It is not debatable idea that teachers should learn throughout their life. But under this idea lie many issues which the teachers may not accept unanimously. This article basically deals with the meaning of teachers’ professional development, the changing perspective about it, its rational, and ways, and the roles of different agencies. It further discusses the problems in teachers’ professional development and suggestions for improvement in Nepalese contexts. Finally, a brief conclusion has been drawn based on the discussion.
Key words: Professional development, life-long learning, narrative inquiry
Learning is a lifelong process and this applies to the professional life as well. The knowledge and skill one masters at one time is not sufficient to cope with the problems he/she may encounter at different walks of life. There are new challenges and threats on the way to professional growth. Teachers also need to learn different things throughout their career. Learners’ needs and nature keeps on changing everyday and there are innovations almost every day in the present day world. Everything changes in course of time and so has to by a teacher. Only those who can prepare themselves for the changes can survive in today’s cut-throat competition.
This process of change by the teachers for the growth in their career is referred to as professional development. It is on-going, self-directed and autonomous effort of a teacher to acquire new knowledge and skills and continually improve them after initial formal training in their career (Soproni 2008, p. 32). The concept behind professional development is that teachers should never cease to develop in the course of their career. Teachers’ professional development (TPD) includes both formal as well as informal experiences. It is not restricted to the formal training, seminars, work-shops and conferences. If fact, a teacher is also learning from his own classroom teaching experience, peer talks, observation of other’s classes, etc. Glatthorn (1995) defines teacher development as the professional growth a teacher achieves as a result of gaining increased experience and examining his or her teaching systematically (as cited in VillegasReimers, 2003, p.11)
Leung (2009) says “a professional is a trained and qualified specialist who displays a high standard of competent conduct in their practice”. Leung (ibid) further states “In discussions on teacher education, professionalism issues are often addressed through questions such as What should teachers know? And How should teachers go about their business?” In this regard, Villegas-Reimers (ibid) has pointed the following characteristics of professional development:
- It is based on constructivism rather than on a ‘transmission-oriented model’ (Teachers these days are taken as active learners not just transmitters of the ‘proven knowledge’)
- It is perceived as a long-term process.
- It is perceived as a process that takes place within a particular context.
- This process is intimately linked to school reform.
- A teacher is conceived of as a reflective practitioner.
- It is a collaborative process.
- Professional development may look and be very different in diverse setting (there is no single form or model of professional development)
Professional development may be formal as well as informal but it is the teacher him/herself who has to take initiative. He/she should realize what needs to be improved on his/her part and then only the professional development packages can be beneficial. Those packages should be designed and based on real needs identified by the teachers in their daily activities not by the ‘experts’.
Professional development may have different meanings to different people. For some teachers, it may be a way of learning new techniques but for the others it may be a process of gaining insights on different aspects of education not just the ‘teaching’ part. The teachers have to learn new things in changing contexts and may have to adopt some new ideas leaving their old habits. Awasthi (2010) calls this as ‘unlearning old habits’ and recognizing owns ‘ghost’.
For the serious educational reform that the present day educationists talk about, it is necessary to make the teachers professionally competent. This can only be done if the teachers motivate themselves to learn throughout their life. Lifelong learning is inevitable to a teachers’ career. The professional development of teachers is a lifelong process which begins with the initial preparation that teachers receive and continues until retirement. Scrivener (2005, as cited in Awasthi, 2010) asserts any teacher who stopped leaning has probably also stopped being useful as a teacher.
The changing scenario
The concept of teachers’ professional development is not so old. It was introduced in the literature during 1980s and became popular in the western world during 1990s. Earlier, the teachers were just treated as the followers of the experts and had no role in determining what would make their teaching better. In this regard Johnson and Golombek (2002,) mention “For more than a hundred years teacher education has been based on the notion that knowledge about teaching and learning can be ‘transmitted’ to teachers by others”. But this notion has changed a lot now and teachers are taken as the agents of change. Jonson and Golombek (ibid) further state:
The reflective teaching movement (since the early 1990s), the predominance of action research and teacher research movement have helped a lot to give the experience of teachers a better recognition ultimately recognizing them as the key agents of change for themselves as well as the whole education system.
