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The Idea of Professional Development and its discontents

In his inaugural lecture at Leeds Metropolitan University Professor David Kirk developed a discussion around the past, present and future of physical education. Drawing on Sheldon Rothblatt’s The modern university and its discontents (1997) David argued that the significance of Rothblatt’s work was its ability to look beyond the hope or idea per se and instead examine the social construction of that idea. In other words the idea of the idea or the id2. In looking beyond the societal definition David was suggesting that the idea tells us only about our inherited beliefs and expectations about something.  Instead he argued that we should ignore the idea of what say physical education purports to do (i.e. develop lifelong healthy lifestyle participants) and instead examine the social construction of physical education (i.e. what is actually does - develops kudos for a school through good examination results for the less-able and through success in team games).

If we take the same notion of the id2 of professional development then, I believe, we can start to see to the root problem of the genre and perhaps we can start to reconstruct what professional development means and does for teachers. A quick Google search ‘define: professional development’ highlights the current idea of professional development (my parenthesis to show the id2)–

  • Professional development refers to skills and knowledge attained for both personal development and career advancement. ...en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_development
  • as part of the structured training and depending on the route to membership, the candidate must do a minimum of between 48 and 96 hours of professional development, eg formal training courses, distance learning programmes, informal structured reading and secondments. www.joinricsineurope.eu/en/articles/view/apc-terminology-explained-15
  • is the application of planned learning activities designed to maintain and enhance one's competence in health education following a previously attained level of professional preparation (adapted from "Report of the 2000 Joint Committee on Health Education and Promotion Terminology"). www.nchec.org/ce/definitions/
  • Increase of knowledge or skill through study, travel, research, workshops or courses, sabbaticals, internships, apprenticeships, residencies or work with a mentor or master. See mentor or master. www.canadacouncil.ca/help/lj127228791697343750.hhtm
  • Opportunities for professional education faculty to develop new knowledge and skills through inservice education, conference attendance, sabbatical leave, summer leave, intra- and inter-institutional visitations, fellowships, work in P-12 schools, etc. www.sfasu.edu/education/about/accreditations/ncate/about/glossary.asp
  • The process of increasing the professional capabilities of staff by providing (or providing access to) training, and educational opportunities. This can include on-the-job training and educational opportunities. This can include , outside training, or observation of the work of others. ... erc.msh.org/mainpage.cfm

These statements can be viewed as the social construction of the idea of professional development. However, despite the attractiveness of some of these statements, when these ideas are explored in reality, in other words when the idea of the idea of professional development is laid bare, then the following terms emerge to define professional development: Skills, knowledge, career advancement, structure training, formal training courses, planned learning activities, maintain and enhance one’s competence, professional preparation, knowledge, skill, study, workshops or courses, new knowledge and skills, inservice education, the process of increasing professional capabilities of staff by providing (or providing access to) training, on the-the-job training, outside training.

Professional development in education could therefore be seen as training teachers with set knowledge and skill. Furthermore, I would argue that professional development has three desired outcomes and measures: the competence to teach, ensuring child safety, and defining a teacher’s suitability for promotion (in physical education you might add extra-curricular competence). Currently professional development is not perceived favourably in schools and by teachers but, as Donald Schön stated, it has become the yardstick again which competency is measured. Vicky Goodyear (a recently practicing teacher and a new PhD student) summarised:

Whilst I was a physical education teacher I felt the CPD I was offered was not relevant to me nor was it  based around my professional development needs. Compulsory INSET sessions ran on different dates throughout the year and topics (plenaries, starters, questioning, lesson planning, AFL) were repeated year after year. Certainly this structure did not ‘inspire and sustain teachers’ curiosity’, it had the opposite effect with teachers beginning to refuse to attend certain sessions. Moreover, I felt this was the only form of CPD teachers were aware of.

This summaries the id2 of professional development and sadly this manifestation of professional development is all too easily recognisable to teachers and teacher educators. The response of teachers in refusing to attend certain sessions is telling and if we don’t find a way of providing professional development that inspires and sustains teachers curiosity then how can we hope to employ teachers who do the same for children? Vicky, in her curiosity, went to look elsewhere for meaningful development:

In my second year of teaching I engaged with practitioner research and made a pedagogical change to my teaching. I reflected lesson by lesson on my practice and listened to the thoughts and opinions of my students to understand how my teaching and learning environment could be improved. This I felt was the best form of CPD I engaged with. I began to understand in more detail my learners’ needs and wants. Moreover, I learnt things about myself and how I behave as a teacher that I was not aware of. Extending on from this I agree with Kathy Armour that CPD should be a lesson-lesson process and support Ashley’s thoughts that action research is a tool for this.

Similarly curious Joey Feith (a young Canadian physical education teacher) frequently takes the opportunity to create a more engaging experience for himself:

Being such a young teacher, I often try to think of ways to help other young teachers get into the habit of attending and participating in CPD events and using CPD resources. I think the social media boom has created forums for discussion and collaboration in ways that never existed before. I watch what other Physical Educators are saying on Twitter or writing on their Blogs. I "like" the Facebook pages of professional organizations in hopes of getting updates/ideas from them or finding opportunities for sharing. I watch the YouTube videos and leave comments or questions if they inspire me to do so. The thing with social media, as opposed to traditional media, is that instead of simply broadcasting information to its audience, it allows for an open, collective discussion in which new ideas are formed by its community. I know that, from my own experience, that type of discussion has been a much more engaging experience for me and has prompted me to want to continue having that type of discussion outside of the set days that traditional CPD events offer.

