Factors Influencing In-service Education and Professional Development of Teachers: Findings from an Empirical Study

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ICET International Council on Education for Teaching

51st World Assembly

Factors Influencing In-service Education and Professional Development of Teachers: Findings from an Empirical Study

M. Assunção Flores, University of Minho, Portugal


Ana Margarida Veiga Simao, University of Lisbon, Portugal


Raimo Rajala, University of Lapland, Finland


Aki Tornberg, Ministry of Education, Finland


This paper reports on a study aiming at shedding light upon the nature of In-service Teacher Education in three European countries (Portugal, Finland, Serbia and Montenegro) as well as the factors facilitating or hindering teachers’ professional growth. Data were gathered through questionnaires (n=763) and semi-structured interviews (n= 41).

Findings suggest the emergence of both similarities and differences, namely in regard to the key role of school leadership and culture, professional orientation and focus of professional learning opportunities at work. Issues related to organization/context were also identified as key mediating influences in determining the kinds of INSET and professional development opportunities.


This paper reports on findings from research aimed at investigating the ways in which teachers learn in the workplace and the factors that hinder or facilitate their professional growth. It also discusses the implications of the findings for understanding teacher learning, teacher education and the role of schools in the continuing professional development of teachers.

The need to support teachers in their career-long development is widely recognized as a key issue for improving the quality of teaching. Central to this is the understanding of what teachers know, how they know it, how they think about teaching and about themselves as teachers, and how they act in context; in short how they develop throughout their careers in the contexts in which they work. It is within this perspective that this study was carried out in order to examine school leadership, teachers’ professional orientation, teacher learning in the workplace, and their implications for promoting meaningful opportunities for teachers’ professional development throughout their careers.

In recent years, teacher learning has attracted the attention of a number of researchers in order to gain deeper insights into teachers’ preferences and processes of professional learning as well as into the contexts in which it occurs (see, for instance, Calderhead, 1988; Lieberman, 1996; Marcelo, 1999; Kwakman, 2000). Lieberman (1996), for instance, proposes an ‘expanded view of professional learning’ and identifies three contexts in which teachers might learn: i) direct teaching (e.g. in conferences, courses, workshops); ii) learning in school (e.g. from critical friends, peer coaching, action research); and iii) learning out of school (e.g. through school/university partnerships, reform networks). Day (1999) adds another setting in which teacher learning may occur: learning in the classroom (through, for example, student response)

Such a comprehensive view of teacher learning also calls for a broad understanding of teacher professional development, which goes beyond the narrower and more traditional ‘one size fits all’ orientation (Lieberman, 1996; Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998) in which short-term initiatives such as ‘one-shot workshops’ (Sykes, 1996), or ‘short-burst, quick-fix one-day events’ (Day, 1993) are prevalent. The concept of professional development has broadened over the years. The need to go beyond the ‘deficit approach’ (Eraut, 1987), which characterized many In-service education initiatives, and to foster its effectiveness in terms of impact on teachers’ practice and student learning has led to the emergence of a more ecological and constructivist perspective (Sparks & Loucks-Horsley, 1990).

In recent years, researchers have conceptualized professional development as a more inclusive concept encompassing all formal and informal activities which are conducive to teacher learning and professional growth emphasizing the complex, dynamic and ongoing nature of the process (Marcelo, 1994; Corcoran, 1995; Fullan, 1995, Day, 1999)

Also of importance is the consideration of the personal, contextual and political factors affecting teacher professional development (Glatthorn, 1995; Day, 1999), which is seen as the ‘crossroad’ or the ‘glue’ that enables the linking of policy and practice, of schools and teachers (Marcelo, 1994). It is within this perspective that the study described in this paper was carried out in order to shed additional light upon the nature and processes of teacher learning in the workplace, as well as its influencing factors by examining teachers’ views on the opportunities for their learning and professional development.