Teachers’ knowledge is continually reconstructed because of their experiment in the classroom as well as in the society. They also understand which methodology is appropriate in the particular social context. Therefore, teachers should lead the changes in education not the so called ‘experts’ who just refer their theories, many a times, without any grounded verification.
The researchers were supposed to be the experts in the field of education and they know what and how to do certain things in the classroom. They created the knowledge, hold it and bestowed it upon the teachers. They were supposed know what good teaching is and what god teachers do. The researchers were usually the theorists and the high profile educationists. Teachers hardly got any role and recognition as the agents for change in their own professional change. They just followed the knowledge and skill recommended by the ‘experts’. This is called knowledge transmission model.
Only in the past few years has the professional development of teachers been considered a long-term process that includes regular opportunities and experiences planned systematically to promote growth and development in the profession (Villegas-Reimers, 2003).There has been a significant increase in the level of attention and support that the teachers throughout the world are receiving in their professional development. Moreover, now, they have realized that they have to change for a good cause and should not wait for someone to help them in their professional development. Today, it is well accepted idea that teachers should always be working to learn and innovate and that self-development is the only key to the path of success.
Now the teachers are supposed to be responsible for their development not the experts. They are the creators of the knowledge and skill necessary to further their career. Unlike in the past, they should learn to grow themselves because no one else is responsible for their growth.
Why professional development?
Teachers are the most important agents of change in education system and it is very important for them to change themselves first to cause the change in the society. Today’s ever-changing world denies the existence of absolute knowledge and skill. Therefore, the knowledge, skill and attitude teachers have should also be revised time and again. The way teachers believe and behave in their personal and professional life should always be as par the recent trend. One of the prime motives behind teachers’ willingness to learn is to become more informed about their field of study so that they can perform better next time they take a class.
The more professional knowledge teachers have, the higher level of student achievement can be obtained. It is directly proportional to student achievement. Professional development also helps teachers to have dignity (self-respect) because it helps them to be competent and gain confidence in their area making their possibility of getting paid higher. Teachers’ professional development and educational reforms are reciprocal because without developing teachers’ competence no plan in the schools can succeed. Therefore, in a broader sense, teachers’ professional development is a vital tool for the reformation in the whole education system of a nation.
Knowing the subject matter, understanding how students learn, and practicing effective teaching methods translate into greater student achievement but focusing on these areas shouldn’t restrict the teachers to the scores gained by the students in the name of higher achievement.
Teachers today are under growing pressure to perform. But most new teachers are not adequately prepared to meet the needs of their students, and many experienced teachers have yet to adapt to new standards .Teachers need to deepen their knowledge and improve their skills if they really want to maintain the dignity of their profession and this can only happen through teachers’ professional development.
Every teacher needs to upgrade his/her skills. One may be skilled at the time of entry in teaching but the things don’t work out the same way throughout his/her career because of the innovation and diversities emerging every day.
It is common and very interesting fact that during the first 4/5 years’ tenure of most of the teachers, the students’ achievement increases and it slowly decreases as the time increases further. It indicates that they are using the gained knowledge and skills during the initial years but lose the track after some time resulting in a low performance by the students. If the teachers try to grow professionally, they can perform even better as they get experienced.
Quality teachers can do a lot irrespective of any other variable affecting the achievement of the students. Therefore, the government and other stake holders should initiate to help the teachers improve their quality as teachers as well as persons.
What do teachers need to know/learn?
Professional development is very much demanding task. To grow professionally in their career, the teachers need to know different things ranging from child development to learning process, subject matter to instructional strategy. Villegas-Reimers (2003) believes that teachers should have the knowledge of the following areas to grow professionally:
- General pedagogical knowledge
- Subject matter knowledge
- Pedagogical content knowledge
- Knowledge about the students
- A repertoire of metaphors
- Knowledge of strategies
- Knowledge of recent technology used in education
The teachers should also learn about various teaching and learning strategies to make their teaching more students friendly. There are many things that the teachers should know besides the classroom teaching strategies – assessment techniques, production of materials, relation between language and culture, how to deal with different problems in the classroom, etc. Wright (2000) claims teacher development involves the following key areas.
