Accessing and recording professional learning

Completing mandatory professional learning is one of the requirements of being a registered teacher in Australia. Different states and territories have different requirements, but broadly speaking you'll need to clock up around 20 hours per annum.

A report released this term considers professional learning activities undertaken by teachers in South Australia. It explores how they are accessing professional learning, how it's impacting on their practice, and some of the challenges in meeting the requirements.

Just over 9000 teachers in the state renewed their registration in 2015/2016. Of those, 2254 were picked at random to take part in the Teachers Registration Board (TRB) of South Australia Professional Learning Evaluation Project. In SA, teachers need to complete 60 hours professional learning in the three years prior to registration renewal, submitting summaries and evidence of their activities with reference to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

The evaluation project – which involved an audit of these summaries, an online survey and focus group interviews – was headed by Monash University Associate Professor Debra Panizzon.

What is professional learning?

One of the issues highlighted in the report was confusion among teachers about the difference between professional learning and those activities that are part of everyday practice.

‘For example, just because work is undertaken after school hours, does not automatically mean that it is professional learning (e.g., attending a careers meeting at the school; preparing lessons for the following day, which is part of a teacher's role). However, this type of confusion was evident in a large proportion of teachers' summaries.'

Other inappropriate activities included in the summaries included parent-teacher nights and outside interests (such as volunteering) that didn't align to the professional standards.

Evidencing professional learning

The evaluation found that teachers aligned their professional learning to the standards but there were some issues with evidencing, including vague descriptions of activities and timings (including a year rather than a specific date) and using acronyms that might not be obvious to others.

Returning to appropriate activities, Pannizon adds, ‘One component that was not included in the majority of professional learning summaries was an annotation explaining how the activity supported the teacher in addressing the standard specified. This became an issue in those instances where the activity submitted by a teacher bordered between professional learning and what appeared as professional practice'.

In most cases, teachers provided certificates or notes as evidence. The report says educators need to be aware of what constitutes appropriate evidence – citing the example of a flyer merely advertising an activity being submitted as evidence of participation.

What challenges are teachers experiencing?

The online survey included a question about challenges. The most frequent response was that there were none, but main areas of concern were: accessing activities during leave, as a temporary relief teacher or someone not currently teaching; location (internet access and travel); cost; the tracking process; time; and, finding suitable or quality activities.

More than 100 country and remote teachers highlighted distance, time, cost and internet access as barriers. ‘Most training is offered in the city and not in the country areas. A day doing training and development is a night away or eight hours travel on top of the training. Other training is between 4pm to 6pm which means country teachers can't access it. Cost is another issue – food, accommodation, petrol and the cost of training,' one country teacher explained.

There were also in-school challenges, such as limited funding to support professional learning, difficulty in taking time away from teaching, and leadership or management not supporting teachers who wanted to access subject-specific learning rather than something that was a strategic priority for the school.

So, how are teachers accessing professional learning?

Even though there's flexibility in terms of a delivery method, analysis of the learning summaries revealed the overwhelming majority of activities (82 per cent) were face-to-face, 8 per cent were online, private research and study undertaken by the teacher accounted for 4 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively, and 5 per cent involved teachers setting up and working in a school community of practice.

Pannizon questions why there's still such a focus on face-to-face activities, given some of the challenges highlighted. ‘Teachers explained how cost, their inability to leave classes, the lack of availability of these sessions in their local area, or having to juggle family commitments to attain the 60 hours of professional learning were difficult. Yet, it is possible for teachers to undertake their own research, include their own study, complete online learning, and join a community of practice in their own schools to meet this requirement.'

The evaluation found teachers were anxious about providing sources of evidence and in focus group interviews they said they opted for face-to-face activities because they could get a certificate of attendance and they knew this was a valid source of evidence. One of the recommendations of the report, therefore, is to provide teachers with more examples of how they can document and evidence other modes of delivery.

To find out more about the Professional Learning Evaluation Project and to access PDF versions of the full research report and executive summary click on the link.

What challenges do you face in accessing professional learning? Could a different mode of delivery help you overcome some of these challenges?

How are you documenting your professional learning? Are you including appropriate forms of evidence? Are you annotating the evidence to give more detail and clarity?

As a school leader, how are you supporting staff to access subject-specific learning that may be an individual rather than a whole staff need or whole school priority?