Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 39, No. 4, 383–399, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article reports on the experiences of teachers who have had Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in Europe. The teachers' views address two research questions:
(1) What sorts of CPD activities did teachers engage with?
(2) To what extent did teachers find these activities useful?
The participants were ten Norwegian, nine German and eight English teachers, who participated in a previous study which explored the variety and depth of experiences they have had of CPD.
Specifically these teachers’ views shed light on the extent to which these experiences have addressed their professional needs and/or the professional needs of the institutions in which they work.
Data were collected through semi-structured questionnaires and face-to-face and telephone interviews.
The experiences of professional development articulated by the teachers in these three European locations vary.
However, in most cases, teachers interviewed in this study identified not just a huge variation in their experience of professional development.
According to these teachers, their professional development would appear to be neither systematic nor particularly successful.
Furthermore, accountability is checked by the sorts of appraisals mentioned by many of these teachers.
In many cases these are based on targets and observations, which can be used to apply pressure on individuals to take part in staff development, or indeed be used by teachers as its justification.
For example, the Norwegian teachers were often disappointed with the facilitation and outcome of professional development activities.
Several factors account for why these Norwegian teachers seem to experience fewer professional developmental opportunities.
The findings certainly highlight the fact that there is less awareness of outside agencies for these teachers.
In the Norwegian case, collaborative learning was particularly prevalent, in part, because more time was given over to meetings that enable such opportunities.
Norwegian teachers expressed these informal arrangements as powerful examples of situated learning emphasising the importance of collaboration and mutual support above that of the more formal organised activities they encountered in school.
Furthermore, the Norwegian curriculum is not as prescriptive as the English National Curriculum, offering, on the one hand greater freedom for Norwegian teachers to choose what and how they teach while simultaneously making it harder for publishers, educational consultants and others to provide support that is commercially sustainable.
Little by way of formalized staff development was made available to the German teachers. This availability tended to be taken up on a voluntary basis by staff, usually in their own time. The combination of the German federal structure, a tripartite system of education and schools possessing relative curricular autonomy means that, as in Norway, it is considerably more difficult than in England to provide CPD for teachers that is commercially viable.
Meetings take place akin to the appraisals that teachers experience in England, but these are far less regular, are not directly tied into the performance management of the teacher.
The German teachers displayed relatively little knowledge of the availability of professional development opportunities outside the school, beyond frequent reference to teacher unions and publishers.
This limited supply of external CPD courses is matched by relatively low levels of demand for extended professional development, such as Master’s degree courses.
It would appear therefore that, despite changes in government policy regarding the requirement for teachers to engage in professional development, teaching for this sample in Germany is being conducted in relatively isolated environments and the problem is compounded by the lack of opportunity to engage with experts in subject pedagogy.
Across all three countries, findings from this study indicate that the experiences teachers most value are with, and from, their peers in informal groups.
Furthermore, CPD for teachers that is intensive and sustained has a greater effect on professional practice than the short snapshot sessions that many of these teachers reported experiencing.
Teachers in all three locations in this study identified few opportunities to develop further or apply what they had learnt and many could not see the long-term benefits of many school-based training activities. Whilst expressing satisfaction with some aspects of their experiences of CPD, attention was drawn to how ‘pointless,’ ‘wasteful’ and ‘forgettable’ many school-based activities were.
Research evidence indicates that the majority of teachers are motivated to participate in further professional development but lack appropriate support.
The findings of this study reveal, in all three countries, similar discrepancies between the activities in which these teachers engage and the value they place on individual professional development.
The study makes a further contribution to the field in taking a comparative focus on CPD and teacher learning across three countries, as part of a wider, longitudinal study.