Time for Action in Professional Learning
Professional development is generally defined as activities that develop a teacher's skills, knowledge, expertise and professional attributes.
According to the ETF (2014) the following activities count as professional development:
- Reading relevant journal articles or reviewing books
- Taking training courses or formal development or study
- Peer review, mentoring or shadowing
- Online learning including engagement in discussion forums and blogs
- Viewing and reviewing television programmes, documentaries and the internet
ETF Professional Standard 10 states:
- Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.
Funding constraints have meant that many professional development opportunities are college-driven rather than teacher-driven and therefore usually relate to quality improvement processes and other externally-driven demands rather than perhaps what individual teachers need and want in their own professional learning. There is an increasing emphasis on impact in educational discourse which has seen the prominence of evidence-based research in education, however, what counts as evidence in the type of research currently favoured by policymakers negates evidence from teachers’ own experience and practice. Action research is one way in which teachers can have some control over their own professional learning. Learning that is directly relevant to their subject, their students in their specific context at any moment in time during the academic year.
Step 1: Think about an aspect of your practice that has given you pause for thought; this could be something recent or from your past teaching experience.
Step 2: Reflect on what you did in the situation, whether you would do something differently if this situation happened again; investigate the situation further by asking colleagues about their own related experiences of the situation and/or by doing some reading and research of related literature.
Step 3: Come up with an action plan or intervention to address the situation and implement it.
Step 4: Evaluate your action plan or intervention – this could be in the form of your own reflections; you could ask students and other colleagues for their feedback to support your own reflections or you can use other research methods such as questionnaires, interviews, surveys and observation.
Step 5: Revise your action plan and make changes accordingly to your practice. Most importantly, share what you have learned with your colleagues.
This approach to professional learning is centered around the idea of collaboration and is focused on bringing about real change to social situations. There may be themes which emerge across your own department or subject area that could allow you to work collaboratively on an action research project. Above all, action research benefits teachers’ professional learning because it is directly related to their teaching and therefore is going to have an influence on their practice because through undertaking a piece of action research you will learn and it is this learning about what we do that helps to keep teachers interested and interesting.