- psychology of the self, others and of groups
- managing stress
- coping with changing circumstances and understanding the change process
- motivation – self and others
- physical and psychological well-being
- learning about learning itself
- how spiritual and moral well-being relate to teaching (as cited in Gnawali, 2008).
According to Craig et. Al. (1998) an effective TPD programme has the following characteristics:
- A thorough and participatory needs assessment of teachers and staff is required for the design of an effective TPD;
- The design of an effective TPD program must be derived from an overall strategic vision and framework for the continuous implementation of the professional development effort:
- Teachers, school staffs, and administrators must participate in all atages of planning and implementation. There are also successful examples of community involvement in the earliest stages of TPD planning.
- The curriculum of the TPD program should combine pedagogy and content, rather than overemphasize one or other; and
- There should be a commitment to continuous improvement through ongoing guidance, monitoring and feedback and technical support (Craig et. al., 1998, as cited in MacNeil, 2004)
To sum up, teachers should focus on learning four components if they want to develop professionally: knowledge of content, knowledge of methodology, reason or purpose for teaching, and knowledge of the context.
Peer support as a tool for professional development
Teachers can learn many from their colleagues. In fact, colleagues are the immediate guides for the teacher in case of emergency. They can share their experience with the fellow colleagues so that there can a common solution for the problems raised. Teachers’ narrative inquiry can also be of use for many novice as well as experienced teachers. In this regard, Jonson and Golombek (2002) state:
Narrative inquiry conducted by teachers individually or collectively, tells the stories of teachers’ professional development within their own professional words [.…]If teachers talk about their professional development that discussion itself becomes a step of professional development.
Peer discussions also help them to understand what and how to know about themselves and their work. Narrative inquiry enables teachers to organize, articulate and communicate what they know and believe about teaching and who they have become as teachers (ibid).
Observing others’ classes also helps the teachers, specially the new ones, to learn the way classroom delivery can be made effective. Many a times the teachers may feel that they need a change in the way they are teaching in the classroom but don’t actually have any idea about what to change or introduce. That’s why they need to observe the classes of the other teachers and the importance of peer support comes into effect here. Every teacher, either new or experienced, surely possesses something different than the existing teacher and has to be consulted if teachers really want to improve themselves.
But in our context, it is hardly practiced. Most of the teachers fear that their weaknesses will be revealed if they allow the fellow teacher(s) to observe their classes. They do so because of their ignorance of the benefits peer-observation brings to them. If a culture of support is developed among the teachers in a single school or across schools, teachers’ professional development can easily take a significant move.
Nepal English Teachers Association (NELTA) has provided many English language teachers a platform to share their problems. Its web-based publication-cum-interaction portal Nelta Choutari has further helped its members to come to a single forum to discuss and share their experiences. The Teachers’ Experience/Anecdote section has made it easy for the members to share their experience in different situation. The ‘NELTA model’ can be taken as one of the finest examples of peer support in Nepal.
The HOW factor
As the professional development of a teacher completely depends on the particular teacher who wants to develop, the choice of the types of activities to be conducted is also depended on the same teacher. Wajnryb (1992, as cited in Gnawali, 2008) is of the opinion that teacher development is voluntary and it comes from the individual teacher or the group and that nobody can force teachers to develop. The process differs from person to person. Therefore, there is no fixed model or process of teacher development.
Teacher development is a never-ending task. It starts at the time when an individual has the slightest sense that he/she is going to enter in teaching profession and continues until he/she quits this profession or retires from his/her active life as a teacher. Gnawali (2008) supports this idea and says “Teacher development should start when the teachers are at a novice stage and continue until the end of their career”. During this period, they may be in need of knowledge and skill on various areas. So, they should try to develop the expertise accordingly. The list of activities to be carried can vary on the basis of the level of knowledge, need and demand of the teacher(s) and the available resources.
