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Professional Learning

A conceptual framework for professional learning

Professional Standards and Focus

This conceptual framework provides one way of thinking about your professional learning needs (as either pre-service teacher, teacher or teacher educator). No matter what role you have, the intention of the model is that it encourages participatory professional learning and has been designed as a tool to encourage reflection, discussion and critique. It acknowledges that you can enter into the work of teacher standards from multiple perspectives and from different viewpoints. The conceptual model itself, with the four questions sits within a broader professional learning community. The space around the model is not ’empty’ as such but full with the potential of using the questions and standards to really consider our teaching profession and to engage with colleagues at all stages of development (graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead) collectively in learning.

While the professional standards and focus are central to this model as a starting point so too is the context of the learning and teaching environment key to the next layer of questions you might consider with your colleagues.

Activity – Context matters

Your Task

Examine Standard 4: Create and maintain supportive and safe environments.

  • What would this Standard look like in different contexts?
  • What would this Standard look like with diverse learners?
  • What would this Standard look like with different age levels?

Examine the other Standards and foci and discuss how context might matter in terms of making judgements.

View some of these video clips of pre-service teachers provided in the Resources section above. Think about the broader context in which they are trying to work towards the Standards.

Video Clips of Pre-service teachers working in Primary classroom contexts:

  • Play Kathie's video - chapter 1
  • Play Kyla's video - chapter 1
  • Play Demi's video - chapter 3

Video Clips of Pre-service teachers working in Secondary classroom contexts:

  • Play Todd's video - chapter 2
  • Play Ursula's video - chapter 3
  • Play Candace's video - chapters 3 - 5
  • What specific support does the pre-service teacher need given their context?
  • How might you challenge and support pre-service teachers to learn in a variety of contexts so they gain a broader range of experiences as part of their learning to be a teacher?
    Note: These contexts might be beyond the classroom and into the whole school or even the community to gain the experience required.

The multiple perspectives or four questions you see attached around the context in the conceptual framework can also be used to guide your professional learning conversations.

Reflective Questions

  • Reflect on the different contexts in your own teaching experiences you found more challenging and what support (if any) was provided to you?
  • How might you support others (e.g., colleagues, pre-service teachers) in their professional learning in your context now?
  • How do you make a judgement? Think about the stage of development of the pre-service teacher and the criteria you use for making judgements. Have you made these clear to yourself as well as to the pre-service teacher or teacher you are working with?
  • When none of the expected evidence can be identified in the pre-service teacher’s performance, what would you do?
  • How would you help someone who does not understand what the Standard looks like, feels like, sounds like? How you might take an active role in teacher education and consider strategies such as team teaching or explicitly modelling the criteria in order to build and scaffold the learning?
  • Is teaching pre-service teachers part of your own professional learning? Document how you are demonstrating your own learning along the developmental continuum in moving from graduate to proficient to accomplished and lead

The importance of ongoing professional learning

Professional learning is ongoing, collaborative and reflective. For teachers and pre-service teachers, learning occurs in many places. The classroom, the playground, the staffroom and the broader school community, the university, are all places in which teacher learning occurs and like teachers, pre-service teachers need to spend time engaging with teachers across all these places. Both teachers and pre-service teachers then require the time to share ideas, ask questions, pose problems and have the opportunity to trial and error different approaches and strategies. Most importantly teachers and pre-service teachers need a supportive collegial environment in which to learn.

There are three focal points in the teachers’ professional learning:

  1. Knowing where you are on the professional learning journey
  2. Designing your professional learning pathway
  3. Learning through teaching – Direct the learning of Pre-service teachers

Sharon Feiman-Nemser has published ‘Teachers as Learners’. The title highlights the notion that to be a teacher, you are also need to be a learner. She adopts the view that sustained teacher learning maximises the possibility of effective teaching and, therefore, enhanced student learning.

In thinking about professional learning as ‘ongoing’ and whether you come to this material as a pre-service teacher, a supervisory teacher or mentor (school based or university based) you can think about your own career development as located along a particular developmental professional learning continuum. The Australian Professional Standards
describe the four career stages of a teacher as graduate, proficient, accomplished and lead.

If you are a supervising/mentor teacher, you are working with pre-service teachers because of your wealth of experience and to enable and guide them along their developmental continuum. Working with pre-service teachers however also gives you the opportunity to focus on your own professional learning developmental needs relative to each career stage and performance domain, that is, Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice, and Professional Engagement.

Using the descriptors in the Australian Professional Standards, each of us could make a reasonable assessment of the level at which we are currently performing, that is, at one of the following levels:


Graduate Teacher Proficient Teacher Highly Accomplished Teacher Lead Teacher

The Graduate Standards describe three domains of performance: Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice, and Professional Engagement. These Standards are a tool that may assist you to reflect on and self-assess your learning and achievement with reference to each Standard within each of the three domains (i.e., Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice, and Professional Engagement) and each of the foci specified within each Standard. Your achievement will depend on the stage of your learning, that is, whether you are at the beginning, middle or nearing the end of your teacher education degree program/course.

Activity – Where am I on the professional learning continuum?
Pre-service Teachers Registered Teachers

If you are a pre-service teacher, consult the Australian Professional Standards for Graduate Teachers

Depending on where you see yourself currently consider the following questions.

