Education Opinion

Terms Carry Meaning

By Learning Forward — January 06, 2012 2 min read
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Early in the process of developing the revised Standards for Professional Learning, the decision was made to name the new document Standards for Professional Development. Within the last decade, the term professional development has become more prevalent both in the research and popular literature as a replacement for the term staff development, or its ancestor, inservice education. The term professional development seemed appropriate since research focused on the continuous development of teachers and principals, with teachers being the primary subjects of research.

Late in the revision process, the Standards Revision Task Force considered using the term professional learning rather than professional development in the name. Task force members overwhelmingly agreed to make this change.

The term professional development tends to connote only the formal events in which people gather to learn. The term also conveys more about the design, logistics, and materials needed for learning than the outcomes of the learning for both educators and their students.

In contrast, the term professional learning emphasizes that learning is a process that continues over time, extends into practice, and expects results for students.
While this distinction may appear arbitrary for some, the concepts embedded in the meaning of professional learning are fundamental to shaping practice and perception. Changing the name from development to learning holds tremendous promise for engaging educators in a process that is a hallmark of a profession, continuous education and improvement of practice.

Changing the name might contribute to changing both the public’s and educators’ perception of educator development from one that is a passive process, removed from the daily work in schools, disconnected from student and educator standards, designed by those outside of schools, and done at the expense of students’ opportunity to learn. Professional learning connotes a new understanding of this core function within education. Professional learning is continuous improvement that occurs daily in schools. It is facilitated and designed by educators themselves and supported by external assistance providers when necessary. It focuses on educators’ everyday work, strengthening their capacity, and increasing student results. It occurs as a part of the normal workday when students are in school. It engages educators as active learners in a process that continues over time. It weaves together acquisition of knowledge, development of skills, critique of, reflection on, and refinement of practice, and analysis of dispositions. It is vital to the success of students.

The practice of continuous learning is essential for any improvement effort. Without learning, little change is possible. Every major education initiative, past, present, or future, depends on the capacity of educators to implement it fully and with fidelity. Professional learning is the only viable, efficient, and logical process for building the capacity of educators working in schools today. The Standards for Professional Learning describe the research-based attributes of professional learning essential to transforming schools for student success.

Joellen Killion
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.