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Professional Development in Education

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Professional development meeting the

aspirations and needs of individuals:
what is the reality in this policy-driven
Alex Alexandrou Associate Editor
Published online: 04 Mar 2014.

To cite this article: Alex Alexandrou Associate Editor (2014) Professional development meeting
the aspirations and needs of individuals: what is the reality in this policy-driven era?, Professional
Development in Education, 40:2, 183-189, DOI: 10.1080/19415257.2014.887910

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Professional Development in Education, 2014
Vol. 40, No. 2, 183189,

Professional development meeting the aspirations and needs of
individuals: what is the reality in this policy-driven era?

During the compilation of this collection of articles, the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) published the Programme for International
Student Assessment (PISA) survey results for 2012 (OECD 2013). The predictable
maelstrom followed in educational and political circles, with politicians and policy
wonks either decrying the state and failure of their educational systems or celebrat-
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ing the perceived effectiveness of their education policies based on their respective
nations position in the PISA standings. In many cases, educators and school lead-
ers were either castigated for the perceived failure or the results were used as a
platform to promote further change and reform, as evidenced by the following
statement to the UK Parliament following the publication of the 2012 PISA results
by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education in England:

Although the quality of our teachers is improving, todays league tables sadly show that
that is not enough. When people ask why if teachers are better than ever we need to
press ahead with further reform to the system, todays results make the case more elo-
quently than any number of speeches. Since the 1990s, our performance in these league
tables has been, at best stagnant, and, at worst, declining. In the latest results, we are 21st
in the world for science, 23rd for reading and 26th for mathematics. For all the well-inten-
tioned efforts of past Governments, we are still falling further behind the best-performing
school systems in the world. In Shanghai and Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong
indeed even in Taiwan and Vietnam children are learning more and performing better
with every year that passes, leaving our children behind in the global race. That matters
because business is more mobile than ever, and employers are more determined than ever
to seek out the best-qualied workers. Global economic pressures, far from leading to a
race to the bottom, are driving nations to pursue educational excellence more energetically
than ever before. Todays league tables show that nations that have had the courage to
radically reform their education systems, such as Germany and Poland, have signicantly
improved their performance and their childrens opportunities (Gove 2013)

Michael Gove (2013) went on to outline what he termed the ve pillars of reform
securing greater social justice; creating a more aspirational curriculum; eliminat-
ing illiteracy; greater autonomy for principals; and increased accountability and
freedom for principals to recruit and reward the best staff. He argued the:

programme of reform that we have set out draws on what happens in the best
school systems identied today by the OECD because we want nothing but the
best for our children. Unless we can provide them with a school system that is one of
the best in the world, we will not give them the opportunities they need to ourish
and succeed. (Gove 2013)

Thus, PISA and other international comparative studies such as Trends in

International Mathematics and Science Study, and Progress in International Reading

2014 International Professional Development Association (IPDA)

184 Editorial

Literacy Study (both administered by the International Association for the Evalua-
tion of Educational Achievement) are undoubtedly driving the educational agenda
at national and international levels, to such an extent nations (as witnessed by the
above statement) have and will design their education systems and introduce major
curriculum reform to ensure they can compete effectively both in global economic
terms and in the OECD and International Association for the Evaluation of Educa-
tional Achievement educational league tables. Obviously, this is linked to how
nations will fare in the ever-demanding and competitive global economy where
what is required is a well-educated, technologically savvy and globally aware work-
force that can keep up with the nature and pace of change. This was clearly high-
lighted in a recent speech by the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who
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Today, a nations prosperity depends on its peoples ability to thrive in the global
marketplace. This is true for the U.S. and for our neighbors across the globe And
that makes it more important than ever to provide all students with a well-rounded,
world-class education including opportunities to gain global competencies and world
language skills; to understand other cultures These new realities have helped shape
our federal education agenda Were encouraging great teaching at every level, and
helping shape the next generation of strong teachers and school leaders Clearly,
one aim is ensuring our workforce and our country have what it takes to lead in the
new economy. Trans-global communication and commerce are a growing part of the
daily work, in large and small businesses, all across the country. But right now, far
too many companies struggle to nd employees with the right global skills. Today
[18 November 2013] marks the launch of an interactive online map that helps us
think about Americas deep ties to the world beyond our borders; underscores the
need for international education and world languages; and can help us chart state and
local progress in preparing a globally-competent workforce It pulls from a wide
range of data sources, links economic statistics with educational and demographic
indicators I believe tools like this will help us all better understand the current and
growing demand for globally-competent workers. And, this map can go beyond just a
snapshot of our current state; it can help us to plan and improve I believe this tool
can help us think differently in areas ranging from education and economic develop-
ment policies, to teacher professional development priorities, to K-12 and postsecond-
ary course offerings. (Duncan 2013)

