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  • Writer's pictureThings Education

Continuous Professional Development works…

but when?

Hello and welcome to the 53rd edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education.


Things Education is three days shy of being three years old! We are celebrating by reflecting on one of our core ideas – continuous professional development (CPD) for in-service teachers. In this edition we share the journey of some of the teachers we have been working with for more than a year. 


Before we begin with the teachers’ stories, we would like to share our framework of continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers. For us, the CPD framework has four components to it:

Awareness

This is the first stage or foundation for any changes that can be made in classroom practices by teachers. Does the teacher know what project-based learning is? Does the teacher know what a learning outcome is and what the traits of a good learning outcome are? Does the teacher know what formative assessment is? Pre-services qualifying degrees may help with this part of the process.


Understanding

If being aware of terms is the first step, the next step is to actually gain an in-depth understanding of the terms. In our experience, pre-service qualifying degree curricula do not do a great job of this. There have been numerous occasions where we have had to go over what formative assessments are with teachers. So much so that we also wrote an article titled “Unit tests are not formative assessments”. A deeper understanding in teachers comes from what these terms mean in the context of their class, their teaching and the students with whom they interact.


Engagement

Once a teacher is confident of understanding the concepts like formative assessments, project-based learning, etc. they can foray into engaging with them in class or in their lesson planning. This period of engagement is the one with the most internal and external conflict. The internal conflict is back and forth between existing teaching methods (and ideas) that the teacher has already been comfortable with and the newer knowledge and skills that the teacher is getting exposed to. The external conflict is quite often a defence mechanism kicking in to maintain the status quo.


Integration

Finally, the teachers that manage to overcome the conflict test out the new approaches and see the changes in student engagement, student understanding, etc. then start integrating these new approaches into their teaching fold. Interestingly, we have been working with teachers as Things Education for three years and there are still only a handful of teachers who have reached this stage. We will see some of their stories ahead.


Meet Farida. She was part of a school teacher professional development set-up where we visited the school at the beginning of the academic year and discussed the importance and relevance of project-based learning (PBL). Farida was motivated to try PBL in her classroom. We decided that we were going to build our skills and knowledge of project-based learning through such in-person sessions throughout the year. This was just the first step towards getting Farida and her colleagues to explore PBL in the classroom. However, the school could not budget time for more sessions, and the next CPD session happened just after the winter break. If you are aware of the Indian school schedule, this is around 6 months after the first CPD session. Farida had forgotten everything that we had discussed at the beginning of the year. Farida was not engaged throughout the session. Farida was not motivated to try PBL in her classroom any more.


When CPD works:

CPD works when it is seen as an ongoing continuous process with a deeply planned structure for the professional development sessions by the teachers. CPD does not work when teachers think of it as periodic events.


Our reflections: 

Farida had lost motivation at the first stage of the CPD framework – she was still not fully aware of PBL, but had lost interest. So we needed to find ways to keep Farida engaged and motivated between the two as limitations exist for schools to ensure continuity in professional development sessions for teachers. 


Meet Raahil. He was part of a school where we knew we would be engaged for at least a year, if not more. The school management had given us the remit to equip the teachers on a new way to plan the curriculum so that teachers can make informed choices on how to prioritise their curricular learning outcomes. We were meeting Raahil and his colleagues almost every month and had engaging discussions on curriculum planning and assessments. In most sessions, Raahil was quiet, but attentive. He did the tasks assigned as part of the workshop. Finally, in one session Raahil spoke up. He spoke up almost at the beginning of the session, which surprised us. He said that he understood that curriculum planning was important, but he is facing some specific issues in classroom management and dealing with a group of students, and that these issues are of immediate concern for him – hence implying that he would like to have professional development sessions in classroom management and behaviour management.


When CPD works:

CPD works when it is a collective and collaborative endeavour between the school management and the teachers. 


Our reflections:

Raahil took the time to become aware of the new curriculum planning approach, and he understood it… and when he felt that his time was better invested in learning how to manage a classroom better, he raised his voice. 


CPD is a top-down mandate either from the government or school management in India. However, teachers are looking for interventions relevant to their and their students’ needs. So we need to get Raahil’s and his colleagues’ buy-in even if we are trying to follow the mandates of the government or school management.


Meet Christina. She was part of a teacher group where we were discussing how to make great learning outcomes. In a specific discussion we mentioned that sometimes learning outcomes can be different for different sections of the same grade. For example, grade 7A has slightly different learning outcomes as compared to 7B. Christina immediately interjected, “Learning outcomes are the goals. How can my end goals be different for different sections? I need both the sections to end up in the same place after their lessons. I may take different approaches to teaching in the different sections, but my goals remain the same.


When CPD works:

CPD works when teachers can leverage their experience in the classroom to update their knowledge and put their updated knowledge into practice.


Our reflections:

Christina had not only understood what learning outcomes were, but was also engaging with how learning outcomes were being used in her lesson planning.


Teachers have a deep understanding of their students and their contexts. They have experience of going into classrooms every day. We need to leverage this to create learning opportunities for the teachers so that they try out new approaches and understand alternate philosophies of learning and teaching.


Meet Abhay and Minisha. They are from the same school, and we were working with them on formative assessments – how to weave quick checks for understanding (CFU) within one’s lessons. At periodic intervals, we used to ask the teachers how this practice was going on in their classrooms. Even after a year, Minisha’s response would be, “Yes. I am doing it. My students understand everything I cover in the class.” “It does not really help me, but I do it as it is the school’s mandate.


On the other hand, Abhay would have multiple examples of what types of CFUs worked and did not work in his classes. He would tweak the CFU techniques discussed in our sessions to meet the needs of his classrooms. For example, we had discussed using exit slips as a CFU at the end of the class, but he found that his students were getting distracted once the bell signalling the end of class rang. So, they were not serious in filling out the exit slips. He turned it around by giving the students slips of paper at the beginning of class and asking them to write something about the previous class. By the time the students responded, he got a chance to clean the board and set up the projector. Time saved. CFU achieved.


When CPD works:

CPD is most effective when teachers have a process of self reflection on the skills they are trying to build. Self reflection and creating a sense of confidence and enjoyment in teachers should be built within the scope of CPD.


Our reflections:

Minisha had engaged with CFUs and integrated the CFUs into her teaching, but this integration was only in a superficial sense. Abhay had integrated CFUs into his teaching and planning in a much truer sense. 


CPD frameworks must include time and structure for self-reflection for the teachers.


So over the last three years, through COVID-19, we have been able to help and support teachers in multiple ways including this newsletter. And what we know about in-service CPD is:

  1. CPD works best when teachers see the programme as a continuous and supportive process.

  2. CPD works best when teachers have a buy-in into the process.

  3. CPD works best when teachers’ experiences are not undermined, but leveraged to build new skills in them.

  4. CPD works best when teachers have the time and inclination to pause and reflect on their learnings during sessions and their experiences during class.


Note: We know you know this, but still. All names have been changed in the anecdotes above.

 

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Edition: 3.1


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