Managing Professional Learning and Development in Primary Schools

Teaching is a complex and demanding profession. Teachers require high quality support and training throughout their careers to ensure they have the strategies and skills to meet the needs of learners. Professional learning and development (PLD) is central to maintaining and improving teacher quality.

This is one of two national reports by the Education Review Office (ERO) on how well schools manage teachers’ PLD. This one about PLD in primary schools and the other is on secondary schools.

PLD refers to all the formal and informal processes used to improve the knowledge and practice of teachers. It includes more formal and specifically structured courses and initiatives as well as less formal collaboration and discussion between colleagues. The central purposes of professional learning and development are to improve the quality of teaching and to improve student outcomes.

While many different forms of training and development are undertaken by teachers, (including training to update curriculum knowledge or to develop particular technical skills), improving what happens in the classroom is the dominant rationale for PLD.

This report discusses how well primary schools:

  • plan for PLD;
  • build a culture in which teachers learn and develop; and
  • monitor the effectiveness of teachers’ learning and development.

There is a wide variation in the quality of PLD programmes and management. Using a consistent set of indicators based largely on the Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration, ERO found that schools fell into three groups based on their ability to develop and manage a high quality PLD programme.

Thirty-eight percent of primary schools demonstrated the characteristics of high quality PLD management. These schools aligned their PLD with well-informed school priorities. They had a school culture in which professional learning was fostered and supported by school leaders. These schools had self-review systems to monitor and evaluate the impact of their PLD investment on improving the quality of teaching and student outcomes.

Another 40 percent of schools shared some common aspects with the schools that managed their PLD well. There were, however, differences in the effectiveness of their decision-making and in the level of teachers’ involvement in and commitment to planned professional development. Schools in this group were unlikely to have sound systems to monitor and evaluate the impact of PLD on the quality of teaching and improved student outcomes.

PLD was not well managed in 22 percent of schools. There were many areas in these schools where systems and processes could be improved. Although most teachers in these schools had some form of professional development, this was generally reactive and had limited links to identified priorities. PLD programmes were generally based on the availability of courses or initiatives, and lacked a good mix of needs-based and facilitated professional learning. Poorly developed self review-systems hampered the ability of these schools to determine the effectiveness of their programmes.

The key challenges faced by schools included: taking on too many PLD programmes or initiatives at one time; problems associated with the availability and quality of facilitators; not considering strategies and perspectives to help Māori and Pacific students to learn; and not allocating sufficient time to embed new practices in day-to-day classroom teaching. For small, relatively isolated schools, there were constraints associated with accessibility and costs of professional development.

The quality of PLD management is central to the benefit teachers derive from the learning opportunities made available to them. Schools with good systems to manage PLD can demonstrate the impact their programmes are having on improved teacher practice and student outcomes. However, variability in the quality of PLD management signals a place for guidelines to support schools in managing their PLD programmes.

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