The Seven Steps ‘Professional development in the Australian education industry’ survey, which opened in December 2022 and received over 960 responses from primary and secondary teachers and school leaders across all sectors, explored a wide range of topics on PD in education – from the method of delivery and learning focus to approvals and budgets.
How much PD are you doing?
The survey revealed that in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, the PD and learning habits of educators and professionals worldwide experienced a significant transformation. About one in three respondents reported having undertaken fewer PD activities than usual in the past year.
The scheduling of the training, the need for colleagues or casual relief teachers to cover classroom time, and related staffing concerns accounted for 60% of the reasons behind teachers’ reduced participation in training sessions. The indirect impacts of the pandemic were largely responsible for the rest.
Roughly one in four respondents said the pandemic was the top reason for reduced PD activities, while post-pandemic, 60% said this was due to issues with timing, and staffing.
The COVID-19 lockdowns and the subsequent transition to remote learning resulted in a marked shift towards online training, reducing some obstacles to teachers’ access to PD. Many teachers noted the time and money saved, and the easy accessibility of online PD, as considerable advantage.
While many teachers prefer in-person PD, owing to the buzz and the chance to network and reflect beyond their individual schools, the challenges of staff shortfalls, tightening budgets, and the requirement to be present in the classroom means that flexible hybrid models are essential for many teachers when accessing training post-COVID.
Preferred time for online PDs
Unsurprisingly, teachers favour PD alternatives that align with their school schedules. The survey’s authors noted that while teachers being stretched thin for time is not a new phenomenon, it does appear to be getting worse. Additionally, schools are facing stricter time-in-lieu rules, making it increasingly challenging for teachers to partake in training beyond their normal school hours.
Writing: The preferred area of focus for schools in 2023
Professional development in literacy is seen as a high priority by teachers and schools alike. And it’s training in teaching writing that teachers and schools are specifically calling out for.
Literacy – writing is the school focus for 20% of teachers surveyed and it clearly features high up the priority list in school improvement plans. In addition, when we asked teachers what professional development they would choose for themselves, 20% chose Literacy – writing as their preferred area of focus.
Teachers most concerned with meeting students’ needs
Teachers reported challenges in managing big classes, new curricula and students who are struggling to get back into routines post-COVID. There were also many comments about multi and diverse needs, differentiation, engagement and attendance. Thirty-one per cent of comments indicated that Meeting students’ needs was the greatest concern for their classroom this year.
“What came through loud and clear from the survey results was that Professional Development in literacy – specifically, in how to teach writing – is a high priority for teachers,” Seven Steps Training Manager, Hannah Thomas told The Educator.
“Yet the feedback also showed that staffing and budgets are stretched, hindering the chance to get that PD.”
In considering ways to address this, Thomas said the team at Seven Steps identified both the important role of school leaders in prioritising literacy PD and the obvious need to create more flexible training options.
“Seven Steps already offers both online and face-to-face options for PD delivery but this year we’ve added a hybrid solution to give teachers even more flexibility,” she said.
“Workshop attendees now receive 3 months’ access to our online Teacher Hub platform, which allows them to complete our writing courses and explore our teaching resources at their own pace.”
Seven Steps are also running a free interactive webinar this term, which gives teachers easy access to short, high-impact and fun literacy PD.
“This is a lifesaver for time-poor educators and provides a much-needed morale boost.”
Thomas said that with flexible literacy PD options available, it’s important for school leaders to prioritise access.
“This can be done by allowing time and budget for key team members [e.g. literacy leaders] to undertake PD, and allocating at least one student-free day to literacy-focused PD,” she said.
“Additional ways teachers can achieve this is by creating a culture of learning, sharing and coaching among staff, and supporting staff to find time during the school day to engage with hybrid PD models.”