  • How do you currently ‘judge’ yourself in terms of each domain? What evidence are you using to make this judgement?
  • Which domain/foci would you like to make the focus of your next professional experience? How do you intend to discuss your learning focus with your supervisory/mentor teacher? (Consider sharing both your strengths and areas to focus on?)
  • How do you intend to demonstrate how you can build on your learning from one professional experience to another?
  • What areas that you have learnt about at university would you like to explore and trial in your teaching? What support do you need from your supervisory/mentor teacher or teacher educator?

If you are a classroom teacher or a school-based teacher educator working with pre-service teachers consult the three levels of Professional Standards:

How do you currently ‘judge’ yourself in terms of each domain?

  • What domain/foci would you like to select to model as one way to enter a professional conversation with your colleagues/PST?
  • What domain/foci might your PST have strengths in that might support your professional learning?
  • What domain/foci have you identified you would like to learn more about?
  • How might you plan for your work as supervisor/mentor as professional learning?
  • How can you support your PST to trial perhaps some alternative ideas and strategies to what your students might be familiar with?
Building Professional Learning Communities

While teacher learning can be considered deeply personal and developmental, it is best supported through the opportunity to share, reflect and critique our practice with others.

The work of Pam Grossman and colleagues (2001) for example, suggests we cannot expect teachers to create a community of learners among students if they do not have a parallel community to nourish their own growth. As a teacher educator working with pre-service teachers in either a university or school context, this is an opportunity for you to build a community of learners.

Learning communities aimed at teacher development have a long history and over the years have been variously described (Le Cornu 2004) as: teacher research groups (Grimmett,1995), communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), learning circles (Collay, Dunlap, Enloe, Gagnon, 1998), inquiry communities (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999), and teacher networks (Lieberman, 2000). According to Le Cornu (2004):

Regardless of name, there is a general agreement that the aim of such groups is to provide an enabling context for teachers’ professional growth, where the professional learning of teachers is shared and problematised (Mc Laughlin,1997; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993, 1999; Warren-Little, 2002; Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2003)

Your Task

Read the article:

Le Cornu, R. (2004) “Learning Circles: Providing Spaces for renewal of both teachers and teacher educators”, Refereed paper presented at the Australian Teacher Education conference, 7-10th July, Bathurst.

In this paper, Le Cornu (2004) describes how in her experience the strategy of learning circles provided powerful opportunities for the professional renewal of both teachers and teacher educators.

Discuss how you could create a similar approach using a learning circle (or other example of professional learning community) and develop a set of shared questions to focus your learning on.

Guiding Professional Learning

A significant area of application of the Australian Professional Standards is in the school-based learning, teaching and assessment of the pre-service teachers. The practicum provides a school-based context for pre-service teachers to learn and develop knowledge and skills they cannot learn anywhere else. The conceptual framework presented here can guide supervising teachers’ development of a program of learning for pre-service teachers. Planning a school-based learning experience can begin with defining the specific and achievable goals for the practicum with reference to the Graduate Standards and deciding what evidence to look for in order to be able to certify that the pre-service teacher has achieved these goals. What context for learning will enable this learning to take place and also be manageable? What evidence will you be looking for or providing in formative learning/assessing contexts? If that evidence is not there at this formative stage, what will you do then to facilitate their learning and enhance the possibility for achievement of the goals specified for them? The next activity ‘Guiding Professional Learning’ might help to clarify this process.

Activity – Guiding Professional Learning

Your Task

Select one Standard from Standards 1 – 5 of the Australian Professional Standards for Graduate Teachers

  • Discuss the types of knowledge and skills expected of a graduate teacher who would be able to meet this standard
  • How might you think about and demonstrate to a pre-service teacher what this Standard might look like?

Consider either the Primary or Secondary video clips of pre-service teachers demonstrating their developing knowledge and skills in very different contexts.

  • Play Kyla's video - chapter 1
  • Play Ursula's video - chapter 3
  • How might you assist a pre-service teacher to know about and relate to your context of learners?
  • What learning context would be most conducive to learning so that the pre-service teacher learner could develop the knowledge and skills that would enable them to achieve this Standard at graduate level?
Key Readings

Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S. (1999). Relationships of Knowledge and Practice: Teacher Learning in
Communities in A. Iran-Nejad & P. Pearson (eds.), Review of Education, 24, 249-305.

Collay, M., Dunlap, D., Enloe, W. & Gagnon, G., (1998). Learning Circles: Creating Conditions for
Professional Development, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Fieman-Nemser, S. (2012) Teachers as Learners, Harvard Education Press

Grimmett, P. (1995). Developing Voice through Teacher Research: Implications for Educational Policy,in J. Smyth (ed.) Critical Discourses on Teacher Development, London, Cassell.

Grossman, P., Wineburg, S. & Woolworth, S. (2001). Toward a Theory of Teacher Community, Teachers College Record, 103 (6), 942-1012.

Le Cornu, R. (2004) ‘Learning Circles: Providing Spaces for renewal of both teachers and teacher educators’, Refereed paper presented at the Australian Teacher Education conference, 7-10th July, Bathurst.

Lieberman, A. (2000). Networks as Learning Communities, Shaping the Future of Teacher Development, Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 221-227.

McLaughlin, M. (1997) Rebuilding teacher professionalism in the United States. In A.Hargreaves and R.Evans (Eds.), Beyond Educational Reform: Bringing teachers back in, Buckingham: Open
University Press.

Warren Little, J. (2002). Locating learning in teachers’ communities of practice: opening up problems of analysis in records of everyday work, Teaching and Teaching Education, 18, 917-946.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.