In order to investigate the nature and the processes of teacher learning in the workplace, and its interrelated factors, a combination of methods was used. A questionnaire was designed including both closed and open-ended questions. Several levels of information were included: In-service training undertaken (concerning issues such as motives, teaching modes, providers of teaching, content, number of INSET activities undertaken over last two years), Content of Work, School Leadership, Professional Orientation of teachers, Opportunities for Learning at Work and Professional Development. Background characteristics, such as gender, age, years of experience, academic qualifications, years of experience at current school, level of teaching, school type, number of inhabitants in the municipality were also included. Overall, 763 teachers responded to the questionnaire. Semi-structured interviews (n= 41) were also used to examine further the ways in which teachers learn in the workplace.

As far as the sample responding to the questionnaire is concerned, 76.2% of the teachers were female. The median age of the teachers was 41 to 45. The majority of teachers had a permanent position (86.9 %) at the school. The experience of teaching was 16.6 years on average. The majority of teachers instructed in grades 1 to 4 (40.5%) followed by grades 5 to 6 (32.4 %). 24.9 per cent of teachers gave instruction on secondary level. The population in the community in which the school is situated was on average 84 592 inhabitants. Most teachers worked in urban on inner-city schools (53.8 %) One fifth worked in rural schools and one quarter in sub-urban areas.

In regard to the sample participating in the interview, the large majority of the teachers were female (83.3%), 23.4 % were between 36 and 40 years of age and 16.6% were between 26 and 30; 66.7% taught in elementary and secondary schools and 3.,3% taught in pre-school and primary schools. Most of the interviewees worked in urban schools (63.3%).

The process of qualitative data analysis was undertaken according to two phases: a vertical analysis (Miles and Huberman, 1994) according to which each of the respondents’ interviews was analysed separately. A second phase was then carried out according to a comparative or horizontal analysis (cross-case analysis) (Miles and Huberman, 1994). In this phase, the method of ‘constant comparative analysis’ (Glaser and Strauss, 1967) was used to look for common patterns as well as differences. Quantitative data were analysed statistically with the use of SPSS 11.5.

This paper presents some of the most significant findings from the broader piece of research carried out in 2004/2005. Overall, from both quantitative and qualitative data four main dimensions emerged: opportunities for learning at work and professional development, teacher community, and school leadership.

In the quantitative part of this research, teachers appraised their opportunity for professional development. Table 1 gives percentages of teachers choosing the positive end of the rating scale (options 4 or 5).
Table 1 - Percentage of Teachers Agreeing or Strongly Agreeing with Professional Development Items



I have a regular opportunity to develop professionally


INSET meets my personal developmental needs


INSET meets the needs for school improvement


Three aspects were distinguished in PD; namely, regularity, personal developmental needs and impact on school improvement. A majority of teachers in the three countries appraised that they have regular opportunities for PD. The fit of INSET into teachers’ developmental needs and needs for school improvement was poor, and only about one third of teachers agreed with these aspects of PD.
In the interview data, the majority of teachers appraised their opportunities to develop personally and professionally fairly good. The emerging themes were ‘teachers’ own goals’. One group of teachers emphasized their own goals for PD.
Opportunities have always been good. It is up to your own goals pursuits. In the beginning, I chose any courses to meet the survival needs at school, but ... Your own willingness to develop and ability to find time for INSET are decisive. (F)
A second group of teachers took into account equal opportunities for every teacher to participate in INSET.

Regularly, the opportunities have been good. Your personality makes a difference. I have tried to organize equal opportunities for every teacher with my head-teacher and colleagues. (F)
A third group emphasized their developmental optimism.
Opportunities are limitless. Right now they in my middle age they are the best. Opportunities have never been poor. (F)
There are many opportunities for PD. You can always find new needs and there are courses to meet these needs. (F)
On the negative side, reasons for poor opportunities were attributed to the start of one’s career and the misfit between needs and INSET.
My schools have changes almost every year and opportunities for INSET for a newcomer in the community are not good. (F)
It is really hard. (...) I have many needs for INSET, but there is no relevant course supply to meet my needs. (F)
Only 34.6 % of the teachers, in Portugal, stated that the actual in-service education and training courses and activities meet their personal needs. For 41.5 % of the respondents INSET should meet the needs for short-term professional development and for 79.1% stated that INSET should meet the needs for long-term Professional Development.

