices lie at the heart of professional development (Leithwood and Day, 2007). The emotional side of school improvement requires leading with teacher emotions in mind (Leithwood and Beatty, 2008). Leadership is closely allied to teacher development, as is the promotion of ‘research rich’ pedagogy (Handscomb and MacBeath, 2004). Scribner (1999) advocates that school leaders need to place CPD at the core of teacher work. Identifying professional development needs is the first step to staff development. But this is not as easy as it sounds, as there are no formal identification tools or mechanisms to apply, nor is it advisable to rely on toolkits mainly because one-size fit regime rarely works. Karagiorgi and Nicolaidou’s (2009, p.73) study puts this in a stark way in this teacher quote:
There is no formal way to identify staff learning needs. You notice weaknesses and inefficiencies through everyday school life. You see who is interested and who is not, some do not want to take any responsibilities… You get the message that something is not going well. So unofficially you can diagnose your staff needs. You know when to interfere and to contribute too.
Although Karagiorgi and Nicolaidou’s study is based in an international setting, the issues of staff motivation, engagement and accurately identifying staff needs are as complex and contentious.
In creating a vision for collaborative partnership for effective PD, leaders are likely to need additional preparation, training and professional development to enable them to succeed through persuasion, rather than, by authority. This requires the need to ‘see the bigger picture… using advocacy skills… people skills… financial skills… communication skills… monitoring and evaluative skills… ICT skills… to drive change with passion’ (Lomas, 2009). There is also growing acceptance of the need to consider value-for-money and the impact on practice. Effective PD requires focused resources as people will judge successful PD if it is relevant and inspirational and is based on valid, theoretical underpinning and good practice.
Action Research (AR) is a valuable tool for gathering and reflecting on change management and professional development for improvement (Cardno, 2001). Kemmis and McTaggart (1988) see AR as a form of collective self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants to improve practice. But the notion of ‘enquiry’ and ‘improvement’ sometimes produces tensions and resistance in practitioners because they do not have a clear understanding of these terms or of ‘action research’ which purports to make a difference. The challenge for leaders is to enhance ownership and an understanding of strategies that improve outcomes for learners and hopefully to reduce these fears. As Cheng et al. (2007) note, implementing change initiatives is extremely problematic describing as barriers to change as lack of leadership commitment and support, ingrained working practices and inappropriate training. The implication for leadership is to know what stance is appropriate at a given time and in relation to specific initiative and then, as Giroux (1992) suggests, pre-empt debate as to what needs attention.
There are many models of AR, but Piggot-Irvine’s (2010) iterative (cyclical) model is a helpful one to use in this research. The model has three phases: reconnaissance –analyse current situation, implementation and evaluation. In using AR as a ‘co-construction’ (Fletcher, 2003) approach, where teachers and academics collaborate, this lends some legitimacy to heighten support and recipricosy.
Professional Development through three different approaches
In terms of provision for staff development, there is a two-year part-time MA programme delivered at school sites by a University tutor in three different school settings. The three approaches were through three schools, labelled Group 1, 2 and 3 have the following composition of teachers. The sample consisted of sixteen secondary teachers in Group 1. In Group 2, the sample was a mix of three primary and eight secondary school teachers and Group 3 was made up of 7 secondary teachers. The advantages and disadvantages of off-site provision were compared in the three different settings using module evaluation sheet to capture the evidence. The table1 is set out to show aggregated comments of the teachers’ feedback from the three groups and analysed next.
Schools Advantages Disadvantages
Group 1 ‘maintaining standards’
‘benefiting whole school improvement‘
‘having designated time’
‘where all staff have the opportunity to lead on something’ ‘Time to do the assignment’
‘fitting in with the day things to do like parents evenings’
‘time to read more widely’
Group 2 ‘applied in lessons’
‘interesting and relevant to my every day school life’
‘sharing with the whole staff’
‘significant to actually measure the impact of an area of SIP’
‘sharing evidence with staff and leading change’
‘helps me to inform SEF’
‘enjoyed the sessions but not sure if I was innovative or not’
‘developed personal knowledge and linked to current issues’
‘made me look at what we do in school and how it could be improved…this will have an impact on what happens in school next year’
‘opportunity to talk to colleagues’
‘Good support throughout’
‘Relevant, interesting and help me to improve in my role as KS3 coordinator in Science’
‘How to reflect on my own teaching and current science schemes of work’
‘How pupils learn best, what they find useful/not useful’
‘How to implement change, and how to critique models such as learning cycle models’
‘Having [Name of tutor] actually at school for the sessions rather than studying from a distance. Really useful to have someone there to answer questions, and the tutorial was especially useful’
‘I think that everyone worked well together both in the sessions and out. Everyone was extremely supportive of each other and this was lovely’
‘totally new to me not having a leadership role but interesting’
‘Didn’t feel very confident as others in contributing’
‘nobody is bothered about what I do’
‘I have not disseminated widely’
Group 3 ‘staying focused’
‘hard work as not done this kind of work since I left college’
‘We have a laugh’
‘Chivvying each other’
‘we work together very well here and look at each others work’
‘Action research technique helped to move departments on’
‘feeling lost in structuring the assignment’
‘I can’t pretend to be an academic…so I get lot of help from my wife who is doing PhD’
‘I wrote academically long time ago, so feel vulnerable’
Making sense of the data
The three case study accounts demonstrate that there are many different approaches to professional development of teachers and the data suggest that school leaders understanding of professional development remain unsophisticated. The responsibility for development was an individual one rather than the leadership creating a culture for learning driving professional development. This outcome could be due to the lack of clear structures and systems for staff development or there was an incoherent link between staff development and performance management because of a poorly developed system-based approach. Many of the teachers commented on the lack of an understanding of learning and learning process by some of their leaders, and more importantly, not being able to articulate a school-wide perspective of the implications of and for learning (Stoll, Fink and Earl, 2003).
