From PD to PL

Is there a fundamental difference between professional development and professional learning?  Can teachers be doing PD and teaching at the same time?

If we define professional development as a one-off activity that takes place outside of classrooms, the answer is no.

Professional development is a remnant of the 20th century when perfecting routines and tasks (productivity) were important than collaboration and innovation (creativity).

As part of the rollout of the national curriculum, the Federal Education Minister conceded the need for professional development to ensure teachers are ‘tooled up to teach the national curriculum’.

I believe that tooling teachers does not necessarily transform teachers.  Effective teachers are life-long learners.  They become as Bransford et al says adaptive experts who can give up ‘old routines and transform prior beliefs and practices.’

In moving from professional development to professional learning, teachers will inevitably take greater responsibility for their own and their students’ learning. School leaders take greater responsibilty for teacher-learning and systems provide the necessary support and conditions to enable this to happen systematically.

Evaluating performance, seeking feedback and asking questions of students and colleagues happens on the job – as part of the process of improving teaching.

Isn’t it time governments, media and teacher unions recognised the difference between professional development and professional learning?

One thought on “From PD to PL

  1. Hi Greg,

    I agree that there is a very important semantic distinction between development and learning to be made. Development as ‘tooling’ implies a fairly practical basis, such as learning how to use Mac Numbers as a teacher mark book or creating a Wikispace.

    On the other hand, professional learning implies many things – some theoretical, some practical. However, the way I see it is that learning also implies agency and autonomy.

    So whereas the individual is developed BY other elements (eg. a program, a mentor, a course) learning suggests that this is something the individual does FOR themselves. If we accept constructivist theories, the individual creates their own learning – often irrespective of prescribed elements outside their control: the curriculum, assessment, KPIs, etc.

    So for me, the term professional learning conveys connotations of agency, autonomy and empowerment (pretty much in contrast to professional development). At the same time, professional learning implies responsibility as a necessity on my part, intrinsically linked to my professionalism as a teacher. Since I have the control over what I learn, I also have the responsibility to learn the things I need to teach in the twenty-first century and to learn well.

    The final point for me is that professional learning necessitates reflection. How well we reflect on our learning is a crucial question which influences how we move forward.



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