Qualitative data revealed a more pessimistic view of teachers on INSET. Teachers identified the lack of relevant INSET activities, the fact that INSET courses do not always meet teachers’ needs and expectations. They also referred to the repetition in terms of the content within INSET activities. To quote two of them:
(…) there isn’t enough choice in terms of INSET activities. I think that this is not good because there isn’t any planning at school level… Schools should find a way to identify teachers’ needs and to make sure that these needs will be taken into account at teachers’ centres or at universities. What teachers know and how they feel should be taken into account in order to organise INSET activities…” (P).
There is a great deal of repetitive stuff when it comes to INSET. In general, ii focuses on ICT and it doesn’t always meet teachers’ needs…”(P).

Others have a more positive view. They spoke of the articulation between theory and practice and they highlighted the organisation of the courses especially when discussion and the sharing of ideas are the main focus:
(…) some INSET activities are positive. They include a theoretical dimension and a more hands-on approach and they are articulated which is good. There are also workshops in which you discuss and share your own ideas and personal experience. In general, these courses are well-organised…”(P).
(…) I still need to develop. So Professional development is important to me, for instance in terms of ICT, self-study and reflection are crucial…” (P).
(…) there is a great deal of diversity in terms of INSET. You can’t be always talking about the negative aspects of formal INSET. I think you should be fare. I think it has also to do with your willing to do well.” (P).
Learning at work
In the quantitative research teachers were asked to judge their individual and community opportunities for learning at work. Table 2 gives the percentages of teachers choosing the positive end of the rating scale on the both forms of opportunities.
Table 2


Agree or Strongly Agree %

Individual opportunities for learning at work


Community opportunities for learning at work


In general, teachers judged individual opportunities for learning at work slightly better than community ones. This indicates that both aspects of learning are present in teachers’ work. In the interview, teachers were interrogated for organizational learning. According to Salo (1996), three aspects of learning in a group were distinguished: learning from a group, learning in a group and learning for a group.

In general, teachers were not used to think of school as a learning organization. The majority of comments were sceptical about the possibility of school as a learning organization.
Well, I do not think that there are such schools…Thinking of this school; it is really slow if any movement to that direction can be perceived. (F)

Teachers reported in the interview that they had learned from other teachers such things as content knowledge, teaching methods, cooperation skills, and seasons of a school year (what the year cycle of school is all about). What teachers had learned together with each other comprised such categories as planning of instruction, new teaching methods, and new ways of thinking about school and instruction, what teaching is all about. In very few cases teachers expressed that learning for the community is an important object of their learning activity. Answers could divided into three ranging from non-existent via seldom to some extent.
Teachers’ most important learning experiences
Teachers were asked to define their most important learning experience and the phase of career when it had occurred. The majority of experiences had occurred in early stages of their career. They were related to such tasks as mastering a teaching practice, motivating pupils, and encountering pupils in an authentic way.

In later stages, learning experiences were associated with teachers’ interactions with parents and other teachers. Also, finding out that teachers had still opportunities to learn new things was a decisive learning experience.

A special type of learning experience was related to one’s own parentship. Having own children and watching them growing had a kind of spill-over effect to one’s own teachership and to understanding pupil development and growth. It also helped teachers to understand and value a pupil irrespective of his/her cognitive abilities and skills. Every pupil is valuable.
Teacher Community
In the quantitative study, teachers’ professional orientation was approached by distinguishing three orientation types, namely individual, trust and community orientation. Individual orientation was opposite to both trust and community orientation showing negative correlations with the latter orientations. Looking at the means of the orientation types indicates that trust orientation (M=3.67) was prevailing among the teachers followed by community (M=3.44) and individual orientation (M=2.38).

In the interview, teachers were asked define what kind of community promotes PD of its members. The interview data yielded such adjectives as openness, discussing, giving social support, encouraging personal development, development-oriented climate, willing to renew its practices.

Teachers’ professional practices have two aspects. Teachers carry out their practices on an individual level, but practices have also a social dimension and they are embedded on community level. Teachers were also interrogated on whether they felt belonging to a community of practice. Analysis of the answers indicated that teachers’ conceptions could be divided into three: suspecting whether they belong to a community of practice (CP), detecting some elements of CP in their community, and feeling belonging to a CP.

