The image below was found posted on the notice board in a secondary school staffroom this week. At a time when teacher workload has been a key feature of recent salary negotiations and teacher strike action the messaging here might appear to be related.
It prompted a thought in my mind however about the need for us to be constantly thinking about the purpose of PLD in schools. Sure, for individual teachers the requirement to participate in an after school session may seem yet one more thing to fit into an already busy schedule – particularly if not related immediately to that teacher’s sphere of interest or need (mmmm… think here of how many of our students in classes may feel the same – but then it’s OK for them, because they come to school to learn after all).
Back to topic – my pondering here is that the expectation of many is that the purpose of PLD is to cater for the needs of individual teachers. That’s why we send them off to PLD experiences related to their area of interest or expertise. More recently, this has been the guiding influence in many schools for promoting individual teacher inquiry – in an effort to constantly improve teaching practice and address the immediate needs of learners.
So what’s the alternative? Well, in my experience the alternative is to organise PLD around the needs/vision/ambition of the school as a whole – for the benefit of all learners. Many schools already do this (they tend to be the more effective and well performing ones IMHO) – by promoting a whole school focus that may then include sessions for all staff, groups of staff or even a focus for independent study or inquiry. The cumulative effect (and impact) is that things change – and the lot of kids improves.
While I don’t begrudge individual teachers wishing to further develop in their own areas of professional knowledge and expertise (that’s what professional organisations and subject associations are for), when schools take a truly collective approach to PLD focused on the things they want to change at an organisational level, then real change happens – and learners across the board benefit.
Back to the poster – NO professional learning should be unnecessary. Just as no learning experience we provide for our learners in classrooms should be unnecessary (think blackline masters or endless copying of notes from the whiteboard). For PLD to be necessary (i.e. purposeful and impactful) it really does need to be linked to the corporate aspirations of the organisation, so that the impact and outcomes can be seen in terms of the change that is desired across the board – and the benefits accruing for all learners as they move through the system.
Final thought – my strongest argument for a whole school focus is that this is the only way to achieve the sort of system-wide, paradigm-level change that is needed in our schools. Anything less, no matter how useful or well intended, will likely result simply in ‘improvement’, not transformation. Improvement is good, and sometimes really good – but transformation is what is really required in our system at present and that will only be achieved when those who uphold the system work together to achieve the things they believe in – as a collective.