‘Continuing professional development policy 'Think Tank': an innovative experiment in India’
Learning from the Think Tank
Teachers' ongoing professional development is not a matter of concern for teachers alone. Various stakeholders - school heads, education authorities, state, society and parents - have interests in teachers' CPD for their own reasons, depending on their place in the education system. Consequently, each of these stakeholders may have differing priorities for and expectations of CPD. Teachers may have their personal developmental priorities, usually determined by their needs, interests and aspirations. Institutions may have different expectations from teachers' professional development, related to their concern with strengthening institutional performance, culture and image. Apart from these, the teaching profession also has interests in teachers' professional development, which are reflected in education policies, politics and administration. Figure 1 represents stakeholder priorities in a general way.
Figure1: Priorities in teachers' professional development
(Adapted from SACE, 2008: 5)
Though the figure shows a balance between the different priorities, in reality professional priorities (including administrative, social and political) and institutional priorities are seen to greatly outweigh teacher priorities. Such different priorities both stem from and lead to different understandings and interpretations of the very notion of CPD. This was the immediate challenge that the Think Tank faced when it commenced its work. Coming from different backgrounds, agencies and organisations, the members showed differing views of the notion of CPD. For example, the representatives of national and state teacher education bodies perceived CPD in terms of traditional INSET, particularly various kinds of training necessitated by curricular reforms, textbook changes, methodological shifts, and so on. In their view, equipping teachers to effectively implement the various programmes and policies of the state was the main objective of CPD. The practising teachers and representatives of teacher associations prioritised teachers' personal interests and professional needs such as enhancing competence in English, becoming trainers, attending conferences and publishing papers. The administrators looked at CPD in terms of enhancing teachers' teaching skills and classroom management, and ensuring the good performance of students in examinations. In the course of subsequent discussions it soon became clear that, while none of these perspectives could be downplayed as unjustified or unimportant, each represented only one aspect of CPD. The Think Tank members summed up this insight in terms of the 'elephant and blind men' metaphor, as in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Multiple views of CPD
It was therefore considered essential to arrive at a broad and inclusive understanding of the notion of CPD as an important prerequisite for the subsequent work. The unique contribution of the Think Tank was to bring all these differing, and at times conflicting, perspectives together face to face, which facilitated thrashing out of differences, identifying commonalities and arriving at a shared understanding. The outcome of this churning was the following working definition of CPD, which the Think Tank adopted as the basis for further thinking and action:
CPD is a planned, continuous and lifelong process whereby teachers try to develop their personal and professional qualities, and to improve their knowledge, skills and practice, leading to their empowerment, the improvement of their agency and the development of their organisations and their pupils. (Padwad and Dixit, 2011: 10)
The process of evolving a shared understanding of CPD also led to frequent discussions about key challenges in ensuring effective CPD. There was a general agreement that the CPD scenario in India was not a very happy one, and that there were no effective CPD mechanisms in place. Some of the reasons for this were easy to identify, such as the neglect of CPD in teacher education policies and programmes, the lack of a well-formed and comprehensive CPD policy and the lack of general awareness about CPD. But others only emerged in the course of animated discussions and debates. It was yet again the diversity of views and approaches within the group which helped in understanding the complexity of the challenges. The collective thinking within the group helped in evolving a clearer understanding of challenges, and also a more concrete and specific formulation of issues, even if it wasn't always possible to identify solutions.
An interesting and enlightening example of this process was the discussion around the question of whose responsibility teachers' CPD was. This question is not much explored in research and policy documents on CPD in India, perhaps because it is generally assumed that the education authorities (in other words, the state) are responsible for teachers' CPD. A small-scale study carried out by two Think Tank members also found such an assumption clearly prevalent among the teachers and the authorities they interviewed (Padwad and Dixit, 2012). Even within the Think Tank the initial view of many members was that CPD was obviously the state's responsibility. However, as the cycles of discussions continued and as the members started bringing in findings from their individual studies and initiatives, it became clear that the issue was much more complex. Many studies by the members reported in the Think Tank publication (Bolitho and Padwad, 2012) indicated that teachers' taking responsibility for their CPD was the key factor in the success of the CPD activities in question. For example, Maya Pandit-Narkar's study (2012) pointed out how the member teachers' initiative helped them exploit the District English Centre set up in their town under an education ministry scheme for launching CPD activities. As Rama Mathew found out in her study (2012), the success and value of her experiment in promoting CPD through reflective practice were premised on the participating teachers' voluntarism and willingness to take responsibility for their development: '[a]lthough there [was] no acknowledgement/benefit of any sort in the school for teachers to take on CPD-related work.' (Mathew, 2012: 69) The account of the 30-year-long developmental journey of a voluntary teacher development group (Shivakumar, 2012) clearly established that the member teachers taking responsibility for their own CPD was the crucial and indispensable element in launching and sustaining the group. On a more theoretical level it was remembered that 'development' was not something that could be done by others to an individual; one developed oneself. In the final analysis, none but teachers could be responsible for their own CPD. At the same time some other studies reported in Bolitho and Padwad (2012) showed that support in the form of policy provisions, resources, incentives, freedom and opportunities was crucial for CPD, and that this would basically be the state responsibility. In a study exploring various stakeholders' views about CPD (Padwad and Dixit, 2012), expectations of state support were explicitly indicated by the participants, who included not only teachers but also administrators, managements and state officials. Another study into the use of school libraries as a resource by teachers (Waris, 2012) indicated that good support of resources like libraries led to better involvement in CPD by teachers. Pandit-Narkar's (2012) study of the District English Centre at Nellore quoted above also showed that the support and opportunities brought in by a 'top-down' intervention of the federal education ministry significantly enhanced the impact and success of the teachers' CPD initiatives. These observations about the need of supportive policy provisions, resources, incentives and opportunities were further corroborated by the two 'guest' contributions from Montenegro (Popovic and Subotic, 2012) and Serbia (Glusac, 2012), countries with explicit legislation and elaborate official provision for teachers' CPD. While underlining the value and significance of policy support for CPD, these studies also highlighted how the importance of school-based CPD was recognised and prioritised at the ministry level.
Eventually the Think Tank came round to the conclusion that CPD was a joint responsibility, and would succeed only through a combination of teacher responsibility (teachers' personal initiative and voluntarism) and state responsibility (support of policies and provisions for CPD), i.e. a combination of bottom-up initiative and top-down support. In this combination, schools, administrators, management and teacher education institutions (TEIs) played an important mediator role. Figure 3 shows a visual representation of this conceptualisation.
Figure 3: A model for effective CPD
The Think Tank thus led to the raising and analysing of a critical issue in CPD for the first time in India. It also helped in further clarifying the roles and responsibilities of teachers and other stakeholders in CPD.
Extract from ‘Innovations in the continuing professional development of English language teachers’ (Chapter 11, A Padwad and K Dixit, p258 - 262).
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Tomorrow in our next extract we look at the theme: 'Can continuing professional development change lives?'
Don't forget to register for next Monday's CPD webinar with Silvana Richardson on 'CPD that works'. Silvana will look critically at the INSETT model of continuing professional development and discuss more relevant, useful and personalised CPD approaches that put you in the driving seat of your development as a teacher and engage you as researcher as well as practitioner. This approach can have a positive impact for the CPD of other teachers, and also for the organisation you work for.