One project (in which Ethos has taken a key role) that has been trialling how a VPD community of interest might function, and how it might 'look' is the ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching Virtual Professional Development Project currently underway in NZ, with funding from the Ministry of Education.
Communities of Interest, especially those where the formation of learning communities and consequent achievement of formal and informal learning outcomes, is central, are essentially non-hierarchical. The Virtual Professional Development (VPD) model is, therefore, attempting to locate non-hierarchical communities within hierarchical ones. Although, ideally, it might be suggested that a shift in the existing education paradigm would be a positive move, this is unlikely to happen within the timeframe of the development of the VPD framework. However, this does not create an insurmountable barrier, but rather is an indication of the types and level of support that may be needed to help VPD participant teachers to transition into a more fluid model of professional development, as well as coping with some of the restrictions and frustrations they may consequently encounter.
The focus within the communities is firmly on relationship building, contextualised learning, and personalised, negotiated learning outcomes for teachers (as well as their students). One of the key benefits of the VPD model is that the PD is completely contextualised within a teacher's school culture. Learning outcomes are negotiated by the VPD participants, and the skills they identify as important are directly related to the students with whom they are working. Facilitated sessions are at a time and place which is flexible to each teacher's needs. As a result, the content, tools and meaning of the PD are subsumed within the teacher's function of being part of their own school's/institution's community, rather than being the central focus as can happen with more traditional approaches to PD via generic workshops. Teachers will be scaffolded to help them and their school identify learning requirements, and access and share PD focussed on the needs of their students and school community (e.g. the eCapability Model). In turn, this will help schools align their planning with government priorities and initiatives such as national standards, NZC, Ka Hikitia and the Pasifika Education Plan.
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