Teaching is complex and organic, as it involves constant creation, imagination, innovation.
A teacher’s role is further complicated when keeping pace with flux of changing approaches to learning and designing for the 21st century. The teacher must not only plan for the classroom, but understand learners, use inclusive practices, design for dialogic spaces and promote the 21st century skills like critical thinking, leadership, managing change, analytical thinking, and digital thinking. This makes teaching exciting as well as challenging.
To be prepared for the challenges, appropriate and sustained capacity building of teachers is a must. As such, teacher training and upskilling should be an ongoing PD, where the teacher is encouraged to embark on a sustained journey of self-development involving input and guidance towards learning new knowledge, skills, ways of practice. This is needed now more than ever, in order to keep in step and relevant with the shifting contours of the teaching profession in these current disruptive times.
Looking back at my years as a school teacher, teaching felt like an isolated activity where the school day was spent in class teaching, assessing and planning for the next day. As a result, no school time was left for meaningful professional sharing amongst teachers. Some days were allocated as training time, however the training was generic and fragmented, probably done to comply with external regulatory requirements applicable to the school.
No doubt such one-off professional training and workshops for teachers are a valuable part of the process, but they are just the beginning. The next step ought to involve school leaders, teachers and PD providers to collectively workout the kind of learning activities required to foster a learning culture wherein teachers are prepared for real-time complexities of the classroom and beyond.
Certain practical steps which schools as well as individual teachers may consider to begin on their CPD journey follow:
At the School Level
- A school calendar which makes room for on-going professional learning helps. Some examples are: weekly early release days for reflecting on one’s practice, mentoring, peer observation and space for sharing best practices.
- Enabling a Community of Practice (COP) where collaboration, and support is provided to the teacher. Here, learning takes place through formal and informal collaborations, involving an apprenticeship model. Many COPs leverage their reach using virtual collaboration tools and social media platforms.
- Encouraging and supporting teachers to participate and present at local as well as global conferences. Such exposure to best practices will not only bring about cross fertilization of ideas, but also open minds which is essential to enable teachers to be reflective practitioners.
At an Individual Level
Continuously developing oneself is a shared responsibility. As such, CPD must not just be implemented top down but must also be proactively pursued by the individual. CPD should become a habit. To initiate the process, teachers may:
- Partake CPD by joining online communities, interacting with like-minded practitioners, academics, and other specialists in the education field. Numerous special interest groups exist on Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook etc. Typically, members of such groups share resources, syllabi, content, ideas for lesson plans.
Several such groups are closed groups where practitioners can share and seek expertise in a safe environment in which mistakes are seen as learning points to be built upon.
- Consider a Structured Approach for their PD. Often, a structured PD experience can be spark sustained interest in PD. A host of free online PDs are offered comprising of thematic courseware. I personally benefited from British Council’s FutureLearn, Becoming a Better Teacher: Exploring Professional Development.
The Network Effects of joining and actively participating in a community of practice can accelerate teacher learning, reflections, and insights. The long-term benefits include expansion of one’s skills and expertise. COPs also provide a network for inter-professional collaboration, which helps foster one’s professional identity. A culture that acknowledges and supports important adult learning elements such as peer-to-peer collaboration, regular feedback, self-reflection, goal-setting, formal mentoring, etc.