Reimagining Professional Learning 2016

By Tessa Gray on Feb 12, 2016 04:00 am

professional learning 2016

The way educators are engaging in PLD is changing. As the school year begins teachers and leaders are crafting inquiry goals and considering their professional learning foci for 2016. For many teachers, particularly those in schools and kura clustering inCommunities of Learning (CoL), this may mean embarking oncollaborative inquiries as they ‘share goals based on information about their students’ educational needs and work together to achieve them’.

Current research highlights the importance for learning networks, or learning communities, to develop shared approaches, and a culture of learning and inquiry. In the NZCER paper, Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective it is noted that:

“Schools are being talked about as “learning organisations”, and educators are encouraged to become “professional learning communities” or even “networked learning communities” within and across schools. School leaders have responsibility for supporting and sustaining a continuous culture of learning amongst staff, in a dynamic environment.” (p 45).

The fundamental shift of communities of learning is to function more as anetworked organisation focused on raising achievement across the educational sector. As written in, Accelerating student achievement: a resource for schools (December 2015, p 1):

“Accelerated improvement requires a whole system to function as a collaborative learning community that is advancing progress on the four areas of leverage: pedagogy, educationally powerful connections, professional learning and leadership. (Adrienne Alton-Lee, cited in Mathematics in Years 4 to 8: Developing a Responsive Curriculum; ERO, 2013)

The PLD implications for schools practising as networked organisations and professional learning communities are varied. New ways of working as networked organisations may challenge and influence, “infrastructure, processes, people and culture” due to organisational and logistical factors as time, location, size, and distribution of those schools involved in the communities of learning.

The challenge for schools is to find responsive ways to create on-going, engaging professional learning opportunities that are inclusive of all staff across their CoL, able to address individual and collective strengths/needs to help achieve collaborative goals for teaching and learning, not constrained by time or location.

When reimagining PLD in 2016, key aspects worth considering include:


As more and more schools understand the potential of e-learning as a positive enabler for learning (in particularly mobile technologies and ubiquitous access to online resources via ultra-fast broadband), so too, do they recognise the power of social technologies and online networks as drivers for personalised professional learning.

Organised online professional learning networks such as Virtual Learning NetworkPondVirtual Professional Learning Development, and events like Connected Educator Month show a growing number of educators participating in online communities of practice in the pursuit of effecting positive change for students. Established communities are targeted and facilitated, based on experience and research around what constitutes effective professional learning. Live events and threaded conversations provide a multi-faceted, blended approach to learning targeted at local, national and international trends, policy, and school's needs. Teachers share and reflect on their practice through in-depth discussions online. Recorded events enable teachers to access these resources anytime, anyhow, anywhere.


While organised communities grow in numbers and activity, other user-generated, cloud-based networks (focused on student achievement) have also emerged – Facebook, Twitter, Ning. With access to social learning tools and networks, we can now blend (online and face-to-face) or ‘flip’ access to PLD whenever, wherever we want. Teachers are doing it for themselves – PLD that is! (Ethos consultancy NZ)


Anyone involved in designing learning opportunities for teachers (teachers themselves, school leadership teams, mentors etc), need to identify levels of support suitable for individuals. They need to take into account how we learn as adults (andragogy) while keeping the professional responsibility of a teacher to up-skill in mind. (Practising Teacher Criteria #4)

As an example, Ngatea Primary School is dedicated to finding flexible future-focused ways to address the individual needs of their adult learners. Their innovative change journey can be followed in a three-part blog series starting with, Leading learning and responsive PLD at Ngatea Primary School | A leadership inquiry PT 1

Networked organisations

Networked organisations are increasingly challenging traditional forms of hierarchies that are now “…evolving into adaptable heterarchies”. Distributed leadership models ensure that individuals throughout organisations have increased agency, but also shoulder more responsibility.” Factors influencing online, networked organisations include technology-driven networking and learner-driven networking. Trend 5: Networked organisations

Examples of how networked schools are raising student achievement through improved collaboration can be viewed in the following links:

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As Derek Wenmoth writes in, Networked Leadership, networked organisations “will require considerably different mindset, based on deep collaboration at all levels, and the sense of being connected to something bigger than oneself and one's own (local) institution.” This will require a different kind of leadership.

Leaders in a networked culture of learning will require an understanding of how the collective organisations can collaboratively (rather than competitively) effect change in a less ‘power-centric’ approach to leadership. Schools will need to see themselves as ‘nodes in a much larger network’, rather than a localised, isolated learning institution, all working together to affect change across the educational sector.Networked Leadership (November 2015)

outside the box

The shifting role of ‘teacher as leader’ is important within a wider community of learning. Targeted coaching strategies can help to build reciprocal relationships while critically reflecting on teacher practice. Some examples of coaching models have emerged in conversations across the Virtual Learning Network, Part 2 — The Realities of Teacher Inquiry, and How do you choose the best digital resources in your school?

Watch the Video

Designing effective PLD

Professional learning is a complex process. In, What makes for effective PLD, Derek Wenmoth notes some commonly shared issues teachers face in regards to effective PLD — time poor, overloaded with curriculum requirements, reluctant to change, or lack of expertise. Derek also shares insights from several research papers summarising effective PLD for teachers is primarily:

  • in-depth
  • provided over time
  • related to practice
  • contextually relevant
  • involves collaboration

Experience from the ICT PD cluster initiative (1999 – 2012) also found matters affecting success within and across schools included: organisation (including community size, collaborative culture); content design (how is it contextualised, multi-faceted, responsive, blended?); and human factors such as active leadership, needs of participants and professional partnerships, relationships, and reflective practice.

lots of lollies

Successful implementation and facilitation of effective PLD in Communities of Learning may need to address perceived or real barriers. For example, opting for too much PLD can often result in negative effects due to feelings of being overwhelmed with PLD requirements — more meetings, more tasks — which leads to frustration and anxiety.

“Schools do not improve by having more PLD. Schools improve when they are absolutely clear on the achievement problem they are trying to solve, and they focus on that with laser-like precision. The implication of that is that problem analysis and strength analysis should lead to a few (one or two) clear achievement focused goals that everyone in the school buys into, and then – and only then, the school plans its PLD to support its efforts towards those goals.” Improvement and How to get it

One example of how a school overcame the barriers to multiple forms of PLD can be viewed in, Collaborative PLD facilitation across Mathematics and LwDT.

In summary

Growing active leaders that understand and can help support the diverse needs of adult learners in a timely and relevant fashion within a collaborative learning community is going to be a challenge. For a start, what does collaboration look like? Reimagining PLD in 2016 might mean planning for face-to-face (Kanohi ki te kanohi) events while, at the same time, utilising online networks (formal and informal) and resources that focus on raising student achievement — all in order to help bypass constraints of time, accessibility, and budget. The challenge for future-focused leaders is to provide flexible, personalised, sustainable learning opportunities for all teachers — within and between schools. As Melhuish writes,

“Educators need to understand how to strategically integrate networks such as the VLN Groups into their professional inquiries, and schools need to explore more deeply what potential exists for teachers to be both strategic and self-driven”, ” (p 181, Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ p…)

Many schools are demonstrating new ways of engaging in professional learning. How might your community of learning reimagine PLD for 2016?

open door

Also see:

Leadership for Communities of Learning (Education Council Discussion paper 2015)

What Makes for Effective Teacher Professional Development in ICT? (Education counts 2002)


Images sourced and modified from andsweetshop.

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