Reimagining Teacher Professional Development

Professional development (PD) for teachers has always mattered. K-12 schools worldwide invest in trainings every year. Teachers attend educational conferences, seminars, teacher training courses and certificate programmes.

Why does it matter?

From a systems perspective, teacher quality has a direct impact on the quality of education and achieved learning outcomes. The European Commission’s report on “Supporting Teacher Competence Development for Better Learning Outcomes” opens with the following line:

“Making sure that Europe’s six million teachers have the essential competences they require in order to be effective in the classroom is one of the keys to raising levels of pupil attainment; encouraging teachers to continue developing and extending their competences is vital in a fast-changing world.”

The same paper also outlines “life-long learning” as one of the broad competency areas, which for me is the most critical one that needs to be addressed by teachers and encouraged by higher bodies.

Continual professional development for teachers is also essential from a futuristic perspective. The digital transformation due to the rise of artificial intelligence and automation is already affecting the future of jobs, and today’s learners are about to embark on a business world that will be dominated by jobs whose names and definitions we do not even know today. Therefore, it is imperative that today’s learners are given the opportunities of developing the most essential skills needed to survive in a business world dominated by robots. Teachers as the most impactful agencies for students need to be equipped well to first understand what it means to live in such a fast-changing world and how they as teachers can do their own part in developing the learners’ skills needed in their personal and professional lives in the future.

Who owns the responsibility of teacher’s professional development?

With a paradigm shift in teacher professional development from “a passive teacher role” to a more “proactive change agent”, traditional in-service training opportunities offered to teachers may come with several problems.

What are the problems in traditional in-service teacher trainings?

The biggest problem is the idea of a mandatory training itself. This type of a training is very often defined by the management, and it might kill the intrinsic motivation of teachers as it is push learning which tends to focus on the school’s organisational objectives and preferences that may not necessarily translate into teachers’ individual objectives, rather than pull learning driven by the teachers’ own decision and unique needs.

They are trainer-led

A typical in-service teacher training is generally delivered by an external trainer who comes to school for a couple of hours and delivers a talk on a specific subject. This offers little room for participation, a meaningful dialogue and a conversation among teachers. As the trainer has little or no context knowledge, he/she may not be able to relate to teacher’s real experiences and needs in the classroom.

They offer shallow learning

This type of mandatory trainer-led learning does not always mean that learning takes place. Learning requires more than this. It may require teachers’ “doing”, trials and errors, review and reflection, feedback, engaging in dialogues, courage to take risks, experimenting with new ideas in the classroom, failing and doing it again. It should extend far beyond the training room and have tight connections with real classroom practices.

They lack global connections

In-service trainings are generally limited to a specific group of teachers in a school, area or a district as they are generally delivered in face-to-face environments. Given the digital media and platforms we have access to, I believe more global learning opportunities need to be created to bring more diversity, perspective and collaboration into teacher development events.

They lack social learning

Learning is a collaborative act as much as it is an individual and a cognitive act. Passive listening, thinking, solo reflection may not always result in real change in perspectives, behaviours and attitude. Sometimes we need to discuss, exchange ideas, get peer feedback or collaborate on tasks. Most of the instructor-led trainings lack this relational and social component which allows for deeper learning.

Moving from traditional teacher development toward a digitalised learning experiences — What has shifted so far?

MOOCs have provided teachers with opportunities to exercise more autonomy and ownership in their professional development and to decide for themselves what they really want to learn professionally.

Problems with MOOCs and online learning in general

Can we improve the current teacher professional development and bring a new perspective to it?

PD driven and owned by the teacher

Learning is a life-long activity, and this applies to teachers as well. When we abandon the idea of teachers who are “all-knowing” masterminds, who finished learning how to teach, continual and reflective learning as practitioners becomes an integral part of teaching. This continual effort should be first driven and owned by teachers themselves. Professional development informed by teachers’ unique struggles, questioning or confusions will then be more relevant and impactful. To this end, I always encourage teachers to notice and pursue the immense opportunities of learning and development offered by the digital world without having to feel “restricted” to the opportunities provided by their schools.

PD embedded in digital spaces and in the classroom

Digital spaces creating more global connections and emancipatory impact on our development as individuals and professionals should be integrated into teacher professional development as well. But we cannot think of digital learning and classroom practices separately in a professional development course. A professional development course should blend the two modes (online and offline) in a way that the two mutually inform and support each other. For instance, teachers might be involved in a micro-learning opportunity in the digital space, and prompted to experiment with a teaching idea or inquire into a challenge in the classroom, and then come back to the digital environment and reflect on it with their peers online. This is a continual cycle and the lines are a bit blurred between “online” and “offline”.

PD in a Community of Inquiry

Extending Dewey’s idea of learning as a collective & social knowledge construction; Garrison, Anderson and Archer brought another dimension to educational experiences which take place online. They suggest “an educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.” From this perspective, a teacher is a participant in the community and reconstructs her understanding of teaching based on a collective inquiry. This type of learning is quite reflective and encourages teachers to constantly ask relevant questions to themselves such as “What do I do?”, “What does this mean?”, “How did I come to be like this?” and “How might I do things differently?”

What does Grow with Tech offer teachers for professional development?

This is an open invitation for all teachers around the world to:

  • try out a systematic approach for professional development through a blended and an inquiry-based course
  • engage in a global conversation with colleagues and act as a support system for each other
  • improve our practices as teachers whose roles are evolving from the “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side
  • develop the most essential digital skills required in the digital age

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E-learning and Edtech professional, MA in EdTech@Uni. of Manchester, BA@Bogazici University, currently product management at European Leadership University