One of the most effective techniques is journal writing and self-monitoring. These techniques help the teachers learn about their own performance. Reflecting on owns activities is supposed to be one of the most widely used tools for personal and professional growth. But there are many who criticize this on the ground that a teacher may not be able to learn effectively from his own experiences and practices.
MacNeil (2004) assumes networking and inter-school collaboration can help a lot in professional development of the teachers. If the local schools and/or colleges share their experiences with each other, they can solve their common problems easily.
Professional development should be a permanent process of change and growth. In professional development packages, teachers are given new experiences to reflect and learn from (Awashi, 2010). The teachers are supposed to examine his/her teaching systematically and draw conclusions based on their self judgment as well as discussion with the colleagues.
Reflection is one of the vital tools for teacher development and teachers can learn a lot from reflection. Mann (2005, as cited in Soproni, 2008) also lists reflection, research, self monitoring and self-evaluation as vital sources of development.
Professional development is never an easy task. It needs a rigorous and careful planning and practice. In the literature, professional development is characterized as a stressful, painful but unavoidable phenomenon. It is also regarded as closely tied to teachers’ experience. For development to take place it is crucial for a teacher to enter into a dialogue with their experience, to turn the experiential knowledge into propositional knowledge (Bond et al., 1993, as cited in Soproni, 2008)
Awasthi (2010) proposes two types of experiences that can be utilized by teachers for professional development:
- Formal: attending workshops and professional meetings, mentoring, attending university classes, participating training sessions, etc.
- Informal: Reading professional publications, watching TV documentaries, etc.
Teachers associations can also help teachers in their professional development. These associations can organize trainings, work-shops, seminars, discussions, conferences to help their members grow professionally.
Teacher training as a tool for professional development
Earlier in-service teacher training was taken as professional development but there are many more models used these days. In-service teacher training is essential but not sufficient for professional development of teachers. Many people take teachers’ professional development as synonymous to teacher training. In fact, teacher training is just one ways of teacher development. There is a distinction between initial training, in-service training and continuous professional development.
As professional development is not possible in a single training course, whether pre-service or in-service, teachers need skills to lead their own development as their career advances. Teacher training certainly helps teachers to grow professionally but it is very difficult for the concerned authorities to provide the teachers with timely teacher training packages. In fact, the teachers themselves should work continuously to learn new ideas and skills. Too much dependency in teacher training had led to a state of ‘no development’ in countries like Nepal where the teachers don’t realize the importance of autonomous and continuous development.
Teacher training, either pre-service or in-service, should only be taken as one of the means of teacher development and the teachers should keep on searching for the other ways to grow.
Action research as a tool for professional development
Since teachers are the people who know what is happening in the ground level, they should take initiatives to solve the problem that arise in the classroom. The fundamental thing is that the teachers have to ask themselves several questions and try to answer them in the classroom experimenting with the new things.
Many teachers fear that the introduction of the new method or technique in the class may not make the students and the school administration happy. But if they want to be the agents of change in their field, they have to have this much courage. One of the solutions to this fear can be to introduce the new elements gradually not to change everything in a single class or session. So, they should adopt the policy of ‘wait and see’. If they see the new element having positive (or sometimes neutral) effect on the students and the administrators, they should give it a ‘go’ thought but if the opposite happens they should avoid the element for the moment and try another one. This is the true spirit of action research and much can be learned this way.
The findings gained from action research can be shared with the other teachers so that it can further be applied in another classroom setting by a new group of teachers.
Role of schools/colleges and society
It is very important for the teachers to get support from the school/college they are working at present. Highlighting the role of the schools and colleges, Villega-Reimers (2003) states:
Teacher development programmes can not be successful unless the schools support it wholeheartedly. Teaching is a collaborative activity and needs support from various sectors like the school, society, local authority, etc.
