5 Leading professional learning development (PLD)
One of the key roles for leaders is to support the professional learning of others. As well as being one of the common characteristics of improvement in Estyn’s Leadership and Primary School Improvement report, effective professional learning has a number of potentially positive outcomes for both the individual and organisation. This includes the possibility of enhanced outcomes for learners, which is a priority for any school.
It is important that professional learning development (PLD) activity is consistent with organisational goals. It can be defined and occur in a number of ways, including:
- continuous professional development
- in-service training
- professional learning communities
It is important to understand that each of these approaches can be utilised; but it’s equally important to consider the quality of the experience and how to evaluate the impact of the activity.
Evaluation should be considered when planning the activity, to ensure that financial resources invested in PLD are cost-effective and strategic. Historically, many forms of professional courses had an instant form of evaluation, often in the form of a tick sheet accompanied with a few comments. This was generally quite superficial and referred to by some academics as a ‘happy sheet’. It would provide only impressionistic and anecdotal information, with no consideration of impact over time being factored in.
There are now more in-depth approaches to evaluating professional learning: these include Thomas R. Guskey’s model, which sees the impact of PLD being achieved at five potential levels:
- participants’ reactions
- participants’ learning
- organisational support and change
- participants’ use of new knowledge and skills
- pupil learning outcomes.
According to Guskey, the main goal of professional development is to improve outcomes for pupils. He suggests that the sensible approach is to start where you want to be and work through the levels, always keeping in mind the potential outcome on the pupil. So when evaluating PLD, ‘pupil learning outcomes’ is the first and most important consideration, and ‘participants’ reactions’ – the so-called ‘happy sheet’ – is the least.
In other words: the professional development is driven by the needs of the pupils.
Activity 8: ‘Does it make a difference?’
Please read Guskey’s article,, which explains this approach in more detail.
Reflect on PLD that you have personally experienced or are aware of. What form of evaluation took place, and could incorporating Guskey’s five-stage approach have improved the quality of the experience? If so, in what way?
Record your thoughts in the box below. You can download all the comments you capture in the course by using 'download answers' which appears when you first save a comment in the course.
As a governor you might have personal access to courses provided by a local authority or region. These may include some face to face sessions or, like this Open University experience, be online. Within schools, members of staff may attend external courses or there may be sessions that are taken within the school day, at the end of the school day, or during closure days. There may be examples of governors and staff attending training together. The approach taken will vary from school to school.
Evaluation is clearly important as Guskey makes clear, but he also points out the frequency and quality of this important process can vary enormously. You are currently undertaking professional development by completing this module. It is a generic, one size-fits-all course which has to be written for a wide audience of participants who will have extremely different skill sets and experiences. As such it is probably not going to be a perfect fit for your personal requirements! However, it is free; the only cost is your time.
Hopefully, your school is able to tailor professional development to specific needs of individuals, whether this is pupils, staff or governors.
Guskey implies that when planning professional development there is a need to begin by considering exactly what it is you are trying to improve, and this should follow some form of evidence-based analysis. It is then important to establish what has been proven to work and what professional learning needs to take place to enable this to occur, as well as appropriate resourcing and any organisational change and support. It is likely that this will involve some specific professional development, and this may be available in-house or from external providers. By approaching the planning in this way, you can try and ensure that the training that is needed, is exactly what is provided.