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‘Do It Yourself’ Professional Development (DIY PD)

Richard Holme

Before moving in to my current role in teacher education I worked as a primary school class teacher. I loved my job but nearly every Tuesday I would trudge in to the staffroom for a CPD session. Scanning the room I would see people watching the clock as it ticked closer to the 4:45pm finish time. Colleagues had so many other things to be thinking about (planning, assessment, wall displays, and of course OFSTED) they had no energy, or time, to commit to professional development. Looking back I feel really sorry for the staff or external visitor leading the sessions as this was probably a common experience for them.

I went home happy with a strange sense of empowerment or freedom

Around this time two experiences made me re-evaluate the idea of teacher professional development. The first was undertaking Masters’ study, which I was completing part time, and, despite scepticism from some peers, I really looked forward to engaging with this. I still had the marking and lesson plans to get back to but for some reason discussing the origins and development of children’s literature or learning about action research methodology, away from the school environment, seemed beneficial. The second key formative experience was attending a local TeachMeet – these stakeholder organised CPD events first originated in the UK in 2006. I attended this in my own time, at the end of a long school day, and did not tell colleagues I was going. On arrival I knew no one but this did not seem to be a problem and I was warmly welcomed. By the end of the evening I had chatted to people from a range of educational backgrounds and learnt a lot from the various presenters. I also had the feeling people had been able to share some of my own knowledge and expertise and I went home happy with a strange sense of empowerment or freedom. This was something I had not felt very often in my teaching career.

These experiences and the subsequent personal analysis have led me to consider the very nature of organised and formalised teacher professional development. TeachMeets were being organised but more importantly owned by the teachers themselves. These initiatives seem to give teachers back the control over their professional development. I have since attempted to and define this form of professional development. One option was ‘rogue PD’ but this seemed slightly too antagonistic or anti-establishment whereas ‘teacher-led PD’ didn’t seem to reflect the freedom element enough as this could still be controlled by managers or administrators. As a result I have settled on ‘Do It Yourself (or DIY) PD’ – which seems to illustrate the ‘get stuck in’ attitude of many of the people who engage in this form of PD.

Reflecting again on my own personal experiences the issue of control, or personal autonomy, was important. Therefore, this may be worth exploring more than the actual format of DIY PD. The recently proposed componential structure of professional development (Evans, 2014), highlights intellectual and attitudinal elements of professional learning. In particular the importance of motivational change, within the professional development process, is identified. Wider analysis of literature in this field suggests this challenges the traditional model of teacher PD, which too often focusses on practical or behavioural elements. These established formats are also more likely to be characterised as top-down or transmissive, rather than the PD practice that is classed as transformative (Kennedy, 2014).

the attitudinal motivation to learn and develop should be welcomed

There is, of course, an alternative explanation for the increase in DIY PD. Those engaging in these activities may simply like doing something different, or being somewhere else (anywhere but school?). They may in fact be the ‘gourmet omnivores’ identified by Joyce and Showers (2002) who are looking around for the next opportunity driven on by personal ambition. However, if the concept of personal ambition can be reconsidered then the attitudinal motivation to learn and develop (amongst DIY PD teachers), should be welcomed. This may also result in the DIY PD community leading the way for the traditional professional development deliverers and professional learning managers.