Importantly, I think that Joey’s concluding statement gives us great insight into a possible future for professional development in physical education and mainstream education:

I think that once we realize that instead of just focusing on broadcasting ideas and resources to teachers ("telling" them) and move towards engaging teachers ("asking"/"inviting" them), we'll find that many new teachers might start seeing the real value of CPD and start taking their own professional development in their own hands.

If we return to the google definitions above and extract a different set of terms then we also begin to develop the idea of professional development rather than its id2: Personal development, informal structured reading and secondments, travel, research, sabbaticals, internships, apprenticeships, residences or work with a mentor or master, conference attendance, sabbatical leave, summer leave, intra- and inter-institutional visitations, fellowships, work in schools, educational opportunities, observation of the work of others. This gives a notion of professional development as social and personal where knowledge and skills are there to be discovered. It is unfortunate that professional development is currently defined by its ID2 rather than the ideas above which would make it more about learning than box ticking. John Dewey argued that "the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth and that students develop skills and habits of mind that will enhance their creativity and problem-solving abilities with respect to the issues they are likely to meet."

I certainly won’t be the first or the last person to suggest that we follow one of Dewey’s idea. However, say we did and say we stated that learning is a continued capacity for growth then we would begin to transform and rebrand continued professional development as CPG or continued professional growth. In this way I believe (and in slightly misquoting Catriona) we support meaningful CPD which has teachers' professional learning at its heart and which really can help build teacher capacity (Catriona Oates, A CPD expert from Scotland).

When professional development becomes about growth and when we help teachers to develop habits of the mind that will enhance their creativity and problem-solving abilities then we start to foreground a new idea of CPG and have the chance to make right the sins of our fathers. On a final note I would like to offer up Catriona Oates’ example from Scotland as a example of great practice in professional growth communities that others might consider following and developing:

In Scotland, the national CPD team is committed to building teacher capacity and working towards system-wide change through innovative CPD. Just to give you a taste of the work going on, which chimes with your question above on teacher ownership of CPD, here are a few links which may be of interest. Learning Rounds http://ltsblogs.org.uk/cpdteam/tag/learning-rounds/ is a very empowering form of teacher-owned , learning focussed(virtually free)CPD which can effect system -wide change within schools - keep watching the blog for more news , information and testimonies. In Scotland we are very fortunate to have a national intranet for schools, teachers, learners and parents ( and more) called Glow. As it is a closed secure system you can't get in to see without guest access. The national CPD team is making very innovative use of Glow through building on-line communities of practice, encouraging teachers to share, discuss challenge and exchange with each other in on line professional conversations. These CoPs are also supported by regular CPDmeets: video conferences which take place within Glow by practitioners , leaders , managers, guests - anyone who has something interesting or useful to share. They are recorded and made available online for folks who couldn’t attend live. All of this is free CPD which can be planned, recorded and reflected upon in the online PRD tool CPDReflect: http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/cpdreflect/ and it can hopefully provide evidence for discussion around the Professional Review and Development process. We have a national directory called CPDfind http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/cpdfind/index.asp where all these free opportunities are listed, along with many others (including paying ones) which can be entered by approved providers.


Vicky Goodyear
About me
On Tuesday 19 October at 12:29 Vicky Goodyear said
I certainly agree that there is an idea of CPD which needs to be developed or changed into something as you suggested CPG. From my experience (as I previously discussed), I agree with the notion that teachers have the idea of CPD as the three desired outcomes; to enhance competency of teaching, to ensure child safety and to define a teachers suitability for promotion. Adopting the process of engaging teachers rather than telling I feel is key and will encourage teachers to value and participate in CPD. Extending on from this I feel once we change or develop the idea of CPD/ CPG there will still be barriers to be overcome, as with all things. Teacher’s individual development of teaching and learning and their engagement with CPD or CPG may be hindered by the contextual circumstances of schools. Whilst I have been reading through some of Ash’s unpublished work for my PHD his thesis and unpublished material has highlighted to me, in specific regard to physical education, that schools who value achievement, competition and school sport team success may not value MBP such as sport education. Specifically, within Ash’s work on the teacher-researcher in sport education his HoD played a huge role in his development with the delivery of sport education. The HoD abandoned the unit of sport education after lesson five due to it not developing the key traditions of the school. Towards the end of Ash’s PHD a new HoD arrived who was enthused by such a model and encouraged his leadership and guidance for her to develop her teaching in such a model. From my experience schools may not value ‘alternative teaching and learning strategies’ that oppose the norm of the department or school when it comes down to observations and OFSTED criteria (tick boxes). Some of my experiences in teaching and attempting to engage in CPD through practitioner research replicate some statements by teachers in research by Darling-Hammond, 1996 p.90: ‘I find myself playing a game at times, because when I am observed, I do what they are looking for. In the meantime, I still may be using techniques that I feel are best going to suit my students.’ If observations are challenging models based practice, this highlights another barrier to CPD/ pedagogical development. I question if other teachers have experienced such resilience to development by their leadership teams? If teachers are enthused to develop but can’t due to their leadership teams? Moreover, I wonder if Ash would have developed further in his use of sport education if the later HoD had been there throughout the seven years.

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