Four Types of Professional Learning

Over the last several years, there is a growing advocacy for the importance of professional learning. The Learning Forward is committed to a goal of,  "every educator engages in effective professional learning every day so every student achieves." We have elevated professional learning from periodic events to ongoing school functions. One example of evolution in our thinking is our choice of terms and how we have cast aside old terms and replace them with new terms, implying the new definitions are new and improved. We remember the days when we talked about professional learning as in-service training. You don't hear that term mentioned very often anymore. We then moved on to staff development, then professional development. And now we talk about professional learning and frequently as professional learning communities as an ongoing process within schools. While this progression to transform passive inservice training workshops into a collaborative PLCs is positive there is still a place in schools for different types of professional learning. Not everything can be learned through a PLC.  As I think about the different types of professional learning, they fall into four category types. 
 
My recent work on leadership categorizes leadership into four distinct quadrants -- all appropriate for situational leadership in schools. These four quadrants are authoritarian leadership, collaborative leadership, creative leadership and adaptive leadership.  Professional learning takes place in all four of these quadrants as well and falls into four separate types which align with these areas of leadership. Depending on the situation, professional learning should be planned and delivered in one of these types.
 
In Authoritarian leadership there is still a place for what we might have called inservice training. When there are absolutely critical skills that teachers must learn for example procedures around safety and security, legal issues or using required software, training is a term that fits very well. The curriculum is prescribed and we want teachers to be tested and demonstrate proficiency in these standard skills. Why not call this for what it is – training. Training is not an ugly connotation in this situation.
 
In Creative leadership professional, learning takes on a different connotation. Here, professional learning is less about developing specific skills, but more about concepts, ideas and vision to be embraced. Here the professional learning is more inspirational and less important a measure skill acquisition. Evaluation looks at changes in practice over a period of time. In this type of professional learning, it is absolutely essential for everyone to get the same message and to get that message as quickly as possible. This is where a large group presentation and reflection workshops are acceptable forms of professional learning and most frequently used. Workshops are not the most effective forms of professional learning. They are impersonal and often lack engagement. However, they are efficient forms of professional learning and they are valuable in getting a common message out with creative leadership.

 
Collaborative leadership really emphasizes empowerment of others. In this type of leadership, individuals take greater responsibility for their own learning. Here professional learning  is self directed and consists, not of large-scale workshops, but more individualized and personalized learning. This could be a variety of individual experiences in which teachers make choices based upon their individual needs and districts provide a large quantity or array of services to meet teacher needs. Because of the personalized nature of this type 
 
Finally in Adaptive leadership, schools are looking at significant changes in culture that will sustain changes over a period of time. In this case, professional learning is most often defined in terms of a collaborative learning community or professional learning communities (PLC) in which individuals continually learn from one another by analyze problems and identify specific needs seeking creative solutions.
 
Professional learning is not an either/or where abandon in-service training and only focus on professional learning communities. There is a real need for multiple types of professional learning which fit into these four categories based upon the leadership actions and the needs of the organization.