The society has important roles in helping the teachers develop professionally and teachers and schools should also have sense of responsibility towards the local community. This cycle of responsibility forces both the parties to work for the mutual benefit. The working conditions of teachers and the learning environment in schools also determines the level of professional development of the teachers
In order to develop teaching as a reputed profession, teachers need to be prepared, perceived and treated as professional. But in doing so the teachers’ role is most important because it is up to them how they want others to take them. The teachers have to work really hard to maintain their professional skills updated and work for the betterment of the society. The society can never turn its back towards the problems of the teachers if they think that the teachers are making some efforts to help the society progress educating their children.
The society also plays role in helping teachers grow professionally. If the professional teachers get high level of respect and are liked in the society, more teachers show their willingness to develop professional qualities. The society can also pressurize the teachers to meet their expectations in different forms like parents teachers meetings, informal discussions.
TPD and teacher associations
Teachers’ associations can play a great role in making the teachers professional. They can organize trainings, seminars, work-shops, conferences and make their members updated with the recent trends in education. But in Nepal, most of the teachers’ associations have just been working as the means to fulfill the political agenda of one or the other political parties. Though they boast of working for the teachers’ development, there are hardly any programmes they conduct for such development.
Planning and implementing professional development opportunities for teachers is a challenging task and needs a lot of hard work and determination on the part of all the stakeholders. Follow-up, support and pressure by the guardians and authorities also helps teachers develop professionally and teachers associations can and should play vital role in this move.
Challenges of TPD in Nepal
Professionalism is very difficult to find in Nepalese education field. One of the reasons behind the poor performance by the public school teachers in Nepal is that they hardly bother for their professional development. The government and other stakeholders have also neglected this area. But how can we expect a teacher to perform better without making even the least effort to upgrade his/her knowledge and skills?
Many teachers don’t even know the basic things about profession and professional growth and retire without knowing what teaching is and what it is for. They spend their whole life (career?) doing just a ‘job’.
Another challenge is the load that the teachers have to carry in their school/s/colleges. They have to take six to eight lessons a day and have to do the correction work of the exercise books of their students as well. So they hardly get any time to think about anything else let alone the professional development.
To sum up, the major problems for the professional development of the teachers in Nepal are: unwillingness of the teachers, financial constrains, apathy of the school management towards teacher development, poor monitoring system, etc.
The way ahead
Every problem has some solution and so has TPD. The teachers in Nepal have not been able to make themselves professional but they can certainly do it if there is a willingness to do so. Some teachers really want to develop in this way and are also trying to but because of various constraints they have not succeeded in that.
In Germany, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Japan, teachers have time in each day or week when they do not work with children but, instead, plan curriculum and lessons and evaluate one another’s teaching (McRobbie, 2000). The teachers in Nepal should also be provided with sufficient time and opportunity to discuss with other teachers so that they learn from people from their own profession.
The teachers associations should work for the development of the profession rather than as the agents of the political parties. They can really make a big difference provided they transfer themselves into professional bodies.
The government policies should also address this issue and should design programmes to keep the teachers professionally fit. The current ritualistic training packages should go through a serious change to take the shape of effective professional development packages.
Moreover, the teachers themselves should be conscious about the benefits they can have through professional growth. They should be busy thinking about innovative ways of professional development not just the career growth.
Teaching is life long journey of learning rather than a final destination of ‘knowing’ how to teach. This is the main mantra behind professional development movement. Teachers should be in a constant journey of learning and relearning throughout their career.
It is a collaborative process and sharing of knowledge among educators helps them grow together. At the same time, it should be connected to other aspects of school change not just the classroom teaching.
Teachers associations and school networks should work hand in hand for teachers’ development as McRobbie (2000) states “collaboration can help ensure that lessons are more highly polished, students’ needs are better met, and curriculum is cohesive from year to year”.
In Nepal, we don’t find much difference between the teachers in their initial years as teachers and the experienced ones. It’s all because of the lack of professional development. The teachers hardly have time and motivation for their personal and professional development and fail to develop as successful teachers in course of time. Otherwise, if there is an incessant and sincere effort made it, is not that difficult to develop professionally in today’s technology-driven world.
Piecemeal teacher development policies are not beneficial to the teachers .So there should be a concrete and life-long policy for the teachers to develop constantly.
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