What is ‘continuing professional development’?

This article is an extract from the British Council publication, ‘Innovations in the continuing professional development of English language teachers’. In this interesting overview, the editor, David Hayes, looks at how we might define the term 'continuing professional development'.

For this overview I begin by reflecting on what is meant by the two key terms in the volume's title: 'innovation' and 'continuing professional development'. Cambridge Dictionaries Online (http://dictionary.cambridge.org ) tells us that an innovation is '(the use of) a new idea or method' while the Oxford dictionary tells us that to innovate is to 'make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products' (www.oxforddictionaries.com). At the heart of innovation, then, will be a change of some kind but this does not necessarily mean that the change always has to be radical and wholesale. Small-scale, incremental changes can also be innovative. The fact that we are making changes to 'something established' tells us too that innovation is context-specific, because what is 'established' differs from place to place. What is innovative in a school system with good resources, where teachers are well trained and have classes of 20-30 students will not be the same as what is innovative in a resource-poor system where teachers may not have adequate training and are faced with classes of 50-60 students. In one context, innovation could be the introduction of a technology such as interactive whiteboards or a methodology such as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL); while in another, it could be the introduction of pair and group work into classes which have previously been entirely teacher-centred. However, whatever the change, innovation will offer new ways to approach some aspect of teaching-learning for teachers and the prospect of improved outcomes for learners in that specific context.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is, as all the chapters in this volume attest, a multi-faceted, lifelong experience, which can take place inside or outside the workplace and which often moves beyond the professional and into the realm of a teacher's personal life too. The definition of professional development articulated some years ago by Christopher Day encapsulates the range of experiences that come under the purview of CPD:
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, which contribute, through these, the quality of education in the classroom. It is the process by which, alone and with others, teachers review, renew and extend their commitment as change agents to the moral purpose of teaching; and by which they acquire and develop critically the knowledge, skills and emotional intelligence essential to good professional thinking, planning and practice with children, young people and colleagues throughout each phase of their teaching lives. (Day, 1999: 4)
Consistent with this definition, a very broad view of CPD is taken for this volume, encompassing activities ranging from formal, ministry-sponsored in-service teacher training and development programmes for many thousands of teachers, to small-scale individual initiatives focusing on personal development. The scope of CPD thus runs from the structured to the unstructured, from the sector-wide to the personal. It responds to different needs at different phases of a teacher's career, and is undertaken for different reasons and purposes at different times. CPD is truly lifelong learning.
CPD assumes increasing importance as demands on teachers continue to increase in most school systems, in what Hargreaves (1994) called 'the intensification of teaching', a phenomenon in which 'rapid shifts in the nature of work ensue from, among other factors, government-driven waves of 'reform' and 'restructuring'.'(Zipin, 2002: 2). This intensification has not lessened in the 20 years since Hargreaves named the phenomenon and it has inevitably resulted in constraints on professional development, as Day et al. (2006: 123) found in a study of teacher effectiveness in England:
Teachers across all professional life phases felt that heavy workload, a lack of time and financial constraints were important inhibitors in their pursuit of professional development.
These 'inhibitors' are commonplace, as are the demands on teachers for constant professional renewal, which argue for more rather than less opportunity for professional development in their working lives. The OECD (2011: 17) notes that 'those who are now teaching [are required to] adapt to constantly changing demands in order to prepare students to play their part in societies which seem to be evolving at a faster rate than ever before in human history'. From a policy perspective, CPD is seen as central to improvements in the quality of teaching and learning in schools worldwide (Ingvarson, Meiers and Beavis, 2005; Muijs and Lindsay, 2008). From a personal perspective, as papers in this volume will show, CPD is critical in providing teachers with the means to cope with the increasing demands placed upon them by external forces while maintaining their individual capacity to take control of their own learning and to transform their educational practice.
Extract from 'Innovations in the continuing professional development of English language teachers’, David Hayes, Editor (p 5 - 6).

Research and insight

We have hundreds of case studies, research papers, publications and resource books written by researchers and experts in ELT from around the world. 

See our publications, research and insight

Sign up to our newsletters for teachers and teacher educators

We will process your data to send you our newsletter and updates based on your consent. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of every email. Read our privacy policy for more information.