The continuing professional development policies for teachers and principals have been in practice for more than a decade. They allow schools to enjoy three paid days for staff development each academic year. Teachers and principals also have to undertake professional development in three-year cycles, each one contributing 150 hours of relevant activities.
The hours were introduced as soft targets at the policy launch stage to reduce teacher resistance, and have remained so. Most educators are now more conscious of the need for professional development, and many have taken paer in talks, workshops, advanced studies and training programmes.
Some even chalk up more professional development hours than is necessary. The policy's framework has been firmly established, but the question remains: does it have the life and spirit to drive it further forward?
Recently, the advisory committee on teacher education and teacher qualifications (ACTEQ) has been allowed by the Education Bureau to morph and expand into a new committee, called the committee on professional development of teachers and principals. This has the added function of looking after principals' development. It is a sound strategy to establish such a continuum of professional development for school educators, but efforts are needed to invigorate it.
If schools simply go through the routine of organising staff development days every year without invoking the spirit of professional development, or just organise them for cosmetic purposes, the days will be a waste of public money.
Furthermore, if quality professional development programmes are in short supply, cynicism will set in and the policies will become hollow.
There are at least three ways to make the policy more effective. One concerns the Teacher Competencies Framework, and the other two involve fostering a professional learning community, and building on past strengths.
The framework is localised and well thought out, dealing with what knowledge, skills and values teachers should possess and manifest at different stages of their careers.
It can be a useful means to establish professional standards or expectations, and also to guide individual teachers and whole schools towards seeking timely and relevant programmes to enhance their professional capacity.
But it is not widely known or shared, much less used in staff development activities. More needs to be done by the authorities to publicise it, as well as develop practical tools to utilise it for self-evaluation.
The second way forward is to develop a strategy which can steer schools towards more professional learning systems, and sustain learning.
In order that reform measures that visualise more effective and updated student learning outcomes can be implemented both in letter and spirit in schools, the importance of principals' transformational and instructional leadership has gained ascendancy.
One of their primary goals should be developing their schools into professional learning communities, so that continuous learning becomes part of school culture.
Principals need to perceive the important fact that a teacher's professional development is basically for school improvement, not for personal gains. They also need theory as well as practice concerning development of the learning communities, to bring such change to their schools.
Apart from these learning communities in schools, the concept can be applied more widely and have them fostered in subject disciplines, regional education districts and across the education sector.
Collaborating with professional bodies, such as the Hong Kong Principals' Institute, to find the right kind of personal development programmes for principals is another community-building measure. Having more human interaction and exchanges on professional matters is a sure-fire way to change a culture.
Lastly, the suggestions made in past progress reports of the ACTEQ on teachers' professional development, apart from the competencies framework, should be revisited, and updated to move things ahead. One important suggestion is to bring together staff development co-ordinators in different schools, and develop them into a professional learning community so that they can learn from each other. Both top-down and bottom-up initiatives are needed.
Relentless pursuit is needed, too. Whether the continuous professional development hours should become hard targets or stay soft, may be revisited.
Robin Cheung is a retired school principal