11 Models for Professional Development and 11 Claims About Them

This year I’ve had the opportunity to experience or learn about a range of different professional development (i.e. for in-service teachers) initiatives in various ELT contexts worldwide. If I attempt to categorize the different approaches to professional development I have encountered this is what I get:

  1. Input-based training programmes distributed over time – e.g. 10 hours of sessions a week for 12 weeks.
  2. Two-phase programmes – i.e.  an initial input-based phase (as 1 above) followed by a school-based phase (where teachers apply learning from the first phase).
  3. As 2 above, except that input and school-based phases alternate over a period of time rather than having all the input before the school-based work.
  4. Cascade models – i.e. an initial phase where ‘master trainers’ are trained (by a trainer trainer), and these master trainers subsequently go back to their contexts and train further groups of teachers (from among whom new master trainers may be identified).
  5. A mentoring model, where a more experienced practitioner (a colleague or an outsider) works with one or more teachers in their schools and where support is not provided through training courses but is school-based, responsive to each teacher’s needs, and hence personalized.
  6. A blended model, where teachers are required to work through a series of materials online and also attend periodic input sessions or workshops.
  7. Short seminars – e.g. three-day events where teachers are introduced to different strategies for professional development and assisted in defining action plans for their own professional development.
  8. One-off short workshops (e.g. half a day or less), where teachers are introduced to a particular strategy for professional development (e.g. peer observation).
  9. Teacher research programmes – i.e. where teachers receive support (e.g. workshops and on-line) over time from an experienced facilitator and conduct research in their own working contexts.
  10. INSET sessions, which occur periodically (e.g. once a month) in a school and which are led by a member of the teaching staff.
  11. Technology-driven programmes, where input is supplied on mobile devices, teachers try ideas in the classroom and meet periodically to discuss the materials in a non-hierarchical manner – i.e. there are ‘group leaders’ but no trainers. 

Other models of professional development exist but the above list reflects those I have encountered in the last year.

This list highlights the range of models through which professional development is being promoted worldwide in ELT. It also suggests a number of parameters along which professional development initiatives can be described (e.g. is it short-term or long-term? is it school-based and/or course-based? does it adopt a training, mentoring, reflective or collaborative approach, or some combination – i.e. in whom does expertise reside)? You may want to spend a few minutes extracting these because that is not my focus here.

What I do want to focus on is the question of effectiveness: which models for promoting language teacher professional development lead to lasting beneficial (and especially practical) change for teachers, students and organizations? Of course, we know that effectiveness will be influenced by particular contextual variables such as teacher experience, knowledge and beliefs, the prevailing educational culture, curricula and assessment systems, and the skill of the facilitator or trainer. But even allowing for such variables, are there are any general observations that can be made about the relative impacts of the models listed above? I think there are:

  1. Models which lack a school-based component (both longer intensive programmes as well as shorter sessions) are less likely to lead to lasting behavioural change because teachers lack opportunities to relate theory to practice.
  2. Two phase models where all the input is provided before a school-based phase are less likely to lead to lasting change in practices unless the second phase is structured and supported – asking teachers to go back to the classrooms and to apply the input is not sufficient.
  3. To elaborate on 2, the lack of structured, purposeful and supportive follow-up in schools is the single most obvious reason that the initial motivation created by intensive professional development workshops and courses initiatives fizzles out.
  4. Extended programmes which provide teachers with periodic and ongoing opportunities to experiment in the classroom and to meet and discuss their experiences can lead to sustained changes in practice.
  5. Initiatives which are extended, supported and engage teachers in actual projects in their classrooms are an effective model for professional development.
  6. Mentoring models can provide more personalized and responsive support to teachers than generic one-size-fits-all training programmes.
  7. Collegial school-based models (where teachers lead their professional development together rather than being trained by an external expert) provide the basis for the kind of on-going, supportive, situated and relevant professional development that training models cannot achieve. This does not rule out external support – in fact this can be a critical factor in the success of school-based teacher development initiatives.
  8. Where the priority is to enhance teachers’ language proficiency, an intensive general language course may be more productive than extended models in which language and methodology are covered in an integrated manner.
  9. If technology is to be part of professional development there must be clear evidence that it plays a beneficial role. For example, blended courses often require teachers to participate in on-line discussion forums, but the quantity and quality of the contributions teachers make may raise questions about whether the technology is actually contributing to the teachers’ professional development.
  10. Cascade models maximize reach, but this should not be confused with impact. Unless high quality candidates for master trainers are available, subsequent phases of delivery will become increasingly diluted, with adverse effects on the quality of the training teachers receive and on the impact this will have in the classroom.
  11. Changes in awareness and knowledge can be achieved through short, intensive sessions and workshops; lasting changes in beliefs are harder to achieve in the short-term, while changes in classroom practice do not necessarily follow once new knowledge is in place. 

These 11 points are based on my experiences of the 11 models for professional development listed earlier. In many cases, my experience has been first-hand – i.e. I have been involved in designing, implementing or evaluating professional development; in other cases, my views have been informed by the research of those I work with or supervise. And I could provide some references from the literature to back up some of my claims here but the truth is that the study of the impact of professional development has not yet received the attention it deserves – we simply do not have strong empirical evidence which allows us to compare the relative value of different models of professional development. There are, of course, evaluation reports of particular projects which are insightful, but generally speaking what we need is a clear academic agenda for the study of professional development which will allow us to test claims such as those I have made here. Without such evidence the danger remains that substantial time, effort and resources are not being invested in an optimal manner.