Amanda Ripley (2013), in her book entitled The Smartest Kids in the World and
How They Got That Way, addresses the concerns outlined by the two inuential
politicians above, by examining how the education systems in Finland, Poland and
South Korea have reformed and succeeded, particularly in terms of PISA league
standings and aiding economic performance improvements. It is clear the reforms
in these nations have been policy driven based on the acceptance the school
systems were failing both children and the economy. However, what was equally
striking was the role and position of teachers and school leaders in these respective
nations were paramount, with a signicant emphasis on their selection, training and
development allied to strict accountability.
The above discussion demonstrates that in the current national and international
policy climate, the professional development of educators is paramount if school
systems in particular are able to meet the aspirations of not only their political mas-
ters but also those of parents and students. This situation resonates with the articles
in this issue that emanate from Canada, England, Lebanon, Trinidad and Tobago
and the USA. Four clear themes emerge from this collection. Firstly, professional
Professional Development in Education 185

development activities, courses and initiatives must adhere to policy and reform pri-
orities. Secondly, professional development and learning must connect and engage
participating practitioners from an emotional and intellectual perspective. Thirdly,
the subject matter must have contextual, cultural and practical relevance. Fourthly,
professional development and learning activities should be grounded in adult learn-
ing concepts and theories. These may seem obvious but, as I have pointed out in a
previous editorial (Alexandrou 2013), there are many instances where practitioners
emerge wounded from a professional development and/or learning experience.
In the rst article, Burstow and Finch bring into sharp focus the relationship
between policy and professional development from an English perspective, with a
challenging piece that discusses what they regard as the false dichotomy in the cur-
rent policy discourse in terms of teaching as craft and teaching as profession. This
is achieved, rstly, through a philosophical discussion of craft and profession; and,
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secondly, underpinning it conceptually with a discussion of various professional

development cycles that looks at the relationship of elements such as reection,
practice, theory, empirical research and dissemination. This is then linked to what
has turned out to be the short-lived postgraduate programme, the Masters in
Teaching and Learning. This programme was introduced and funded by the
previous Labour administration with the intention of offering a more practice-based
masters programme, which then had its funding and support withdrawn by the
current ConservativeLiberal Democrat Coalition Government.
The authors bring into sharp focus the ongoing discussions of teaching as a
masters profession and what type of masters study teachers should be engaged in
namely academic or practice-based. There is no doubt the article questions the
motivations of government getting so closely involved in directing or, as some may
argue, dictating the professional development of teachers, as there are elements of
control and performance management in place. Additionally, the article gets to the
heart of another key debate in English education, regarding the role higher educa-
tion institutions play in educating, developing and training the teaching workforce
of the future. They are being marginalised by the Coalition Governments School
Direct policy, which it states is a response to what schools have asked for:
more inuence and control over the way teachers are trained (Department for Edu-
cation 2013a) and that by 2015 will full its aspiration for schools to lead the
training of half of all new teachers (Department for Education 2013b). This ties in
with the central theme of the article teaching as craft or profession and what part
theory should play in the professional development of teachers. Certainly food for
thought and an issue that will surface later in another article.
Lauer et al. have conducted a major and thorough international narrative review
to identify the design features of effective short-term face-to-face professional devel-
opment events, with a particular emphasis on the design of the learning process.
This review is timely: rstly, as it adds to the debate on the effectiveness and impact
or otherwise of such professional development activities; and, secondly, in this era
of nancial constraints and policy imperatives based around standardised testing and
performance, the type, content and delivery of such activities will undoubtedly be of
signicant interest to stakeholders at local and national levels who have to make
decisions as to which to invest in. The authors identied a number of common
learning activities such as presentations, group discussions, demonstrations,
modelling of skills and small-group study. The authors found that when short-term
professional development and learning initiatives were planned and focused in terms
186 Editorial

