Education Workforce Council

Tel: 029 2046 0099 | Email: | Twitter link@ewc_cga | yt icon mono dark YouTube


Ken Jones - ‘Professional Development’ or ‘Professional Learning’ ... and does it matter?

Ken Jones photo for EWC blogHave you noticed the subtle change in language? Earlier this year Welsh Government documents were referring to 'Professional Development'; now the talk is all about 'Professional Learning'.  The New Deal refers to the Professional Learning Model ( see Learning Wales, 2015). It wasn't a sudden change - both terms have been used in Welsh Government documents over the past year and much has been borrowed from the Scottish model of Career Long Professional Learning (CLPL) (Education Scotland, 2015), but now the term Professional Learning is getting more prominent.

We've become familiar with the term CPD since it replaced 'staff development' and, before that, 'INSET' and there are good reasons why we have to change again.  It’s common for shifts in terminology to take place to reflect new ways of thinking and working but whereas the terms ‘professional development’ and ‘professional learning’ have often been used interchangeably, they are now becoming distinct in the language and literature of professional practice.

It is precisely because professional situations are not static that we can’t rely on professional development alone. Education changes; technology changes; society changes; schools change; leaders change; approaches to pupil learning change. “Training”, therefore, is not sufficient; adaptability is essential; lateral and divergent thinking are central; criticality rather than compliance is needed. ‘Professional learning’ involves active learning; it is a continuing process; it focuses on enquiry, analysis, reflection, evaluation, further action; it should be professionally critical; in its best forms it is collaborative; and it enables an approach which is not confined to a linear interpretation of future events and ways of working. James and McCormick (2009) identify the need for this learning to be structured. They argue that although teachers need practical advice, classroom practices can become ritualised and mechanistic if teachers aren’t stimulated to think in different ways about how they and their pupils learn..

Crucially, the essence of professional learning focuses less on the qualities or deficits of teachers and more on the need to make a difference for learners. Too often the process of professional development has focused on what the teacher needs to do rather than what and how pupils need to learn. So to generate effective pupil learning we have to ensure purposeful teacher learning and then translate this into effective practice. To achieve and sustain this it is essential to have effective senior and middle leadership because without their intervention teacher change is likely to be ad hoc and individualistic and there is likely to be more rather than less variation within institutions.

Timperley (2011) explains the differences between professional development and professional learning and I have taken four of her points to be used as prompts for reflection. But reflection isn’t sufficient; we all need to generate measurable action. So, I have also used the points to set challenges for senior and middle leaders in two ways:
Firstly, how do these points match the current professional learning culture in your school or college?
Secondly, if you are a middle or senior leader, I have set some challenges that you might set yourself to transform the professional learning cultures within your own team. You should reflect on these, discuss them with colleagues and use them with your own teams to bring about change.

  1. “… the term ‘professional development’ has taken on connotations of delivery of some kind of information to teachers … whereas ‘professional learning … challenges previous assumptions and creates new meanings. … Solving entrenched educational problems requires transformative rather than additive change to teaching practice” (p 4-5)

    Cultural question: How do you and your colleagues learn? Is it through transmission of knowledge and ideas? Are you and your colleagues passive recipients of information when you attend professional development activities?

    Leadership Challenge: make professional learning activities transformative. Set realistic targets for change. Challenge your own thinking and challenge others to make small changes to their practice

  2. “Improvements in pupil learning and well-being are not a by-product of professional learning but rather its central purpose” (p5).

    Cultural question: Are your expectations of pupils high enough? Are your expectations of yourself high enough? Do you know enough about the ways in which your pupils learn? What information might you need to support pupil learning more effectively? It’s not sufficient to blame pupils or the system for low attainment.

    Leadership challenge: find out how much teachers know about their pupils. Why do some pupils perform less well than others? How can individual pupils, with their help, achieve more? Why might an individual pupil be achieving more in one subject or with one teacher than with another?

  3. “… the knowledge and skills developed through professional learning must … [be] both practical and … be used to solve teaching and learning challenges encountered in the future” (p 7)

    Cultural question: are your knowledge and skills likely to equip you for future changes? How can you find out? What can you do if they are not?

    Leadership challenge: Discuss with other leaders who their best teachers are. Can these people be used as ‘lead practitioners’ to share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues within the school and with colleagues from other schools? Set up networking or coaching or mentoring situations to extend the knowledge and skills of teachers in your team.

  4. “… teachers must reference their learning to both themselves and their pupils … they generate information about the progress they are making so that they can monitor and adjust their learning [and that of the pupils]” (p 7)

    Cultural question: This is similar to pupils’ assessment for learning. To what extent do you evaluate your own teaching? What criteria do you use to say whether or not you are effective? What support do you need to carry out systematic inquiry into your own practice? What support do you have in taking transformative and radical approaches to persistent problems?

    Leadership challenge: Provide support for your teachers to look systematically and honestly at their own teaching, using individual pupil achievement as a key indicator. Create opportunities for them to observe practice and to be observed. Create secure environments in which critical reflection and risk taking can be undertaken.

In Wales we have an opportunity to be transformational in the way we design our curriculum (Donaldson), in the ways we prepare our teachers to become professionals (Furlong), and in the ways in which our serving teachers remain on the top of their game (The New Deal). We need to transform the language we use so that we are not using outdated terms when we are introducing new concepts.    

Donaldson, G, (2015) Successful Futures Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales Cardiff: Welsh Government

Education Scotland (2015) What is Career Long Professional Learning? Accessed 20 March 2015

Furlong, J. (2015) Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers Options for the future of initial teacher education in Wales Cardiff: Welsh Government
James, M. and McCormick, R. (2009) Teachers Learning How to Learn Teaching and Teacher Education Vol 25 p 973-982

Learning Wales (2015) Professional Learning Accessed 20 March 2015

Timperley, H.S. (2011) Realizing the Power of Professional Learning  Maidenhead: Open University Press

Professor Ken Jones

Ken taught in London for 13 years before returning to Wales to work in Higher Education and is currently Senior Consultant for Professional Learning and Development at UWTSD, based in Swansea. He has been involved locally in the training and continuing education of teachers and headteachers, nationally as a consultant in the field of school leadership and through work for government departments, and internationally through his position as Managing Editor of the journal Professional Development Education and as one of the founding members of the International Professional Development Association (IPDA).

He has served on government working groups in Wales in areas such as induction and Early Professional Development and revising the professional leadership standards. His work with the former GTCW has included advising on the setting up of a National Framework for the Professional Development of Teachers in Wales and in co-piloting the accreditation route for Chartered Teacher status. His international work has included the organisation of symposia on Professional Learning in many European countries, in the USA and in India.

Recent publications include Jones, K. (2011) Central, local and individual continuing professional development (CPD) priorities: changing policies of CPD in Wales Professional Development in Education Vol 37 No 5 November 2011, 759-776

Jones, K. and O'Brien, J. (Eds) (2014) European Perspectives on Professional Development in Teacher Education London: Routledge

Jones, K. (2015) "Oh no ... not another good idea!" Motivating teachers through optimistic professional learning in Fleming, M., Martin, C.R. and Smith, H. (2015) Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Learning and Teaching Environment Glasgow: Swan and Horn