3 Models of teachers’ PLD
Although, PLD is often structured and managed, it can take place both formally and informally. It can happen individually, in small groups or on a larger scale, and can include approaches such as action research, reflection on practice, mentoring and peer coaching. It is important to value and recognise informal learning in your school as well-structured training programmes to ensure that the full range of development opportunities are used.
Information and communications technology (ICT) – including TV, radio and the Internet – is useful for providing access to knowledge, or for wider dissemination of important and new information. ICT will help your teachers to engage with relevant experts and also to access information. The internet provides an opportunity for you and your staff to harness free resources (many of which are delivered online as OERs, including TESS-India) and the National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER), coordinated by the Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET) in the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), to feed into professional development in your school. Links to these online resources can be found at the end of this unit.
PLD activities in classrooms should be the primary vehicle for improving teaching and learning. It is vital that teachers are given the time and space to reflect on and improve their classroom practice. However, all teachers, no matter how effective they are, will also learn much from observing good practice of others. This may often be available in the school but may be ‘invisible’ in that staff may not know whom to observe or which practice they may benefit from. In this way the leadership role can often involve being a conduit to help make ‘invisible’ good practice more visible to the staff community, and therefore valuable to others. This requires you to understand where good practice exists in the school and being able to use this for the benefit of the whole teaching community. The first step in this process is to help every individual teacher become an effective learner about their practice and feel empowered to take steps to improve it.
There are several ways that teachers can learn in the classroom, all of which are underpinned by situated learning – where the teacher tries out something new or adapts something that they already do. Teachers need to have enough confidence to try out new ideas for themselves, accepting that sometimes this will go wrong; they then need to have the opportunity to reflect upon what happened and why it went wrong, so that they can further modify their practice. Situated learning can take place and be supported in a number of ways; listed below.
School-based PLD activities
- Action research, where the teacher decides to explore a specific area of interest or concern, tries a new approach in the classroom to develop their practice, reflects on the impact on student learning, and then reviews what needs to happen next. Action research is cyclical, as the final phase of identifying next steps provides the impetus for exploring the next new idea (see Resource 3).
- Collaborative learning, where the teacher will engage with other teachers to learn together by comparing and contrasting, sharing practice, and developing plans. This should be convened to address a particular aspect of practice (e.g. a working group to look at assessment across the school).
- Team teaching, where two teachers work together to deliver a lesson or sequence of lessons using their combined skills to enhance variety, pace, student focus, novelty and demonstration, and learn from each other or try out new approaches together.
- Reflecting on practice, which can be a solitary activity but can equally be shared with others with reflections prompted and probed by questions from a colleague or in a group. An important opportunity for prompting reflection is the discussions that follow lesson observations by colleagues.
- Participation in teacher networks, school-based networks and school-twinning partnerships are other ways of encouraging your teachers to share their experiences, discuss problems, be exposed to ideas by their peer group, and reflect and plan for the future. You could explore this with other school leaders who are responsible for schools close to yours.
The TESS-India subject units provide many opportunities for teachers to work together or individually on different aspects of their teaching and of student learning. The TESS-India key resources also provide excellent reference points for development activities on the following topics:
- assessing progress and performance
- monitoring and giving feedback
- storytelling, songs, role play and drama
- using local resources
- using pair work
- using groupwork
- planning lessons
- using questioning to promote thinking
- talk for learning
- involving all.
You will notice that in all these examples of learning, the teacher (either alone or together with colleagues) identifies the area of development and is then actively involved in planning and engaging in the learning. In other words, it is not something that is done to them, but something that empowers them to improve themselves. This does not mean that as a leader you do not have an opportunity to highlight or suggest developmental needs, but this must be done in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration in learning together. As a school leader you act as an enabler of others’ learning, both teachers and students.
Activity 3: Identifying learning opportunities
Following on from your consideration of Mrs Gupta in Activity 2, use the five types of PLD learning above to identify PLD activities that Mrs Gupta could undertake. You may want to think about options for her active learning, reflection on practice, individual learning, learning as part of a group learning, and/or coaching by a peer or school leader. Do not feel constrained by the limited amount of information you have for the case study: you can add to it when you suggest ways she could develop, or she may remind you of a colleague, so you could do this activity with that person and your own school in mind.
Make some notes in your Learning Diary about a suitable activity.
You have probably thought about a range of opportunities for Mrs Gupta to develop her skills at the school. For example, you might have suggested that she observe a more confident teacher, teach those difficult science lessons, or that she be coached on the content by the science teacher to fill any knowledge gaps. You might also have suggested that the school should have a dance week next term when lessons are geared around this theme (anatomy, literature, geometry, music, etc.) and ask Mrs Gupta to take a lead in this. In addition, you may decide to observe one of Mrs Gupta’s lessons and then report back to her on the different levels of engagement between pupils at the front and back of the class.
The conversation about the challenges and solutions of multilevel classes could be widened to the cover all staff in the group, being a development opportunity for all. Mrs Gupta could refresh and strengthen her teaching practice and enhance her students’ learning as part of her school day, using colleagues around her, whether learning by doing or finding her own solutions. You might also have noted that Mrs Gupta is very good at making displays and that there may be roles for her in helping other teachers to develop these skills. The key is her motivation and this is why it is important to work together with Mrs Gupta on identifying needs and making a plan to meet them – she will engage more enthusiastically if she is involved in the discussions about her strengths and needs and agrees on priorities and opportunities.
Mrs Gupta may be a particularly challenging teacher to work with as she is well established at the school and so not necessarily interested in her PLD. But she has genuine strengths that are an asset for the school and need to be valued. The conversation about her PLD should be balanced between building on strengths and addressing needs – and not all needs have to be addressed at once.
You will have many teachers who embrace the chance to learn and improve and who will welcome your interest in their PLD.
Activity 4: Formulate an action plan
As a school leader you have worked on identifying the needs and opportunities for Mrs Gupta. Now you need to turn your attention to your own staff and school. Work with one or two teachers who are likely to be enthusiastic about their PLD and motivated by your interest in helping them. For each teacher, go through the process identified in Activity 2 (using the template in Resource 1) and Activity 3 (identifying the opportunities), and then work with each of them to formulate a plan. Resource 4 has a template that you can use for the planning.
Do not set too many actions; a maximum of four or five would be ideal. Do not make them too complex as you will need to be able to organise this alongside all your other responsibilities. Remember that PLD is a continual process and therefore your teachers can develop year-on-year.
You may like to have a session at a staff meeting where you introduce the idea and ask for volunteers for the first PLD discussions, or you may do this informally. But either way, you need to have a plan as to how you will roll out a system of PLD to all staff in your school. You may find your two volunteers helpful in taking this forward. There must be an element of challenge in the plan you devise, so that it stretches the ability of the teacher and therefore carries them on to new ground. But the plan must also be attainable and viable within a realistic time frame. It is essential that each target is underpinned with the goal of improving learning outcomes for all students.
Once such a procedure has been incorporated into the school’s usual practice, the whole notion of PLD will embed itself, and everyone in the school will then see themselves as co-learners. With a general understanding of PLD in your school, you may be able to delegate the discussions to pairs or groups to find the opportunities, so developing a culture of sharing of expertise and co-development. If every member of staff, not just the teachers, can be involved in their own development, the students will also see how important it is to learn throughout their lives. It changes the ethos of the school.