Teachers’ professional development – from initial teacher education to lifelong learning

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A successful career in teaching begins with good quality Initial Teacher Education (ITE). However, this is just the start of the journey. In this month's Practice article we discover two projects contributing to the enrichment of teacher competences.

Teachers today face quickly-changing expectations and need a broad and sophisticated set of competences with an ability to adapt to different learning environments in order to maintain their high quality teaching. According to the recent Eurydice report "The Teaching Profession in Europe" (June 2015), a higher proportion of teachers feel very well prepared for their work when they have completed an ITE programme than when they have not. (In 15 European countries, the minimum level of ITE programmes is that of a Bachelor’s qualification, whereas 17 countries require at least a Master’s degree.)

Nevertheless, there is a difference between the additional subject-specific training that teachers already working in the education system are often given and those skills that they report they most need, including: teaching students with special needs, ICT skills for teaching, new technologies in the workplace, approaches to individualised learning, and teaching cross-curricular skills.

To respond to the changing demands teachers need good support and opportunities for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), including developing their own lifelong learning skills and collaborating with colleagues. Besides formal and traditional training, such as courses, other forms of CPD are emerging with activities that are more peer-based, collaborative, less structured, and focused on grassroots involvement.

Inspiring future (eTwinning) teachers

Until fairly recently, eTwinning, the online community for pan-European schools projects was only accessible to authenticated teachers and couldn't be used directly by ITE students amongst others. However, over the past few years, several ITE institutes across Europe have shown interest in introducing the 'eTwinning experience' to their students – the teachers of the future.

To that end, the eTwinning ITE pilot was launched in 2012 with the participation of seven ITE institutes from four countries: Denmark, Norway, UK and Belgium (Flanders). The ITE students received a theoretical introduction delivered by an eTwinning Ambassador, followed by an active engagement in a project. The students either worked in without pupils, getting to know the available tools and exchanging with peers from other countries, or carried out a project in the classroom with another ITE student, while both were undertaking their practical training. Students also took part in projects run by experienced eTwinning teachers, in that way getting an authentic experience.

Encouraged by the positive results, the pilot was expanded to involve 21 ITE institutes from seven countries in spring 2014. Cooperation with ITE institutes continues in autumn 2015 when more ITE institutes will join the pilot. The aim is to consolidate the partnerships between the various institutions involved and to mainstream the introduction of eTwinning to a wider group of new generation trainee teachers.

One particular example is "Inspiring Future Teachers. The wonderful world of eTwinning for Childhood". As part of the ITE pilot 2014-2015, students from Italy, Denmark and Spain (together with their schools and universities making a total of 40 participants) worked together online getting to know each other and discovering the eTwinning platforms and tools, including the project diaries, video conferencing, and virtual classroom facilities.

Image: Shutterstock/ Khamidulin Sergey

eTwinning is the community for schools involving over 315,000 teachers from across Europe. Through eTwinning, teachers have the opportunity to meet and interact in school projects, special interest groups and online forums, and to take part in professional development activities.

The Learning Teacher Network: supporting the new role of the teacher

With 26 partner institutions from ten countries, the Learning Teacher Network was started as a Comenius 3 Network 2003-2006 within the European Socrates Programme. The network focused on 'the new role of the teacher' and organised three international conferences and produced three 'state of the art' books comprising 88 articles, including exemplary case studies and good practices. Furthermore, the network organised a number of in-service training courses and contact seminars, as well as delivering ten concluding recommendations for European educational action to the Commission.

The project was composed of pre-school and school teachers, teacher educators and university researchers. One of the participants – a head teacher - described a key lesson they learned from the project: the importance of creating opportunities for teachers from different kinds of institutions – with different roles, teaching professions, knowledge and experience – to meet and learn together.

"You bring back with you more than you take to each meeting and the broader perspective feeds into everyday work. It’s been a great international experience which has brought development in school,"

In 2009 the network was awarded the European Gold Award by the European Commission as the best Comenius project within the Lifelong Learning Programme.

Image: The Learning Teacher Network

After the funding period ended in 2006, the Learning Teacher Network was sustained and transformed to an independent, non-profit, European educational network and association working in 43 European countries and beyond. The activities include annual international conferences, thematic international seminars, teacher training courses, publication of newsletter, quarterly Learning Teacher Magazine and a peer-reviewed Learning Teacher Journal.

The strength of the network is based on the capacity building of educators and trainers, learning and sharing opportunities, and the active exchange and transfer of professional knowledge and experience. From 2015 the Learning Teacher Network is an official UNESCO Key Partner, implementing the UN/UNESCO Global Action Programme for Education for Sustainable Development by capacity building of educators and trainers.