It’s only words….

It’s only words….

The IPDA International Committee had an exchange of emails recently. The term ‘Professional Development and Learning’ (PDL) was used and I responded (reacted?) by saying that I preferred ‘Professional Learning and Development’ (PLD). Although both are correct, I felt that IPDA should use one term consistently and justify its use, even if it is simply to say that while alternative terms are acceptable this one is the preferred option.

The exchange of emails that followed was interesting (well I thought it was interesting but one of the responses was that some people might tell us to ‘get a life’ which, when I’m immersed in writing or reviewing, I often think I should do!).

It’s more than semantics. We’ve seen the ways in which the term ‘management’ was used as a generic term in the 1980’s but is now clearly distinguishable from leadership. In the same way, Professional Learning is clearly distinguishable from Professional Development in the current literature (see the Editorial to Professional Development in Education, Vol 40.5 p683 for further discussion), though the order of the words is possibly a matter of emphasis (is it Teaching and Learning or Learning and Teaching?) and rhythm (PLD flows better for me).

And while we’re on the subject, I prefer ‘Continuing’ Professional Learning (and/or Development) rather than ‘Continuous’ which is used by a number of eminent authors. Continuous means unbroken; continuing means ongoing (the -ing form of the word) which is more reasonable. The Scottish term Career Long Professional Learning (CLPL) is also moving into common parlance (partly because of the amazing ability of our Scottish colleagues to promote their ideas) and I’m happy with this, even if the professional cultures required to make it work need to exist before it can work effectively, but that’s another blog.

What about Initial Teacher Training? It’s unbelievable that government agencies can still use ITT when referring to Professional Learning Partnerships. The recent report on ITE in Wales (Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers) gives John Furlong, the report’s author, the title ‘ITT adviser for the Welsh Government’ even though the sub heading of the report refers to Initial Teacher Education in Wales. The term ITE is used throughout the report but someone obviously couldn’t change the civil servants’ obsession with outdated terms. I like the quote from Lord Young many years ago. He said that there is an important difference between education and training: if your son came home from school saying he’d had sex education that day it would be OK; if he said he’d had sex training you might be a little concerned.

So, does it matter ..? It’s only words after all …. Which terminology should IPDA use or should we switch between terms and be flexible?

Professor Ken Jones

Response (1)

  1. Phil Taylor
    November 29, 2015 at 10:56 am · Reply

    Having just spent two days at the excellent IPDA 2015 Conference discussing many of the questions posed in Ken’s posting, I am keen to respond. For something that the IPDA conferences always promote is reflection, with established and new colleagues, in a mutually respectful, supportive and enjoyable climate. With a conference theme of ‘Professional Learning for Performance’ the shifts and nuances of interpretation between ‘learning’ and ‘development’ were centre-stage, as performance in terms of meeting externally prescribed outcomes/targets, is arguably and increasingly the focus of teacher development activity. Yet learning, both for teachers and students, in terms of some kind of longer-term, personal and/or systemic positive change, is surely what we want to achieve through such activity. It is worth taking a quick look at how distinctions and conjunctions between learning and development are addressed in the relevant literature base.

    Ken, writing with Jim O’Brien, has associated ‘systematic career progression’ with teacher development, while learning suggests a ‘critically reflective and less performative’ approach (O’Brien and Jones, 2014, p.684). Similarly, Timperley (2011) associates teacher professional development with ‘delivery’ (p.4) through ‘someone else’s desire to tell’ (p.14) and professional learning as ‘meaning-making’ (p.4) motivated by one’s ‘own need to know’ (p.14, original emphasis). However, these distinctions and the association of development with delivery are perhaps contemporary concerns, for as Eraut (1977, p.10) pointed out nearly forty years ago, ‘it is the teacher who develops (active) and not the teacher who is developed (passive)’.

