Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

In the context of this research I must address the issue of professional development of teachers. Clearly, this is an area that has received much attention from the academic community. The question of how to promote teacher change or renewal has long been of central interest to educators and educational systems. (Grundy & Robinson in Day & Sachs, 2005).

A google scholar search reveals approximately 24.600 results.

In the SHU library a simple search query results in 639 articles, conference papers and reviews. 

It is quite impossible to cover all aspects of teacher professional development in this limited case study. School climate and trust, the existence or absence of (e-)networks in schools, school leadership, political reform agendas, the quality of interpersonal relationships, teacher traits and teacher biographies, effective knowledge management … All influence the quality of teacher professional development (Day & Sachs, 2005; Leask & Younie, 2013; Li & Choi, 2014; Albion et al., 2015).

Despite this hugely complex intellectual and emotional endeavour, I want to address the subject basically from the concept “Continuing Professional Development” (Day & Sachs, 2005). Why? Because - from a teacher point of view - this is a simple description, and in the face of complexity I strongly believe in starting off with simple and clear notions. I will address the concept of CPD, its purpose and function, and express a small point of critique towards the notion of consciousness. Secondly, I want to reflect on the process of CPD from a more epistemological point of view.
How do we approach knowledge in the process of professional development of teachers?
This question has proven to be relevant in my findings, and relates to the work of Leask and Younie (2013) who question why, if teacher quality is accepted as “a most critical factor in improving educational outcomes, then why is so little attention drawn to the knowledge and evidence base available to support teachers in improving the quality of their professional knowledge?” (p.273) Fullan (1991, in Day & Sachs, 2005) affirms that professional development for teachers has a poor track record because it lacks a theoretical base.

These two lines of thought will contribute to the subject of my research: Twitter and its inspirational nature in contributing to CPD.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

Day & Sachs (2005) have dedicated an entire book to the subject of teachers’ professional development. In the ‘International Handbook on the Continuing Professional Development of Teachers’ they have edited a number of relevant essays. They introduce continuing professional development as a term to describe

“all the activities in which teachers engage during the course of a career which are designed to enhance their work”. (p.3)

The authors acknowledge the complexity of teachers’ work and therefore refer to the process of CPD as a range of activities, rather than about particular forms of activity. In this way, CPD must be seen as the short ánd long-term development of the person, the professional and the classroom practitioner. Development of both the teachers as ‘technician’ and the teacher as ‘reflective practitioner’. This evolution from the teacher as ‘technician’ to a more holistic view of developing the person, the professional and the practitioner is just. Although governments and systems are using CPD as a means of political reform (Day & Sachs, 2003) the teacher remains at the heart of the classroom. Generally speaking CPD has three purposes: “to align teachers’ practice with educational policies; to improve the learning outcomes of students; and to enhance the status and profile of the teaching profession.” (Day & Sachs, 2005, p. 22) This case study will show that Twitter can fulfill a significant role as mediator in all of these three areas.

In meeting these purposes CPD has three basic functions: extension, growth and renewal. Three ongoing states of operation that lead (might lead) to fulfilment of the threefolded purpose.

Extension means introducing new knowledge or skills into a teacher’s repertoire. It is a process of ‘building on’ current teacher competences. Growth is the development of greater levels of expertise and renewal is "akin to innovation, that is, the old and worn out is replaced with an updated version.” (Grundy & Robison in Day & Sachs, 2005, p. 148) 

“Professional development consists of all natural learning experiences and those conscious and planned activities which are intended to be of direct or indirect benefit to the individual, group or school.” (Day & Sachs, 2003, p. 13)

It is understandable why Day & Sachs mention “conscious”. Ideally, teachers develop themselves to consciously competent professionals. Taking into account that learning a skill is easier said than done, and that people are initially unaware of their incompetence (Adams, 2011), I argue that CPD can also occur unconsciously. Considering the explosion of information on the Web, it is likely to assume that teachers also expand their body of knowledge through implicit learning (Eraut, 2000). Reber (1993; as cited in Eraut, 2000, p. 115) defined implicit learning as "the acquisition of knowledge independently of conscious attempts to learn and in the absence of explicit knowledge about what was learned’. According to Eraut (2000), there is no intention  to  learn  and  no  awareness  of  learning  at  the  time  it  takes  place.