If you have experienced – either as a participant or a trainer/mentor/facilitator – one or more of the 11 models listed above it would be great to hear about your experiences, especially about the impact that the professional development had on you (particularly your teaching), your students and your organization. For example, have you taken part in professional development which made a significant lasting difference to your work? Or, in contrast, have you engaged in professional development which had little or no impact on what you do?

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13 Responses to 11 Models for Professional Development and 11 Claims About Them

  1. Xinmin Zheng says:

    Dear Prof. Borg

    I believe the models mentioned above by you could be treated as a conceptual framework for those researchers who are interetesed in a particular type of teacher professional development as a starting point, then we can try to investigate teachers in natural setting and seek their feedback to see what insight we can draw to support those models.

    Best regards
    Xinmin Zheng

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thank you Professor Zheng. I agree that evaluation studies in real settings are important and that teachers’ voices should be a central component of such evaluations.

  2. Hi Simon

    I agree with you that input with an absence of ‘real-life’ classroom application are presumably less effective. This is, aside from any impact factors, de-motivating for trainers and those involved in the project – sometimes I never know, or hear what happens after my workshop or short course.

    Just thought I’d quickly share something from Alan Mackenzie, not the empirical study you were after, but a thinking framework from someone else involved in these kinds of large-scale projects http://alansmackenzie.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/making-change-matter-depth-breadth/

    I look forward to reading more from other colleagues.

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thanks Edward for the comment and sharing that very relevant link. Yes, not knowing what happens (if anything) after short courses and workshops is not a good feeling, but the realistic expectation I think is that not much can happen without some kind of follow up.

  3. Krishna K Dixit says:

    Dear Simon,

    I agree with the models listed and also with your views on them. But I think one model is missing in the list and that is professional development through self-help groups. In theory – if I can call it – PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). I have been a part of English Teachers’ Club (ETCs) movement in Central India. I am proud to say that I am a product of our ETC. I have learnt a lot from ETCs than any of the models listed. Can they be called self-initiated, bottom-up PD model?

    In haste,

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thanks Krishna for mentioning this additional model, which relates well to contemporary understandings of the value of collaborative and teacher-led professional development. There are I am sure others we could add too – I limited myself to those I’d experienced recently.

  4. Kabita Ghosh says:

    Dear Prof. Borg

    Thank you very much for the informative blog. I have been a part of one of those 11 professional development initiatives mentioned by you here. I am part of the Aim Higher In Assam (AHA) Project run by The British Council in collaboration with The Sarba Siksha Abhijan, Assam , India, since 2011. I got three phased Master Trainer training by the British council training consultants and I could see my progress during and after the training. The new approach to teaching a Language specially English language in an L1 dominated environment becomes a challenge for a language teacher which is the basic reason for the poor condition of English language in my region, but since we got the training we feel more confident about teaching the language and overcoming the challenges. The initiative taken by the BC in Assam helped many in-service teachers of English like me to develop our own efficiency and spread it to others teachers via Cascade.

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thanks Kabita for sharing your experience. Helping teachers feel more professionally confident is an important goal of professional development.

  5. Muhammad Asif says:

    Dear Simon

    It is great to see that you are so committed to the professional growth of the ELT professionals and your insight into and experience of what is going on around the world makes your input highly valuable. Teaching and learning English in multilingual societies is a very demanding task especially when the teachers lack training and are solely left to their own subjective and sometimes eccentric approaches to teaching. Practice should always be informed by theory, only then it makes sense. Your list of models is commendable.

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thank you Asif for your comment. Theory is important and I think rather than viewing theory as the source of practice we can think about more reciprocal relationships between the two – theory contributing to as well as being informed by practice. We can also distinguish between formal theory (e.g. from reading) and teachers’ theories (which are largely experiential).

  6. Haruyo Kawasaki says:

    Though I only skimmed through it, this post provoked recollection of my experiences of participations in seminars or sessions. As mentioned in the post, their effectiveness or practicality varies. To which extent they are effective or practical depends on a participant’s condition or skill of teaching, I think. In my case, while I was a high school English teacher, I selected and then attended seminars or sessions whose contents seemed a bit challenging for me. Krashen’s theory of input, ‘ i + one’, seems to be able to be applied to workshop participations. If the workshops are compulsory and cannot be missed and their contents are too hard to follow, they are far from being effective. There will be no forward step to the participant’s professional development which is thought to be taken afterwards. I think teachers can benefit only from training sessions whose target levels are a little higher than the teachers’ teaching levels.

    Thank you for posting this and it was gripping for me.

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Haruyo. The idea of i+1 applied to teacher education is very interesting and makes plenty of sense if we believe that learning is more effective when individuals experience a reasonable level of challenge. On one-off workshops where the trainer does not know the teachers it may be difficult to identify the right level of challenge (and it may vary across individual teachers); on longer-term professional development projects, though, this is a more feasible idea.

      • Haruyo Kawasaki says:

        Thank you for paying attention to my idea. I’m also interested in your recent research project of TKT impact on teachers’ classroom practices. I’m looking forward to reading the outcome soon.

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