The most beneficial teacher professional learning incorporates the following aspects:

  • Active learning methods, not just passive listening
  • An extended time period (potentially over weeks or months)
  • A group of colleagues from the same education setting
  • Collective learning or research with other teachers.

It is important that professional learning translates into improvements in practice, characterised by positive learner outcomes. Professional learning is most effective when it is sustained over a long period of time, and it is common for an education setting to focus on a single targeted topic for a whole year of professional learning, including research, analysis, goal setting, implementation of learning, and evaluation of impact. This practical guide includes tips and strategies for leaders and teachers to make the most of applying professional learning to their settings.


A culture of learning and growth

“Professional learning will be most effective when it takes place within a culture where teachers and leaders expect and are expected to be active learners, to reflect on, receive feedback on and improve their pedagogical practice, and by doing so to improve learner outcomes.” (Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teacher and School Leaders, 2012).

A high-quality professional learning culture will be characterised by:

  • significant leadership support for ongoing adult learning and risk-taking
  • collective responsibility for improving practice
  • data driven collaboration aimed at specific and relevant goals that relate to the learning needs of students/children
  • trust, interaction and inter-dependence
  • support for professional learning through site structures, explicit planning and the allocation of time
  • a focus on the professional learning that is most likely to be effective in improving professional practice and learner outcomes.


Supporting teachers to apply professional learning in their classrooms

When considering how to support the application of professional learning in your education setting, as a leader you should consider the following questions:

  • What systems and processes are in place to support teachers to try new strategies and reflect on learning?
  • What formal and informal opportunities are there for teachers to provide feedback, to reflect, and to challenge thinking?
  • Is there agreement among teachers about what a certain practice looks like when it is effectively applied in the classroom?
  • Are teachers supported to experience gradual and incremental professional growth by applying their learning in phases?
  • How has the application of learning contributed to site improvement goals?


Tips for applying and refining professional learning

  • Focus on learning strategies that can be implemented in the classroom straight away and evaluated in the following weeks.
  • You may have to tweak elements of the professional learning  in order to best suit the learners and their context.
  • It takes time to become proficient at new strategies, so engage in regular cycles of learning, observation, and review to support and track your progress.
  • Seek feedback at key points. This might be from learner data, inviting other teachers to observe the new strategies in action, or discussing the professional learning with them.
  • When needed, carry out more in-depth professional learning in their area of focus. Sometimes the initial professional learning may just be an introduction to that topic and you may find you need more detail and practical strategies for it to be applied to the learning in the classroom.

Dr Louise Stoll - School leadership and professional learning: infusing the DNA

For successful student learning, schools must become learning organisations. Continuous, impactful teacher professional learning inside, outside and across schools’ learning communities is a fundamental feature. This may sound obvious, but it’s not always the reality. School leadership is critical to make sure that teacher professional learning is pervasive, and that the best conditions nurture and sustain it. What’s required?

Ensuring powerful professional learning – Inform your leadership practice with evidence on adult and professional learning that makes a difference for teachers’ practice and students’ learning. Doing this, you can ensure that professional learning addresses problems identified in students’ learning and wellbeing, engage teachers, develop theories of action about the difference professional learning makes, and carry out inquiries to evaluate and refine its processes and assess impact.

Creating the learning culture – Be clear that ‘everybody learns here every day’, model your own learning, and get involved in as well as promoting, teacher professional learning. Nourish a collaborative culture that values trust, curiosity to investigate practice together and willingness to try something new. Use failure for learning, so that teachers feel safe to step out of their comfort zones and take risks, e.g. open their practice to peers, be challenged, and experiment with and practise new learning. Stimulate and facilitate learning conversations, exchange of knowledge and sharing of practice, and encourage collective responsibility where teachers care about each other’s learning.

Designing supportive structures – Integrate teachers’ professional learning within a consistent, coherent approach to improvement and future development. Weave it into school plans, align it with appraisal systems, and allocate sufficient time and funding. Also, create roles and opportunities for others to lead and champion professional learning.