    Perhaps an encompassing of teacher learning can be seen in Eraut’s (1977, p.10) definition of teacher development as ‘the natural process of professional growth in which a teacher gradually acquires confidence, gains new perspectives, increases in knowledge, discovers new methods and takes on new roles’. Other earlier conceptions of teacher development emphasise ‘refinement of judgement’ (Stenhouse, 1975, p.24) and ‘reflection upon experience’ (Holt and Juraschek, 1998, p.24). More recently, Evans (2002, p.132) writes of teacher development involving ‘change that would generally be categorised as learning’ and Avalos (2011, p.10) concludes that ‘professional development is about teachers learning, learning how to learn, and transforming their knowledge into practice for the benefit of their students’ growth’.

    This prompts consideration of what has precipitated any shifts in meaning. Timperley (2011, p.14) suggests that development as delivery emanates from ‘policy makers, researchers or professional development providers’ in promoting evidence indicative of more effective practices and therewith teacher compliance. Timperley is not alone, as Senge (2012, p.397) characterises ‘drive-by staff development’ whereby a succession of outside trainers present new ideas and methods, with little or no knowledge of the school context, of teachers’ existing practices or the challenges faced. Similarly, Mockler (2013) refers to ‘one shot’, ‘spray on’ (p.36) approaches, noting development and learning as increasingly interchangeable terms, through the appropriation of the latter by training providers seeking to avoid the passive connotations of the former while offering much the same experience (p.35).

    For Senge (2012, p.397) the alternative to ‘drive-by’ development is a ‘reflective, generative’ process that ‘incorporates what educators already know and helps them improve what they can do based on the challenges they face now’. In addition to a focus on real contextual issues, such a process involves ‘action learning’ to put new ideas into practice and evaluate their effectiveness, as well as ‘leadership and community engagement’ that recognises wider organisational conditions and the importance of relationships and involvement among all parties, including parents (Senge, 2012, pp.397-8). Mockler (2013, pp.42-43) conceives professional learning as ‘identity work’, concerned with ‘formation’ and the ‘ongoing ‘becoming’ of teachers’ and transcending the ‘teacher quality agenda’ and ‘standards regimes.

    In my own conceptualisation, drawing on the authors cited above, the lived interpretation, integration and application of teacher learning, is nested within the more externally-facing intended and enacted opportunities of developing knowledge, practice and status. Together these comprise, professional growth (although I don’t propose that we need to coin CPG or IPGA as new terms and acronyms!). Understandings and meanings change over time and for now I am following Ken’s lead in using CPLD to describe my role and much of the work I do. However, if earlier connotations of development are reclaimed the added ‘L’ may become less necessary. For now, CPLD or CLPL are just fine, and so is IPDA. Something that the conference reinforced for me is that often our own need to know recursively shapes and is shaped by others’ desires to tell. So, if there is a distinction to be made between learning and development, perhaps they are complicit.

    Avalos, B. (2011) Teacher professional development in Teaching and Teacher Education over ten years. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(1), 10–20.
    Eraut, M. (1977). “Strategies for Promoting Teacher Development.” British Journal of In-Service Education, 4(1-2), 10–12.
    Evans, L. (2002) What is Teacher Development? Oxford Review of Education, 28(1), 123–137.
    Holt, M., & Juraschek, W. (1998) Closely Observed Pendulums: reflections on teacher professionalism. Teacher Development, 2(1), 17–26.
    Mockler, N. (2005) Trans/forming teachers: new professional learning and transformative teacher professionalism. Journal of In-Service Education, 31(4), 733–746.
    O’Brien, J., & Jones, K. (2014). Professional learning or professional development? Or continuing professional learning and development? Changing terminology, policy and practice. Professional Development in Education, 40(5), 683–687.
    Senge, P. M. (2012) Schools that learn: a fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. London: Nicholas Brealey.
    Stenhouse, L. (1975) An introduction to curriculum research and development. London: Heinemann.
    Timperley, H. (2011) Realizing the power of professional learning. Berkshire, England ; New York: Open University Press.

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