The Evolution of Professional Learning

April 3, 2012

Today’s post is written by Rowena Dudgeon, Director of Academic Care and Learning in a school on Sydney’s North Shore. You can follow Row on Twitter. I found her by stalking my friend’s list of people she followed and later had the privilege of meeting Row at a ‘PD’ day. Her Twitter handle (as we say) is @rdudgeon

Please enjoy reading and feel free to add your comments to this post.

When I first started teaching in 1994, I recall my first forays into what was then termed ‘Professional Development’ or PD as it was known. PD came at the beginning of every term on a pupil free day or on a day at the end of each term. These days consisted of some department time where I tidied my desk and glanced over some programs for the following term. The highlight (apart from the free lunch provided by the school!) was listening to a keynote speaker who spoke at the staff for 2 hours about a new fandangled way to engage students in the classroom. There would always be some excited discussion about what we had heard, but then we all took off for the holidays, never to remember or implement any of the key strategies we heard. I loved PD day!

Professional Development also took the form of outsourced PD via external organisations. I recall staff joking that they chose their PD course on what was on offer for lunch. Fridays were also great days to attend external PD courses, because you could always duck out early for Friday night drinks!

Outsourced PD consisted of a staff member applying to attend a course in an area that they needed further training in such as ICT, or in a curriculum area that would provide teaching strategies to improve the delivery of content to students. Often staff were routinely sent to the Annual Conferences or General Meetings of their teaching associations and this would be their allocated hours of PD for the year. On return to school, staff would give a brief synopsis of their PD course to other colleagues in their department at a scheduled department meeting in the hope that the information would be diffused to their colleagues and to be used in their classrooms and somehow this would improve the learning outcomes of their students. There was never any accountability or links to an overall teaching and learning goal – PD was ad hoc and poorly managed.

This all might sound funny and looking back it was laughable, but the cost to the school of this PD was enormous and for very little benefit to staff or students. At its heart, this type of PD never developed a culture of learning in schools, and in fact was completely opposed to good models of teaching and learning.

Professional Development has come a long way since then and even the term Professional Development has evolved to be known as Professional Learning (PL).

Professional Learning in many schools continues to follow the old models of outsourcing and staff being spoken at by someone in the know up the front. However, there is increasingly a shift from this type of PL to a more collaborative and personalised PL that is driven by technology and the uprising of teacher centered PL. Teachers are now connecting, collaborating and doing it for themselves via social media.

Twitter and web 2.0 tools such as blogging, and other types of discussion forums such as Edmodo and even Facebook, are changing the PL landscape. Teachers themselves are taking control of their own professional learning and are learning from each other, beyond the school gate and beyond the constraints of articulated, formalized training. Teachers are finding a voice and are leading learning for themselves and among themselves.

The rise across Australia of ‘Teachmeet’, a grassroots, viral, teacher centered and driven, collaborative, Professional Learning Network was born via Twitter. Teachmeet has become an avenue for teachers to explore the rapid change technology is having on classroom practice and pedagogy. Often these teachers are far ahead of their schools (and executive) in exploring new uses of technology in the classroom and strategies to engage their students. I call these teachers ‘lighthouse’ teachers and they often lead the way in generating and diffusing innovation in schools. They become leaders of learning and Principals would be wise to foster the energy and passion of these teachers, as they foster a culture of learning among staff.

PL can no longer be static, but must embrace and respond to the rapidly changing educational landscape. PL cannot operate in isolation and must branch out beyond individual school communities – collaboration both online and face-to-face is key. PL should also not just happen at the beginning and the end of a school term, it should be ongoing and available on a needs basis, hence why a vehicle like Twitter encourages a culture of learning in schools.

How do you see the future of PL? Are you learning more via social media than what your school provides in the way of PL? What social media PL are you involved in and how does it help your ongoing PL? Share your stories of changes you have seen in PL at your school.



  1. Hi Row and Clare
    Loving the blog and the brilliant posts already within it! I love your comment Row, “PL should also not just happen at the beginning and the end of a school term, it should be ongoing and available on a needs basis, hence why a vehicle like Twitter encourages a culture of learning in schools.” I couldn’t agree more. PL needs to be regular, it needs to be real and it needs to be relevant. I’m so inspired by the sharing and networking exhibited throughTwitter and TeachMeets..people sharing a little of what works for them and then selecting something new to try with your own cohort. Twitter keeps me fresh, it challenges my thinking and I can turn it on and off. That said, it can also psych you out if you let it – there is so much available, the art is in integrating it effectively, not just jamming as much of it into your program as you can.

    I’d like to see the walls blocking social media in schools come down. I’d like to see more regular showcasing of what works. I’d like to see peer coaching. I’d like to see cross department sharing. I’d like to see PD run in smaller break out rooms where sessions are run weekly and staff can turn up to learn something new. I’d like to see Twitter hastags shared.
    There is so much we can participate in. I recently spoke to a teacher who said if it wasn’t for Twitter and the ‘commons’ idea of sharing then she would probably have left teaching. This person is an innovative teacher who I respect and value. Thank goodness she discovered her PLN in time. She is now a valued member of my PLN.

  2. […] connecting flight, making the best use possible of the free wifi when a tweet came from my friend, Row. She knows I am doing research for university about how educators can use Web 2.0 to build PLN. […]

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