of concentrating on either developing specic skills or getting a certain message

across, this proved to be effective. Firstly, in engaging and motivating the partici-
pants; secondly, in terms of the participants adapting and improving their practice;
and thirdly, there was follow-up support that further embedded and supplemented
the original learning experience. Lauer et al. also found the positive learning
activities they identied in their study aligned with adult learning concepts.
Nabhani et al. examine teacher professional development in Lebanese private
schools from the perspective of principals, who are the key decision-makers when
it comes to the professional development of teachers. One of the driving factors for
such an examination is the ongoing educational reform based on the policy prerog-
atives of having an educational system that can develop and educate the future
workforce, particularly from a technological perspective. This article breaks new
ground as the subject matter has not been investigated from this perspective and it
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identies some entrenched and traditional views that show much work has to be
done in this part of the Lebanese school system. For example, the authors found
the participating principals were unaware of embedded strategies and the impor-
tance of professional development in terms of school improvement and renewal.
However, they did recognise professional development was critical in terms of
relevance, practicality and follow-up actions were essential, helping teachers to be
self-empowered and developing their pedagogical expertise. Interestingly, Nabhani
et al. also make a connection with the need to link professional development activi-
ties to adult learning concepts and theories. However, the authors conclude the
Lebanese school system is not designed to promote teachers ongoing learning and
that a paradigm shift is required if embedded strategies are to be adopted.
Using action research, Herbert and Rainford present a study of two teacher edu-
cators working with a science teacher in Trinidad and Tobago. The focus of their
work was to identify how they as teacher educators can full their responsibilities
for facilitating professional development for the teachers they train and what they
could learn about professional development in terms of situating learning in the
context of practice. As with all the articles in this collection, this piece is under-
pinned by educational reform with the emphasis that children can and must learn.
Additionally, there are key linkages to adult learning theory, but what is more sig-
nicant is the in-depth manner in which the learning journey of the teacher is
described. It is a very personal account that not only features the voice of the tea-
cher but also their students. The reader gains a signicant understanding of the
manner in which the teacher engages with the teacher educators and the students in
terms of reecting upon and changing their practice. Trust and collaboration are
key elements of the relationship between the three main players in this article. This
leads to an organic relationship developing that serves all three of them well in
terms of ensuring transformational practice from a teacher and teacher educator per-
Petrarca and Bullock are two Canadian early-career teacher educators who con-
tinue the theme of embarking on a learning journey as they describe and reect on
examining their own pedagogy through collaborative self-study. This is a very open
and illuminating article that chronicles their transition from teacher to teacher
educator. It leads them to challenge their assumptions and practice in a very open
manner with the ultimate goal of developing their pedagogy to improve the learn-
ing experiences of their students. They wrestle with a number of issues that put
into perspective the complex nature of working within academic structures with
Professional Development in Education 187

practitioner-minded individuals. They battle with the assumption that teaching is a

transmission-only process; how and what type of professional development they
should engage in to enhance their practice; their identity as teacher educators; and
their relationship with their aspiring teacher students. As with the preceding article,
they utilise their voices to good effect to make a number of pertinent points. This
is notable, in terms of tackling the issue of theory in practice and then wrestling
with this in terms of the sessions they develop, plan and run. They highlight the
tension of how they attempt to get their students to adopt a more theoretical-based
approach to their studies. They conclude that through self-study a critical friendship
has emerged which has allowed them to reect and develop practice, particularly in
terms of transforming how they develop the relationship between theory and prac-
tice. This was not an easy journey for them and, as they state, Teaching teachers
is neither simple nor straightforward.
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Flory et al. examine professional development from a different but signicant