Teachers need to be in control of their own professional development, but they need to exert their influence on improving the structures which may hold them back. Beane and Apple (1999, p.7) offer three critical conditions for such democratic schools:
• The open flow of ideas, regardless of their popularity, that enables people to be as fully informed as possible
• Faith in the individual and collective capacity of people to create possibilities for resolving problems
• The use of critical reflection and analysis to evaluate ideas, problems, and policies.
Using this concept, group 1 teachers came from a training school, meaning that they were a designated Government training centre, which in theory gave them an edge over other groups because of training expertise. One of the participants in this MA group was also the lead PD coordinator in the school so able to bring this group together through a central school fund. Perhaps this motivated staff to attend weekly sessions by the MA tutor and work together, thus exchanging ideas, reflect on theory and practice and share strategies for further school improvement.
Group 2 teachers was mix of primary and secondary school teachers which initially offered some challenges of group cohesion due to the differences between the primary and secondary sectors, but they soon bonded and communicated openly and honestly about their practice. They were very supportive of each other and of the group to resolve issues, and they drew on the tutor’s expertise in guiding them on critical enquiry skills.
Group 3 teachers had seven teachers who had key leadership roles in their school which meant that they had the most open and frank exchanges which enabled them to challenge and support each other. They grew together and drew on each others strengths in evaluating their own practice. Using action research approaches, they were able to develop their research skills much more sharply than the other two groups. As senior leaders, this group had greater opportunity for transformational leadership. Comments from cohort 3 suggested that they felt more confident to lead others in staff development because they were more knowledgeable and could now build a culture of collaborative enquiry.
This study was a small scale exploratory study and has several limitations, so no one approach is advocated for professional development based on the limited research data. Different settings will have different histories, contexts, values and cultures for professional development and at this point, it is not possible to say what can be translated across all settings. The small sample size prevents generalisations. As there is a single source of information in terms of perceptions of teachers on their module evaluations, this threatens triangulation and may bias the outcomes reported. These are only perceptions reported and may not mirror actual practice, thus limit validity of data. The possible impact of intervention approaches, like action research as a research tool, does not take account of leadership approaches for teacher learning, but this can be explored further (Fullan, 2002).
Conclusion: The way forward
The way forward as we move into new challenges and new ways of thinking about education reform and how best to prepare our teachers for the future, is for leaders to debate some broad based principles on professional development. They could have in place more creative and responsive structures for supporting the work of teachers. Networking and partnership are the new essential units of organisation to perhaps replace the questionable dichotomy of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approaches to educational change. Greater collaborations will require network skills. School leaders could strengthen their professional development system by transforming it into a new framework that will make it respond in a more relevant, effective and timely manner to the needs of our learners. These structures and systems have to be robust and easy to use by teachers for laterally transferring ideas, knowledge and new practices.
Moving away from the shackles of dependency to one of autonomy is not an easy task. Professional Development needs to be redefined and according to Elmore and Burney (1999), schools need to restructure and re-culture to maximise opportunities for teacher learning. Making teamwork happen across boundaries might transform practice for professional development.
There is a need to re-conceptualise the term PD and share its meaning with all. We need to create learning schools which engage with research to inform practice. With new standards, we are likely to see chartered teachers-license to teach. With greater range of providers, non-educationalists and subject associations, comes new challenges for quality assurance. Release of teacher and new contracts may surface requiring smarter solutions. Disseminating PD needs to be more interactive and impact analysis clearly understood.
Distilling from a vast array of international literature, we will need critical thinkers and flexible and adaptive workforce. We will also need staff whose values contribute to culture, citizenship and intellectual growth needed for a knowledge economy. The way in which people learn differs and a mix of learning opportunities are needed, like, bespoke sessions; pupils leading on curriculum design; partnerships with external providers; links with international research; team building and networking. The vision of PD that is holistic and develops individuals and teams in engaging and exciting ways that improves children and young people’s lives.
Another way of looking at what PD success looks like is proposed in the model of PD in Fig.2.
Fig. 2. Proposed model for Professional Development for 21st Century schools
At the heart of this 21st Century school for future model is the drive to improve standards and pupil attainment through a well developed staff workforce. The role of a strong leader is paramount if every child is to succeed against all odds. This requires ‘passionate leadership’ (Davies and Brighouse, 2010, p.4), energy and commitment, underpinned by the values of social justice and an optimism that staff can and do make a difference. Schools have a great opportunity to look at new ways of remodelling the workforce that is fit for 21st Century ‘thinkers and do-ers’ based on research on what is effective learning that promotes effective individualised and team potential. Therefore PD has to engaging, meaningful, improves knowledge and understanding and develops skills for leading and managing change. The rise of a lifelong learner–practitioner may not be seen as an idealistic conception (Tuschling and Engemann, 2006), but rather, a goal to attain.
Surrounding the three circles are the quality assurance indicators of value for money, accountability and improvement. There is a link between PD, value for money and impact in the classroom that needs further investigation using cost-benefit analysis model. In the Venn diagram, the leader has an opportunity to control the variables shown in the boxed sections outside the circles, so that they can exercise various leadership styles in managing the PD process. The diagram offers a way of analysing inter-related factors and capturing where one is and often where one should be in providing quality professional development for all staff.
Dr. K.K. Sood, firstname.lastname@example.org and Malini Mistry, email@example.com
The authors would like to thank their respective universities for their financial support.
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