Professional Development for Teaching

Positive relationships have been documented between academic achievement of students and teacher quality. Also, in-service training of teachers has been associated with positive student outcomes. Various authors agree that high quality teaching plays a crucial role in ensuring high quality education. Schools are also obligated to offer young citizens with the competencies required for adapting to the increasingly complex and globalized environments wherein continuous learning, initiative, innovation and creativity are equally essential as knowledge. Specifically, ensuring the continued development of teachers’ competence is perceived to be essential if learning institutions are to produce competent professionals. The importance of lifelong learning for teachers has been acknowledged in the literature, which explains numerous cases of in-service teacher training and continued professional development (CPD) programs for teachers. This paper describes innovative practices that can be used in restructuring professional development of teachers.

Contrary to traditional CPD, the professional learning of teachers is currently characterized as something that is continuous, ongoing, dynamic, and incorporated into the daily lives of teachers, which means that the professional learning of teachers is embedded into the context of the classroom and based on practice and experience sustained through reflection, practice, planning and goal setting. Based on traditional CPD, the professional learning was mostly conceptualized as planed training that occurs outside the classroom context, mostly administered through episodic and fragmented programs that do not facilitated continued cumulative learning. As a result, professional development of teachers should be incorporated into the daily life of the institution and offer opportunities for teachers to make systematic inquiries regarding teaching practices, their effect on students, and other issues relating to the work of teachers. According to Frost, an innovative CPD is that which is collaborative and job-embedded, which can take diverse forms including analyzing the culture of the school, observing the practice of peers, conducting classroom studies focusing on the work of students, analyzing student data, participation in the development process, study groups, and studying the classroom behavior of students. In general, professional development of teachers should be integrated into their work and the school culture; as a result, teachers will continually learn from their work experiences rather than waiting to enroll in formal training programs. This requires the school to emphasize the importance of continuous learning among its teaching staff by adopting school-embedded CPD.


The second aspect of innovative CPD for teachers is collaborative learning and development. Frost points out that collective involvement of teachers drawn from the same subject, grade or department is likely to result in coherent experiences, offer opportunities to engage in active learning, and nurture a shared professorial culture, which helps build a common understanding concerning instructional issues and solutions, methods and goals. Studies have shown that sharing practice and peer observation are the most common long-term CPD activities for teachers. Under traditional CPD approaches, teaching is considered to be a distinctively isolated profession; however, educators and researchers have recently identified teacher collaboration as one of the most crucial school attributes that can enhance teacher effectiveness, satisfaction and learning. Collaborative CPD has also been established to enhance the efficacy of teachers, which denotes the ability of teachers to perform their own self-assessment while at the same time being able to support the learning of students. Collaborative CPD enhances teacher efficacy through observing peers having the same abilities and feedback from superiors, colleagues and students. The perquisites for collaborative CPD include effective communication between the teaching staff and teacher study groups and networks. Collaborative CPD has been found to be more effective when compared to individual CPD in diverse aspects such as promoting changes in the beliefs, attitudes and practices of teachers; enhancing students’ learning including their attitudes and behavior; facilitating reflection and inquiry; developing communities of practice; and nurturing a staff culture that fosters mutual learning.

Apart from collaborative CPD within the school environment, the professional learning community (PLC) also offers an innovative approach to restructuring the professional development of teachers. In the PLC, teachers from diverse institutions engage and dialogue with each other with the aim of examining their performance and practice, developing and implementing effective instructional practices, and sharing novel expertise and knowledge. Regardless of the potential of PLC in facilitating the professional development of teachers, it is imperative to acknowledge the underlying challenges. In this respect, Saint-Onge and Wallace points out that establishing a PLC is often a slow and demanding process typified by misunderstandings and conflict attributed to different group norms and identities within the community. Because of the ever increasing expectations placed on educators, Jeon, Kim, & Koh point out the need for educators to have a platform that educators can use in improving their skills and knowledge. To this end, Jeon, Kim and Koh recommended the development of professional communities comprising of people sharing common academic goals and attitudes, and meet frequently with the aim of collaborating on teaching work. A notable example is the online communities of practice that can enable teachers to access experts, share resources and practices, and continue enhancing their instructional practices. An example of an online community of practice is Connected Educators (CE), which is an online community comprising 14 million educators. Diverse benefits of communities of practice have been documented in the literature including knowledge sharing, facilitating access to resources, facilitating learning among teachers themselves, fostering professional identity and relationships, and knowledge creation. PLCs can also be created through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Social media is a powerful tool for educators with respect to participating in, publicizing, and organizing crowd-sourced learning activities. Another form of PLCs is open learning opportunities such as Edcamp and Teachmeet among others, which involve spontaneous learning that is devoid of pre-planned content or sessions. Ant person attending such events can be allowed to present his input. These open learning communities have been lauded since they are based on face-to-face interactions, which in turn enable teachers to foster relationships with their peers encountering the same challenges. This is a unique professional learning opportunity contrasted with the conventional “sit and get” workshops.

Active learning is also another innovative practice for teacher CPD. Active learning entails providing teachers with opportunities for co-teaching, co-planning and reciprocal observation. Blandford describes active learning as learning and practicing what is learnt simultaneously. By incorporating active learning in CPD, teachers develop crucial understandings regarding the subjects they are teaching. Moreover, they understand the thinking of their students and develop effective instructional practices. Other innovative CPD practices include preparing teachers to be researchers; blogging whereby teachers can post information concerning their work; career counselling; and incorporating technology to ensure greater access to and flexibility of teacher CPD. Other authors such as Guo recommended the use of opinion surveys and need assessment surveys to ensure that CPD is tailored in accordance to the needs of teachers while at the same time valuing their input in the process.

In conclusion, it is evident that professional development results in positive outcomes for students; therefore, schools should place a lot of emphasis on the professional development of teachers. Given the significant changes in the teaching environment, a shift from the traditional CPD approach characterized by episodic and fragmented programs is needed towards a CPD approach that dynamic, ongoing and integrated into the daily lives of teachers and the school. In this way, CPD should be an important aspect of the school culture whereby teachers strive to develop professionally on a continual basis without relying solely on workshops. A number of innovative approaches to CPD have been outlined, which include the use of school- and job-embedded CPD, collaborative professional development, participation in professional learning communities, active learning, and incorporating technology into learning such as blogging and social networking.