perspective. Using health education as the underpinning subject matter, they utilised
a cultural competence framework to examine the perspectives of US urban teachers
in relation to culturally competent professional development. Their paper picks up
on the argument that teaching and professional development cannot be based
merely on the transmission of information model. However, of greater importance,
this article highlights and discusses sensitive cultural issues based around ethnic
heritage. The authors found that for urban teachers to actively and positively
engage in health education professional development, they can utilise to good effect
with their students a number of key factors that have to be considered and acted
upon. Firstly, there is a need for diverse and credible professional development
trainers, which is currently not the case, with many coming from a white middle-
class background. Secondly, the curricula that were at the core of the professional
development the participants engaged in require one to be culturally competent and
sensitive, as there were numerous examples of information and materials position-
ing certain ethnic minority communities negatively. Additionally, the authors found
that, as with other articles in this collection, follow-up activities are crucial to
ensure the impact on practice and momentum are maintained long after the profes-
sional development activity has been completed. They argue the evidence they
present adds weight to the current argument that teacher-driven professional devel-
opment is far more effective. Thus, providers must be cognisant of the voices and
experiences of urban teachers based on their cultural background, setting and the
students they serve.
The nal major article in this collection analyses principal development prac-
tices in Georgia, USA, through the lens of adult learning theory. Zepeda et al.
claim this is a new approach to studying this type of professional development.
They argue that through greater accountability there is a key policy objective in
ensuring principals receive the professional development they require in their ever
more complex and demanding role. Based on interviews with superintendents, dep-
uty superintendents, directors of human resources and principals, the authors have
built up a picture of the formal and informal professional development activities
principals and other leaders are engaged in. Activities included dealing with succes-
sion planning; developing existing leaders; and mentoring and team-building.
Ongoing professional development was identied as being crucial and it should be
job-embedded. The activities took many forms varying from regular meetings to
leadership academies. Zepeda et al. identied that leadership development was not
188 Editorial

conned to principals in the four school districts selected for this study. There was
signicant emphasis of development activity at all levels within the leadership hier-
archy, most notably in relation to teacher leaders. All four districts acknowledged
the importance of developing their teacher leaders. This chimes with the journals
identication of the importance of teacher leadership and professional development
(Alexandrou and Swafeld 2012, 2013). However, one of the drawbacks for the
principals involved in this study is their professional development is driven,
selected and provided by the school districts based on policy imperatives. They are
unable to direct their own professional development and, as the authors argue, they
require greater autonomy to do so. However, is this realistic in the current account-
ability and standardised test system they work in? A dilemma that will undoubtedly
tax all of the relevant stakeholders and create further debate in relation to the con-
nection between adult learning theories and professional development.
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This collection concludes with a short viewpoint article by Hodge, who reports
on a professional development initiative in the USA. The author argues classroom-
based professional development is more effective when embedded in the instruc-
tional context of the classroom. To develop this argument, Hodge discusses how a
classroom-based professional development programme, developed and run for teach-
ers who were integrating a game-based learning environment, inuenced teaching,
learning and motivation. The key aspect of this article is the whole process was tied
to the Common Core Standards policy initiative introduced by the National Gover-
nors Association and the Council of Chief State School Ofcers. This initiative has
been adopted by almost all US states and is about what K12 students should know
in English and mathematics by the end of each grade. Without doubt there are
linkages not only to the international tests such as PISA but also and more tellingly
to economic terms, as the following explanation from the National Governors
Association and the Council of Chief State School Ofcers shows:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what
students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to
help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world,
reecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college
and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities
will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy. (National
Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Ofcers 2010)

Another example of professional development being inextricably linked to policy,

particularly as the teachers interviewed for this piece of research stated how they
informed the students of the connections between the games-based learning activi-
ties and the Common Core Standards.
As we are celebrating the 40th year of the journal, I took the opportunity to
read the editorials of volumes 1120, which make up the second decade of Profes-
sional Development in Education. What is clear is certain themes emerge: the quest
for ongoing improvement; the purpose of professional development; the type and
duration of professional development; who should be involved in developing and
running professional development initiatives, courses and programmes; the relation-
ship of schools and higher education institutions in relation to the training and
development of pre-service and in-service teachers; funding; the need for compre-
hensive induction for new teachers; and the creeping spectre of policy intervention
in professional development. Some may say plus a change, and they may well be
Professional Development in Education 189

right, but I will leave you with a thought from Lee et al., who in their editorial in
Volume 20, Number 1, demonstrate foresight, a sense of reality and encapsulate
how policy and professional development should interact when they state:

In looking forward to the millennium, governments are re-examining the purposes of

education and its place in the development of healthy economies in particular. It is as
well, at this point, to recognise that there are other purposes which serve the interests
of the nation and that these relate to social and personal development. If we wish to
live in a just, harmonious society which recognises and values diversity of culture, tal-
ent and achievement, then we need to recognise the crucial roles that teachers, the
schools greatest asset, play in inuencing children, young people, and adults through-
out their lives. In the 1990s value addedness of schooling is widely accepted. What
is not always recognised is that teachers themselves, if they are to contribute to the
health of the nation, must be provided with continuing, positive and properly funded
quality opportunities for their development. (Lee et al. 1994, p. 4)
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Alex Alexandrou
Associate Editor