Approaches to Professional Learning: Common Themes and Elements

As I reflect on the five approaches to professional development that I have outlined in this series of posts, I notice some common elements or themes:

  • A Focus on Student Learning. In each of these approaches student learning is both the starting point and the goal.  Professional learning goals are established to address a student learning need, and are considered to be met when student learning improves in some way.  And not just “student learning” as a vague concept, but the specific learning of these specific students in this specific classroom.
  • Reflection. All of these approaches encourage intentional and deep thinking about classroom practice. Teachers are prompted to observe and critically evaluate what happens in the classroom and why, and how things could be different.
  • Collaboration. While some of these approaches can be engaged in by teachers individually, they all promote collaboration and collective action more than isolation.  Individual and collective capacity grow together like a double helix – as the individuals grow, so does the team, which promotes further growth in the individuals…
  • Professionalism. These approaches promote real teacher professionalism.  They empower teachers to make decisions about what questions are most important to ask and how to find answers to those questions.  Professional learning is embedded in the teachers’ regular work tasks and routines.  It is something that school leaders do with teachers, not to them.

Is it possible that these elements are a key to innovating the right approach to professional development in your school?  Whatever approach, or combination of approaches, you use, if it includes these elements, it seems likely that valuable professional learning will occur.  A good starting point for improving professional learning for your team could be evaluating the extent to which your current approach to professional learning incorporates these elements and planning for ways to strengthen at least one of them. This could be a manageable and valuable step regardless of how professional development looks for you and your staff right now.

It is also worth pondering how these common elements are reflective of, and contribute towards, our Christian vision of education.  These are not “neutral” ideas, nor are they inherently good or bad.  Each of them has the potential to be taken in a direction that leads further into secular values and ways of thinking, or to be applied in a redemptive way by redeemed leaders and teachers. 

What other common ideas or themes do you notice as you reflect on these approaches to professional development?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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