Teacher professional development is the process of teachers enhancing their skills to raise the quality of instructing and learning in classrooms and, hence, standards in schools and colleges. The ultimate aim of teacher professional development is to improve pupil or student learning. Professional development is regarded as an essential component in maintaining and advancing individual personal and professional abilities. In Learning and Teaching: A Strategy for Professional Development (2001), professional development is defined as "any activity that increases the skills, knowledge or understanding of teachers, and their effectiveness in schools."
Since teachers are required to be competent in practice after gaining a certain amount of knowledge, it is suggested that the required professionalism has to be maintained through additional professional development input. The nature and quality of teacher education is the subject of much concern in many countries around the world. Teachers with inadequate levels of knowledge cannot supposedly understand the progressive development of pupil's or student's knowledge.
Quality professional development of teachers serves to enhance student achievement. Teachers are the single most important determinant of student achievement, with teacher education, ability and experience accounting for more variation in student achievement than all other factors. According to research, up to 90 percent of the difference in student test scores can be put down to the quality of teaching. It is considered important that teachers be well prepared when they begin instructing and that they continue to improve their knowledge and skills throughout their careers.
Professional development can contribute to the creation of a positive school culture. Subjecting teachers to professional development courses should supply them with the tools they need to successfully approach classroom challenges and grant them access to a professional community that can support their endeavors. Teachers can gain professional knowledge by attending courses, by using their own experience of teaching or by collaborating with other teachers either from the same or from other organizations. Building on this development can be achieved by closely identifying development needs, by meeting the needs of individual teachers and by linking the benefits of training to improvements to be experienced by pupils and students in the classroom.
Professional learning for individuals may include several elements. This includes taking time to engage in sustained reflection; participation in accredited provision through a structured program of learning; creation of learning opportunities from everyday practice; development of the ability to identify own learning needs; development of the ability to identify the learning needs of others; development of self-evaluative, observational and peer-review skills; development of an individual learning plan; access to mentoring, coaching and networking; assimilation of professional dialogue and feedback; and planning of longer term career aspirations.
The use of coaching, mentoring and peer-networking mechanisms have proved their value in enhancing teacher professional development and performance in schools and colleges. The adoption of such methods is associated with benefits such as mutual support for learning, spreading of good practices and embedding of desirable change. The so called-method of peer-coaching, or the relationship between teachers supporting teachers as they adopt new ways of instructing to better meet the needs of students, has also proved to be useful. Peer-coaching may include out-of-class activities such as study groups and collaborative planning and in-class coaching activities such as peer-observation. In order to gain benefits from the implementation of these mechanisms, a close partnership between colleagues is required. It has been established that teacher collaboration is necessary for professional learning to occur.
Technology could also be used for the purpose of improving professional development. For instance, video cameras can be used to promote self-assessment and/or peer coaching. Electronic networking services provide rich databases for educators and e-mail and social networking sites can help teachers and administrators connect with colleagues to discuss problems and suggest solutions. Teachers can use staff development videotapes to improve their knowledge and skills.
There are also several models available for online teacher professional development. Online teacher professional development models provide teachers with access to experts in a given field and with the opportunity to collaborate with others. Online learning allows time for reflection and for dialogue, in addition to increasing flexibility in scheduling and timing. Many people believe that online services will play an important role in teacher and student learning in the future and that there is enormous potential for online or virtual communities to facilitate teacher professional development.