A collaborative approach to PD
In a previous post I described a new era of professional development, outlining four key principles drawn from both research and experience in this area. I reflected further on that today as I read a report from leading Australian researcher Ben Jensen, titled Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems in which he analyzes the way four high-performing education systems provide professional learning to their teachers.
Across all four high-performing systems analyzed—British Columbia (Canada), Hong Kong, Shanghai (China) and Singapore — professional learning is central to teachers’ jobs. It is not an “add on,” something done on Monday afternoons or on a few days at the end of the school term. Teacher professional learning is how they all improve student learning; it is how they improve schools; and it is how they are evaluated in their jobs.
While these systems are quite different, the key to all of them is that collaborative professional learning (teachers working with other teachers to improve curriculum, instruction, school climate, etc.) is built into the daily lives of teachers and school leaders.
According to Jensen's reserach, this is reinforced by policies and school organizations that:
- Free up time in the daily lives of teachers for collaborative professional learning
- Create leadership roles for expert teachers who both develop other teachers and lead school improvement teams
- Recognize and reward the development of teacher expertise
- Enable teachers and school leaders to share responsibility for their own professional learning and that of their peers.
These points align with the rationale promoted by the New Zealand Ministry of Education in its current policy initiative, Investing in Education Success (IES). According to the IES policy, schools will receive additional funding to release other teachers to spend time on the job, continuing to develop their professional skills for the benefit of students in their own classrooms. Specifically,the IES policy promotes a greater emphasis on Inquiry Time, providing more time for teachers to focus specifically on working together to tackle achievement challenges. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, as to how effective the drivers that are being used to implement this policy are in terms of promoting the desired shifts in behaviour at a school and system level.
There's no doubt in my mind that the principles identified by Jensen in this report provide a useful framework for the design of an effective approach to PD, at a school or system level – but the success of any implementation will depend on the following:
- the buy-in of all involved – not just school leaders or a few enthusiasts on the staff,
- an emphasis on a collaborative approach, where the rewards are availabe to be shared equitably, and where everyone's voice is recognised and valued in the process,
- sufficient resources are available to support local initiatives – including mentoring support and external expertise where appropriate, and
- well developed frameworks and models exist and are used for evaluating the effectiveness of the process – including the impact on student learning and achievement.
We stand on the brink of a radical change in the way PD is 'done' in NZ schools – my hope is that those who are leading the approach within the different schools and clusters (and nationally) take the opportunity to delve deeply into the theory and practice of professional development, and ensure the strategies they adopt and promote meet the standards of what the research has been informing us about over the past decade or so.