Harry Fletcher-Wood, Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching

The last blog noted that the consensus view of professional development is problematic.  It advocates features like collaboration, subject-specific training and sustained engagement, but this recipe isn’t always helpful for professional development designers.  So what should we do instead?

Rather than starting with how we are doing professional development, we should start with what we hope teachers will be able to do, and what they are already doing.

1. A clear goal.

The first thing is choosing what we want teachers to be able to do.  Dylan Wiliam has noted that we often plan professional development around a method – like coaching – not a goal.  We have to start, he says, by focusing on “what we want teachers to change”.  Then we can plan to help teachers make these changes.

Asking teachers to collaborate is not helpful in itself – we need a goal for that collaboration.  Just as teachers begin planning a lesson by deciding what they hope students will learn, teacher educators need to begin planning based on what they hope teachers will do differently.

2. What’s needed to achieve the goal?

Even once we have a goal, there’s no simple recipe to achieve it.  Teachers may need new knowledge or skills; they may also need resources, institutional support or an understanding of the value of a new technique.

Teachers are more likely to change if all these supports are in place: they need the support, the knowledge and the motive to change.  But many teachers will already have many of these supports.  We have to tailor our professional development to teachers’ and school’s needs: a teacher with resources, motivation and support may just need a little training to develop their skills in order to change.

One recent unsuccessful professional development programme reached similar conclusions: what was needed for teachers to change was leadership support and teaching resources.

3. Alignment of professional development to goals and needs

Once we know what our goals are and what teachers need, we can design appropriate training and support.  The most effective programmes and education systems align support, training and internal systems towards their goals. This means ensuring that everything points in the same direction: what leaders advocate, what training promotes and what performance management expects.

So teacher educators need to know what they want, identify what support is needed, and make sure the school is aligned around it.

If you’re interested in reading about this subject in a bit more detail have a look at the second section of my paper, Designing Professional Development for Teachers, Plan from Need

In our next post…

We’ll share some ideas about designing learning for teachers.

Missed our last post?

Catch up on last week’s professional development blog.