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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Professional Development: a symptom of a necessity for a shift of paradigm

One of the most common complaints I hear about Professional Development is that it is cyclical. Trends in education (often marketed as based on scientific research) gain popularity - its often short lived. We can look at this in two ways. Firstly, trends change to meet the growing and evolving needs of children. This predicates itself on the notion of differences - often generational. For instance, we are currently in the 'digital native' epoch etc. The second way is more damning - educational trends (in the broadest sense) have failed to make a difference. These can be for a myriad of reasons oft cited by frustrated teachers - changes taught are impractical/illogical/already implemented/against my pedagogical beliefs etc. Whilst this is true, there is a more fundamental reason.

The former way of understanding the cyclical nature of PD to meet the evolving needs of students appeals intuitively to us. However, if we are to take seriously the naturalistic framework, we might have to run counter to our intuitions. The argument goes something like this: irrespective of the changing nature of society, human biology remains the same. In more practical terms, no matter how much we think we are revolutionising teaching strategies that meet the demands of a changing world, we disregard the fact that children are fundamentally the same and learning in fundamentally the same ways. Surely this runs against our common sense - after all, the 'digital native' intuition seems to apply to accurately to the current student as they seem to just 'intuitively' understand technology. It's time we destroy intuition as a means of justifying educational decisions - one of the hallmarks of the Paradigm Shift that is to be understood.

The smoking cannon is summed up here. In summation, the Paradigm Shift necessitated at by Hattie's research is the revolution of taking evidence and scientific research seriously. I will explore this point in-depth in another post. For this point, why a paradigm shift? I want to make clear that the methodology of which professional development has been researched and implemented disregards the latter naturalistic perspective and appeals to our intuitions - these intuitions have led to short lived trends. Short lived trends that, by all accounts (and to sound very cynical) are making individuals a lot of money. Teachers are busy, and 'packages' that are validated by 'science' lure use into a false sense of productivity - we don't have to produce them as they are produced for us, with the added backing of 'research' so we know they must work.

Most professional development is a waste of time and money. A lot of research has been made on this point. But it begs the question, as teachers do approach professional learning with the intention of improving teaching strategies - if professional development were not packaged on pseudo-scientific research that exploits our intuitions, but were designed in ways that had meaningful and powerful changes in learning taking place, would we still be so disillusioned with the process of PD? We need to make changes to the way research is implemented. In the first place, PD must be epistemically concerned with truth. The claims must be not just loosely 'based on research' but verified by research itself. Its time to end the exploitative association between theories of learning (whether scientific or not) and theories of teaching.

Teaching is applied brain science. Hatties 'Visible Learning' points us in this direction - what has a measurable effect must necessarily correlate to the science of learning. This correlation does not necessarily fit our standard of what appeals intuitively, but let this be of no guidance when asking questions of what really works. This example of Professional Learning reflects a deeper movement from intuitive based research to evidence based research.

Jesse Stephens