2 Teachers’ professional learning and development

Professional learning and development (PLD) is about an individual’s ability to acquire knowledge and skills related to their work or practice, or to look for information and keep themselves well informed in their professional field.

According to the National Council for Teacher Education (NCFTE, 2009, pp. 64–5), the broad aims for PLD of teachers are to:

  • explore, reflect and develop one’s own practice
  • deepen one’s knowledge of and update oneself about one’s academic discipline or other areas of school curriculum
  • research and reflect on learners and their education
  • understand and update oneself on educational and social issues
  • prepare for other roles professionally linked to education/teaching, such as teacher education, curriculum development or counseling
  • break out of intellectual isolation and share experiences and insights with others in the field, both teachers and academics working in the area of specific disciplines as well as intellectuals in the immediate wider society.

SCERT works with DIETs to provide most (if not all) of the official PLD for teachers. This usually takes place at specially organised workshops that require personal attendance. The training can be problematic as it can only ever address general issues and very often serves primarily as an information outlet for new policy initiatives and interventions.

The skill levels and development needs of your teachers will vary. Their differing motivations and characteristics will also mean that you will need to use different approaches to encourage them to engage with PLD on an ongoing basis. The example of Mrs Gupta (below) shows someone who obviously has some PLD needs but who may also be reluctant to engage. Mrs Gupta may remind you of someone you know. This case study will be used in Activity 3.

Case Study 1: Mrs Gupta’s teaching

Mrs Gupta has been a teacher for 16 years at the same elementary school. She takes great pride in her displays, bringing paper from home and having a special box with scissors, glue, stencils and drawing pins. She has the best displays in her classroom, organising them with two ‘able’ girls. The parents and other visitors often comment on the displays when they visit. She takes great pride in receiving such praise.

Generally, Mrs Gupta likes her work but there are some chapters in the science textbook that she does not like to teach because she is unsure of the theory and content. Sometimes she gets a bit bored with teaching but in general she likes the contact with the students, especially the bright ones whom she asks to sit at the front of the class; she is not ashamed of having her ‘favourites’. She does not pay as much attention to the less able students, at the back of the class, and is relieved when poor attendance at harvest times means that there are fewer students to deal with.

Mrs Gupta has occasionally attended training workshops at the DIET, but tends to avoid these if possible. She does not like travelling or going to places where there are people she does not know. She is supportive to other colleagues on a personal level but does not really engage in conversations about teaching practice or in wider discussions about school improvements. She simply comes to school to teach her class and then goes home to look after her family. She used to be a keen dancer in her spare time; she now runs dancing lessons privately once a week at another school. One year she organised a dance display with the final year students, but feels now that this is just too much work to take on alone.

Activity 2: Planning for a conversation about professional development

Consider how you, as the school leader, could have a conversation with Mrs Gupta to introduce the idea of CPD. Obviously, you do not know Mrs Gupta, but you may know other teachers like her. Imagine talking to her about her strengths and how she could develop as a teacher. Make notes in your Learning Diary.

  1. How could you start a discussion about her development needs?
  2. What strengths could you focus on, as well as her weaknesses?
  3. How do you think she could react?
  4. What actions could you take to achieve a positive outcome?

Look at the template in Resource 1. Consider how it could be used in relation to Mrs Gupta. What types of issues and ideas could arise and in which sections would you record the comments?

You may also find it useful to look at Resource 2, ‘Storytelling, songs, role play and drama’, which concerns alternative methods that can be used in teaching – Mrs Gupta is obviously a very creative person and the students could stand to benefit a great deal from her creativity if it was used more in their lessons. The key resources that accompany these Open Educational Resources (OERs) focus on different topics and can be useful tools in discussions about PLD. You will come back to these notes in the next activity, when the focus moves to planning PLD activities.


It may be that the culture in your school means that you already have regular professional reviews or appraisals where you discuss with your staff, individually, their professional practice and identify the focus for their future professional development. Your teachers may therefore be accustomed to these types of conversations. However, it is highly probable that they may be having such a conversation with you for the first time.

To better understand your teachers’ professional lives it will be very useful to prepare a meeting schedule with every teacher to discuss their support needs, interests and expectations. This should be a professional conversation but conducted in a non-threatening way, allowing a useful discussion that helps you to learn about your teachers’ professional lives. It may be that someone like Mrs Gupta would need some coaxing and reassurance to engage in the conversation, but there are strengths that you could identify that may open the door for communication. These initial conversations and the records should serve as a basis for future support and planning of development activities: they are the start of ongoing conversations that will, ideally, aim to make the teachers take responsibility for their own development.

The conversations can be linked with any observations of lessons you have done, or other monitoring processes you may have undertaken.

With time, a school may introduce peer observation and lesson review as a regular part of the PLD cycle, with colleagues contributing to the evidence that is used in appraisal conversations.

1 Perspectives on teacher development

3 Models of teachers’ PLD