Professional Learning for teachers is varied and responsive to individuals' needs. Structured programs are available alongside more flexible programs where teachers identify their own learning needs. To complement the variety of programs, there are a number of approaches to learning which can be tailored appropriately to fit the individuals' requirements.
Tried and tested professional learning strategies can, when implemented effectively, improve teacher practice and student learning. For more information on two such learning options, see:
A guide is also available to help you build your research knowledge, skills and practice. It contains essential readings, key organisations and recommended publications. See:
Teachers as Researchers – Reading Guide (pdf - 1.48mb)
Action research can support teachers, as researchers, to investigate and better understand their work. It is participative in that the researcher is also the practitioner - the teacher. The examination of teacher practice drives the action research process. While action research can provide learnings about the practice of teaching it can also influence policy decisions.
The action research process is a cycle based on continuous learning. The cycle involves selecting the focus area, planning, implementing and acting on the plan, observing and collecting data, analysing, reflecting, re-planning and responding by taking new action. For more information, see:
Using Action Research in your Teacher Professional Leave (Word - 55Kb)
The National Staff Development Council also provides useful information on Action Research, see:
Professional Learning Teams
Professional Learning Teams can contribute significantly to schools becoming learning communities by fostering a culture of collaboration and collective responsibility for the development of effective teaching practices.
Teams need to carefully plan the process they follow to achieve their objectives. This process must include strategies for collecting student outcomes data, the preparation of action plans, procedures for implementation, and methods of evaluating the impact of their work on teacher practice and student learning.
Teams also need to be aware of requirements for successful team work, including - someone with high level leadership skills, time to meet regularly and reflect in a meaningful way, and support from the school leadership team.
Developing the trust and capacity to work collaboratively is very important for the success of Professional Learning Teams. It takes time and persistence. Teachers must be prepared to experiment, take risks, make mistakes and suffer setbacks. For more information, see:
Working in Teams (PDF - 305Kb)
Types of Professional Learning Teams
Case discussions provide teams of teachers with the opportunity to reflect on teaching and learning by examining narrative stories or videotapes that depict school, classroom, teaching or learning situations.
Cases are usually brief, rough and ready evidence of what students have done, said or written in class. They focus on events such as a teaching dilemma, students engaged in an inquiry based activity, images of student thought processes, or teaching strategies in action.
The cases normally describe the context of the class, what the teacher intended to do, and what actually happened, using pieces of dialogue and student work where necessary. The final part of the written case is analytical and reflective, using the evidence to clearly identify the problem or dilemma for discussion.
Teams engage in discussion about the case. They ask what might be confusing or difficult from the point of view of the teacher or student, note their insights and then, for example, write them on butcher's paper in order to focus the discussion.
Study groups engage in regular collaborative interactions around topics identified by the group. This provides opportunities to reflect on classroom practice and analyse student learning data. Groups can also read and discuss educational research publications in a collaborative and supportive environment, over an extended period of time.
Groups can pursue topics ranging from assessment and pedagogy to whole-school reform. For example, a group may focus on learning more about assessing students’ understanding of key concepts. They may discuss research they have read, look at assessment examples they have developed and critique their appropriateness.
Study groups can have different aims. They may be directed towards implementing strategies learnt in seminars and workshops; discussing research and how it can be applied in the classroom; or, investigating the implementation of new teaching strategies.
Study groups should follow a structured problem-solving cycle to focus their work and make effective use of their time.
Examining Student Work
Carefully examining students' work to understand their thinking permits teachers to develop appropriate learning and teaching strategies and materials. When examining students' work, teachers confront problems and issues they face in classrooms on a daily basis.
The most fruitful discussions result from examining students' work that is varied in nature and quality, for example, written work from several students in relation to the same assignment, and includes students’ explanations of their thinking. Written responses, drawings, graphs, charts, journals or portfolios can be used.
It is important that teams identify a focus or goal for their work by asking what they want to learn from the students' work and what outcomes they expect. Students' work that relates directly to the identified goal and outcomes is then selected.
The team member with responsibility for providing the students' work (a task that needs to be rotated for each session) also needs to provide documentation at the session related to the objectives of the task to which students responded. The learning strategy or assessment strategies associated with the students' work, or any other information that helps participants better understand the context in which the student completed the work, should also be provided.
The team then reflects on the implications of what is learned for teaching. The discussions highlight the ways in which the teachers can enhance their teaching based on what they have learned about student understanding of important concepts.
For more information, see: