Professional Development Requirements for Teachers

(A Paper for the Ministerial Teacher Education Reference Group's Seminar, 28.8.92.)

"A school is an institution of consequence."

This paper asserts that in the important matter of the professional development of teachers, the school to which the teachers belong needs to be an integral and significant part of the process and not simply the recipient of the trained and retrained.

This paper will consider how schools can be improved from within by providing significant opportunities for teachers to improve their professional expertise. It will identify some of the ways that a school might tap into the energy, inventiveness and idealism of teachers and students for the benefit of all.

Teachers and students are viewed as learners together, in the same place simultaneously. The school is a community of learners, the principal of that school is not the instructional leader but the "head learner, engaging in the most important enterprise of the schoolhouse-experiencing, displaying, modelling, and celebrating what it is hoped that teachers and pupils will do." (Barth, 1991, p46) Similarly the community of teachers is really a community of learners, process operators and not product generators.

For such process reasons, no attempt is made to "list" the characteristics of an effective teacher nor of an effective school. Such lists do not recognise the individuality of the schools nor the professionalism of teachers. Indeed this paper begins with the statement that concludes Professor Goodlad's book, A place Called School: "... education is as yet something more envisioned than practised."(Goodlad, 1984. p361.)

Assumptions: In order to understand the reasons MLC preceded with its professional development of staff in the way it did, it is necessary to make explicit at the beginning of this address some of the underlying assumptions and beliefs.

Schools need to be improved.

Research has shown that schools are not always good places for young people. School practices need to change. Consequently staff who want to work in schools need to have some sympathy for the Tom Peters statement that people "must learn to love change as much as we have hated change in the past." (Peters T.1988. p45) From an institutional point of view, there is an acceptance that no school has a guaranteed future. "Education is a permanent human activity, but individual educational institutions may come and go." (Kotler, Fox. 1985. p.117)

Schools have both the capacity and the will to improve themselves.

School improvement is not about the importing of improvement from outside but about the building of a learning community within the school.

The student focus needs to be on individuals and away from groups. The industrial society supported the factory model of education with the focus on 'batch processing' of groups of students in classes. This persists today in the way that students are grouped and in the way that a teacher's load is described as the number of classes that are taught by that teacher. A new student focus for a post industrial age is necessary.

Teaching needs to be subordinated to learning.

The educational focus is moving from teachers teaching and teacher styles towards student learning and student learning styles. The goal is to move from instruction by teachers to construction by learners. The idea of knowledge being constructed by the student shows appropriate respect for the intellect of the learner and reflects the subjective and evolutionary view taken of knowledge. The student, in such a view, is not a passive recipient of data but a constructionist trying to make sense of the world.

Today's classroom includes technology. In an educational setting, the student and teacher can see the computer as a personal assistant. Technological devices offer students and teachers the potential to explore new ways of learning, to develop skills and understandings that will empower them in their everyday lives in an increasingly technological world. In such a setting, text is supplemented by graphics, music and even robotics.

Technology will have some of age when it is as invisible and as necessary as the pencil. "Tomorrow's classroom ... is characterised by the transparency of the computers within it. In the near future these devices will ubiquitous but not dominating the classroom ambience." (Nevile, Loader, 1991 p1)

Historically, the role of technology in education has been peripheral, with new technologies being added to the traditional teacher centred model of instruction. Now there is a transforming technology in the form of computers, making the student centred model more accessible.

Peer "teaching" is becoming more significant the three teaching modes, teacher exposition, self study and peer learning, peer learning plays a major role in computer classrooms. It is noticeable that much of the informal dialogue in the class room is now work focused compared with before when it had a social orientation. Previously there had been two types of people with different roles-that of student and that of teacher. Now these two people have remarkably similar roles.

Schools have the burden of the past in the form of an old curriculum. In Victoria we still have externally set exams and consequently an externally set curriculum for the last two years of schooling. This limits ones freedom. Thus it has been necessary to stay with curriculum that surely soon must be discarded!

Strategic thinking is important. Unlike many institutions, schools have their primary impact in the distant future. Consequently they must operate from a long-range perspective. Strategic thinking in schools will therefore envisage a planning horizon of decades rather than days. Education properly conceived is proactive. Today is a time for educational leaders to "shape, accept, or even reject the alternative futures that are available" to them. (Bell, Daniel 1979)

A Case Study Approach

Consistent with the assumption that schools are places of significance, for the purposes of this address, a school case study will be undertaken. The school that is known best to the author is obviously MLC and so it will used. The most dramatic change that is occurring at MLC is with technology. How teachers have coped with this change allows a discussion about "the professional development of teachers".

As the case study unfolds, I would be pleased if you would understand that " ... our regrets are equally divided between the mistakes we made and the mistakes that we didn't make."

The MLC Setting.

The staff and students of MLC find it difficult to conceive of tomorrow's classroom without computers. However, these are not school computers but the personal computers of students and staff.

The words, "personal computer", are not meant to convey the idea of a computer with only one owner. It is not the computer that is being discussed. It is the use to which the computer is to be put. Students have the opportunity to use a personal computer for what they see as appropriate to their needs and interests. The owners of these machines are responsible to themselves for its use. A personal computer needs to be compared to the student's notebook or to the student's textbook which has underlined sections and comments in the margins. on a personal computer students create their "knowledge space" with their ideas, data, and software . It is ownership not just of a machine, but of knowledge and of power.

The situation at MLC is that from the beginning of 1990, all Grade 5 students have been required to have a personal laptop computer together with pens, paper and books.

Currently at MLC there are 1000 laptops in the school, owned by staff and students. It is confidently expected that in 1994 this number will be doubled with all students Grade S and above having a personal laptop computer.

The MLC experience is that computers have significantly changed the role of teachers. There is a decrease in the student' s dependence a teacher's subject knowledge, delivery and control Teachers and students interact more about curriculum and skills, and are more collaborative in the educational task. There is a greater emphasis on co-operative learning with joint projects encouraged. An even more significant change is the increase the learning that now occurs from peers.

As a result of the introduction of the computer, the curriculum is being transformed with the consequence that teachers have to play a larger role in curriculum development. Initially the old curriculum was retained and the computer was used to teach it. Now, with the emphasis upon constructionism' and upon developing a curriculum that irrelevant in a culture that is being transformed by technology, a new curriculum is needed.

Clearly what is happening at MLC is the transformation of a school: its culture, curriculum and its teaching learning paradigm. is for this reason that MLC offers an interesting and relevant "case study" for the examination of the professional staff.

The Professional Development of Staff.

From the information provided in this case study, it is clear that MLC needed a staff with new skills. How was this achieved?

At no time was there an attempt to design a common training program which would be imposed on all staff. This is an important point! From the beginning, it was assumed that:

The school:

In fairness, not all staff celebrated the advent of computers at MLC. The less enthusiastic staff might well describe the coming of computer as " . . . an illness, not like an ordinary certainty, not like anything obvious. It installed itself cunningly, little by little. . ." ( Jean-Paul Sartre3)

The above is rather clinical and as such does not do justice to what is happening. There is lots of excitement and feelings of achievement and professional pride amongst teachers at MLC. In fact, visitors often comment upon what they see - a shared feeling of pride amongst both the staff and students of "this is the only way to go and we are getting there first".

Changes in the Role of Teachers.

There is growing acceptance that the teacher's role is changing. There is less group instruction and a greater focus on the individual student. The use of technology to facilitate more individual learning frees teachers to assume more a "facilitator-consultant- tutor role. Although some formal group teaching will survive ... greater emphasis will be placed on diagnostic, evaluative and counselling functions" of teaching so that all students can have a curriculum designed to meet their individual needs. (Dimmock 1991. p4) This focus on the individual and away from the group was what teachers and administrators aspired to in the 1960's. Then it could not be attained. Today it is achievable with the advent of computers.

Teachers as initiators into education is an important role. In education, as in initiation, "experienced people turn the eye of others outward to what is essentially independent of persons." Initiation is an avenue of access to a body of belief, "perhaps to mysteries that are not revealed to the young." It conveys the suggestion of "being placed on the inside of a form of thought or awareness..."It is "initiation activities or modes of thought and conclude that are worthwhile ..."(Peters RS. 1966. p54,5)

Another area of change for teachers is with themselves. They become a supportive group of learners, a community of teacher collaborators. A climate needs to be established that will encourage such collaboration. The change to personal computing, constructionism and new curriculum cannot be achieved by teachers working in isolation from their peers.

New Graduates from Melbourne's Universities

In preparation for this address, the four new graduate teachers at MLC were interviewed about their preservice training. The results did not depict the Universities as forward thinking institutions dragging the schools into the 1990 ' s, at least with respect to technology. In fact the opposite was the case!

M . . ., with the B .A. from Melbourne (Dip. Ed Rusden) had not used a computer at all as part of her studies.

L... with a 4 year B.Ed. from Melbourne commented that "in the course work they (computers) were seen to be subsidiary to, and a rather 'gimmicky' approach to, the real work, whereas at MLC they are an integral part of the curriculum."

A. . . with a B.A. from Victoria University and a Dip. Ed. from Melbourne found that "in English Method there was no attempt to introduce computers, let alone any strategies for effectively using them in the classroom.'

A . . . was the only person to have been prepared adequately for her teaching through a Primary course at Toorak.

As well prepared as these new teachers were for "teaching", they were not prepared for MLC. If they had gone to another school, would they have been prepared for it? Can a teacher be prepared in isolation from the school in which they are to work?

School Structural Changes

With the advent of technology and the possibility of distance learning, will schools continue to be the learning place for young people?

The answer can only be a tentative yes, and only then if schools change! In the school of the future there will need to be a greater emphasis on the social setting. That is the one quality that cannot be transmitted effectively by technology. Hence MLC has invested in a remote camp to which all Year 9 students go for eight weeks. In such a setting the focus can be upon community. The environment is not four sterile walls. The school day is not 8.30 am to 3.30 pm, but early morning to late at night for seven days a week.

The school of the future is an interesting topic but only relevant to this paper in that it highlights the need to reconceptualise the role of the teacher and the ongoing role for a teacher's professional development.

In conclusion

I finish with two quotes: the first as food for thought and the second as a personal disclaimer!

In evolving from its present state to some distant, desired goal, an institution must progress in quantum steps via stable intermediate structures. Each stage of evolution requires a critical mass of resources, creates a new organisation more rewarding to its stakeholders than the previous stage and shifts the institutional infrastructure closer to the ultimate objective.(Restructuring for Learning with Technology)

. . .the Budda's "golden words" may get in the way of ultimate perception; hence the Zen expression "Kill the Budda!". The Universe itself is the Scripture of Zen, for which religion is no more and no less than the appreciation of infinite in every moment.( Matthiessin, The Snow Leopard, p42)


  1. A statement attributed to Paul Valery.
  2. MLC is an independent (private) college established in 1882 by the Methodist Church. It has an enrolment of 2240 girls from K- 12 in the day school, 110 boarders and another 4000 adults and young people in an after school (evenings and weekends) program that we call Community Education. The day school is structured into four relatively autonomous age related sub schools.
  3. Reported in Louisa, a book by Brian Matthews.


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[Created: 10 Feb 1995]
[Modified: 10 Sept 1995]