Teachers suspecting their belongness to CP expressed their conception as follows:
I don’t understand to a great extent, a community of practice, but in any case we make decisions on school practices and, accordingly, act on these . (F)
The majority of interviewees had detected single elements of CP in their school.
CP is a part of teacher community. We have certain ways of acting on at school. (...) And I have myself adopted some of these practices. (F)

Teachers who had a firm conception of belonging to CP saw it both as a positive and a negative phenomenon. CP is a good thing, and a teacher starting his/her career can enter into a staff room and find out that certain practices already exist and can be taken for granted. The other side of the coin is that community practices may surround a teacher like an iron gage.

I feel belonging to CP. Job in any school is similar to any other school on a more general level. CP has a double nature (...) it promotes certain things, but it can also prevent from doing things being against the norms of the community. (F)
My answer is yes and no. Of course, I am a part of CP and I have grown to it along with my education. (...) On the other hand, I have set forth to find my own way and to experiment on teaching methods ... and in this sense I feel to swim against the current. (F)
The increasing importance of school leadership to the quality of the work and learning of the teacher was also highlighted by the Portuguese teachers. By and large, three main themes emerged from both quantitative and qualitative data: effectiveness, decision-making and help and encouragement.
(…) we have meetings at school with more specific teams and also with larger teams including school management team...” (P)
the principal used to promote meetings with teachers to share ideas and to find answers for the questions and challenges faced by the school. The idea is to share our goals and vision for the school and make teachers work for a common purpose ignoring the little things that prevents you from the main issues…” (P)
(…) the management team promoted a meeting for all teachers at school to inform about new regulations. They thought that it would be important for teachers to attend this kind of INSET activities. Although some teachers didn’t feel like going to these meetings, they were compulsory and I think that this was a good decision because in-service training is really important for teachers…” (P)
Informative, supportive and encouraging leadership is seen to play a key role in the formation of teachers’ professional orientation and a sense of community, with implications for teachers’ learning and professional development, job satisfaction, self-efficacy, and commitment.


Overall, data revealed a narrow view of teacher professional development. Professional learning (and development) was depicted more as an individual and lonely business rather than a joint venture. Also of interest are feelings of powerlessness which teachers associated with endless changes in education and the lack of support from school administration, the compulsory nature of training which relates to career advancement purpose (a credit system which prevents teachers to focus on their “real” job, in the Portuguese context), feelings of tiredness and giving up. Teachers also referred to the lack of provision of relevant courses and opportunities for them to learn and the lack of impact of INSET activities in their teaching and professional development. This is in line with recent research carried out in the Portuguese context which has shown the weak impact of teachers’ centres in fostering teacher professional development and educational innovation in schools, which was driven mainly by bureaucratic devices (see for instance, Ferreira, 1994; Ruela, 1999; Barroso and Canário, 1999).

Despite this some teachers argue for hope, self-confidence, professionalism and commitment which are needed if teachers are to engage in meaningful learning opportunities with their peers sharing a sense of purpose for their teaching (and their learning) and embarking upon project-led work and research in and out of school. These findings raise questions about the role of schools in promoting effective continuing professional development for teachers. Clearly, the provision of meaningful learning opportunities and support deemed necessary for teachers at different phases of their careers is crucial to enhance their continuing professional development. However, it needs to take into account teachers’ readiness and willingness to learn, their needs and motivations as well as the characteristics of the context in which they work. As Day (1999) states, ‘professional development is not something that can be forced, because it is the teacher who develops (actively), and not the teacher who is developed (passively)’ (p. 97). Furthermore, it is essential to provide teachers with working conditions conducive to a continuous questioning of their practices and the aims and values underpinning them as well as the broader educational contexts in which they work, for ‘learning from experience’ differs from ‘having experience’ (Shulman, 1997, p. 92). The way in which teachers learn and develop is dependent upon both idiosyncratic and contextual factors. It reflects the interplay between personal biography and the characteristics of the educational settings in which they work (Flores, 2005). Thus, issues of motivation and willingness to learn are crucial in promoting meaningful opportunities for learning in the workplace as well as the leadership and professional culture within schools as factors mediating teachers’ professional development and school development.


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Fortaleza, Brasil July 17 - 20


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