What characterizes promising professional development interventions related to inclusiveness?

Author: Pauline Slot

In view of life-long learning there is a lot of attention for on-going and continuous professional development (PD) that can contribute to changing professionals’ competences and behaviour. For the current purpose, professionals include a wide range of practitioners working with children and families, such as teachers, social workers, paraprofessionals and volunteers, in formal and informal settings. PD concerns all actions aimed at changing professionals’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs or behaviour. Although there are abundant PD studies, there are two drawbacks in this literature. The first is that the majority of studies published in scientific journals come from Anglo-Saxon countries. Secondly, these studies do not always provide detailed information on the different components of professionalization, thus providing limited details on its key. The ISOTIS inventory aimed to address both gaps by exploring aspects of promising European PD interventions.

Based on the inventory, we propose a new framework to view PD.

The outer layer situates the professional within a larger (organizational) context, which is likely to impact the effectiveness of PD. inside there are three main PD components related to the who, the what, and the how of PD.

  1. The characteristics of the learners and the context are important to consider when thinking about PD. For instance, the results of the inventory showed that the majority of the programmes in the inventory could be considered as general interventions, rather than aimed at professionals working with a specific target group. In some cases the programmes were aimed at professionals working with disadvantaged children or second language learners.
  2. Different content areas can be addressed in PD. The results of the inventory showed that 69% of the interventions were specifically focused on cultural diversity, multilingualism or inclusiveness. Further, different focus domains can be distinguished, such as knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes. The findings of the inventory revealed that the majority of PD interventions emphasized knowledge and skills or knowledge, skills and attitudes.
  3. Broadly speaking, three different types of PD strategies can be distinguished: training or courses, coaching and reflection. The inventory highlighted that the combination of all three strategies was the most common across interventions, followed by a combination of training and reflection. The preferred delivery mode was face-to-face and the PD was targeted either at an individual or at both the individual and the team level.

Mechanism of change

The inner circle reflects the two main processes hypothesized to change professionals’ behaviour and practices. Enactment concerns the translation of newly acquired beliefs into practice and illustrates the on-going exchange between professionals’ knowledge, beliefs and skills in changing actual behaviour and practices. The results of the inventory showed that the majority of PD interventions was both theory- and practice based, which could support enactment as underlying mechanism of changing professionals’ practices.

Reflection is the other key facilitator of change as it allows professionals to use (daily) experiences to critically consider, (re)evaluate and reconstruct knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, skills, and behaviour. Indeed the results supported the importance of reflection, as this was part of the majority of PD interventions included in the inventory. In order to be effective, reflection needs to be critical and constructive. Moreover, there are some indications that reflection involving the team as a whole, rather than a single professional, and that incorporate a focus on attitudes besides knowledge and skills can be more effective in changing professionals’ behaviour and practices.

Recommendations for practice

  1. Reflection is an important aspect of PD and should have a prominent role in professionals’ (everyday) practices, as part of continuous professional development within the organisation, and in specific interventions aimed at changings professionals’ knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes.
  2. A comprehensive approach to PD involves a combination of theory and practice with interplay of face-to-face and online delivery using different PD strategies, including training, reflection and coaching, targeting professionals’ knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes.
  3. Online PD can include e-learning activities, video-based reflection, online exchange of practices and online tools for self reflection.