In my research Twitter has proven to be effective CPD (also see Carpenter & Krutka, 2014). This process unfolds rather silently and participants were not always aware of the effectiveness of their professional growth through Twitter. This area of implicit learning through Twitter needs further investigation. But one can argue that helping teachers through the four stages of competence (unconscious incompetence > conscious incompetence > conscious competence > unconscious competence; Adams, 2011) could be an important phase in CPD, especially hen the context is as volotile as Twitter. Yet, this implicit learning has received little attention in the work of Day & Sachs. That relates to Leask & Younie (20013) who question why is there so little attention paid to improving the quality of the professional knowledge of teachers themselves? Although Leask & Younie address the importance and possibilities of a technology-driven knowledge base, their question is relevant at a higher level: how can we guide teachers from unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent. Why not extend this knowledge base in function of increased consciousness? More the terrain of psychology than pedagogy. In the end, teachers remain human and therefore their identity and integrity keeps having an impact on ‘good teaching’ (Palmer, 2010). A tentative call for more psychological attention in the forming of teachers...

Why not consider Twitter as a knowledge management system for teachers to learn implicitly in their process of CPD?  Albeit a chaotic one that thrives on the psychological construct of inspiration.

Epistemic point of view

Secondly, I want to address the process of CPD from a more epistemological point of view. Epistemology is referred to as ‘theory of knowledge’. It is derived from the Greek word episteme meaning ‘knowledge’ and logos meaning ‘speech’ or ‘word’.[1] This branch of philosophy questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. The six-syllable word does not leap to our lips spontaneously. Yet insights in the area of epistemology are relevant to how we approach education, and CPD in particular. At its deepest level, epistemology asks somewhat esoteric questions such as “What is the nature of the knower? What is the nature of the known? And what is the relation between the two?” (Palmer, 1983)

I do not pretend to have studied this in depth such as authors like Palmer (1983) or Tirri et al. (1999) but it has become relevant in the context of my research. During the past decades there has been a shift from the profession ‘teacher-as-technician’ to a more holistic ‘reflective practitioner’. Logically, this has had an impact on the direction of professional development. The rhetoric of teacher training and development has changed from “one in which individual teachers have been able to choose at will from a smorgasbord of mainly one-shot workshops, to one in which lifelong learning is regarded as essential for all as a mandatory part of every teachers’ needs?” (Day & Sachs, 2005, p. 8) It is my experience and perception that this idea of the single-shot workshop, quick-fix solution to teacher problems is still widely present in the workfield. This approach to the teacher profession has its result in the types of knowledge associated with CPD. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999) identified three types of knowledge associated with teachers’ CPD:

  • Knowledge-for-practice: formal knowledge generated by researchers outside the school.
  • Knowledge-of-practice: generated by teachers themselves critically examining their own classrooms and schools, alone or with others.
  • Knowledge-in-practice: teachers' practical knowledge generated through their own systematic inquiry, stimulated by questions raised concerning their own classroom effectiveness.
Mind the epistemic focus in this approach? The teacher is in need for particular knowledge and skills in order to solve a problem. Teachers are in need of something they did not already have. This is what Jackson (1990) called a deficit model where “teacher education activities are organized on the basis of providing something teachers are considered not to have” (see Huberman & Guskey, 1995; Day & Sachs, 2005. p.121). Although the gradual shift to new ways of CPD, this model remains firmly in place. (Day & Sachs, 2005). This relates to how we see the nature of knowledge, namely as objects out there, instead of a relational nature of knowledge, from object to subject. I’m not saying that this objectivist view towards knowledge and CPD is bad. It is a good thing when you are in need of solutions to particular problems. I only argue that this is not the only way to approach CPD. There is something else, namely an inspirational type of CPD where teachers are enriched without per se having to solve problems. Inspiration as a form of CPD is the main conclusion from my research. Participants clearly expressed professional growth. They acknowledged having a hard time pinpointing specific problems at the center of their process of CPD. In fact, mostly there is no particular problem participants pose on Twitter, they simply engage in a stream of knowledge.

I understand that our human mind has difficulty with this other way of looking at knowledge because we are hardwired to think in either … or terms. And we are hardwired to identify objects as real  and out there.

When we let go our tendency to identify objects and judge the world around us as this or that, we enter a space where inspiration can be considered as a way of knowing. I refer to the introduction of the findings section where I elaborate on the nature of inspiration.

In this section I illustrated the position of the literature in my case study; I elaborated on the basic concept of CPD, its purposes and functions according to Day and Sachs; I reflected shortly on the conscious-unconscious matter of teachers’ CPD; and I explored a new epistemic way of knowing, namely inspiration as knowing. Inspiration as a psychological construct in the (often invisible) process of CPD. In contrast to the deficit model that assumes teachers must be provided with something they do not already have.

> The vehicle for inspirational CPD: Networks of Practice.

[1] G & C. Merriam Co. (1913). Noah Porter, eds. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 ed.). G & C. Merriam Co. p. 501. Retrieved 29 January 2014. E*pis`te*mol"o*gy (?), n. [Gr. knowledge + -logy.] The theory or science of the method or group. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know.ds of knowledge.