Gathering Momentum - an evolving PLP

The PLP is fully functional, growing and gathering momentum.

by Lois Browne

Two years ago the College wrote its members to tell them what little there was to know about the provincial government's then-recently announced Professional Learning Program.

College members were informed that the legislation would require them to successfully complete 14 approved Professional Learning Program (PLP) credits every five years in order to maintain their licence. This professional learning was to include seven core areas and seven electives and have an assessment mechanism.

"We made some promises in that letter," says Registrar Doug Wilson. "The College committed itself to developing a program that would serve the interests of its members as well as the requirements of the legislation. We promised to increase the availability of professional learning and to ensure that it was of a high quality."

Now, two years later, there are about 450 approved providers and nearly 4,200 approved courses. More providers and courses are being added every month and up-to-date information is available to members on our web site. Members have earned more than 64,000 credits and credits are being added to members' PL Records every day.

The PLP is fully functional, growing and gathering momentum.

Early days

"At first, the government had considered regular re-certification exams for all teachers," says Registrar Doug Wilson. "The College informed then-Minister of Education Janet Ecker that written tests for practising teachers had not been successfully introduced anywhere in the world."

The College proposed an entry-to-the-profession test for new applicants to the College, a two-year induction program for new teachers and an orientation program for teachers trained outside Ontario.

In the end, the government went ahead with the PLP for Ontario's experienced teachers, and shortly afterward introduced an entry-to-the-profession test. Induction and orientation programs are still in development.

The legislation that governs PLP established a Professional Learning Committee at the College to implement the program. The committee comprises four members of College Council, two College members-at-large and three additional members appointed to the committee by the Minister of Education.

The committee has approved each development of the program. And the commitment of individual committee members has been key in keeping the PLP growing and on track, ensuring that decisions were made and implemented in a timely manner.

Two years later, the PLP is running at full throttle and although the program was not what the College had suggested, says Wilson, "The PLP committee has worked hard to make it work for the profession."

Promises kept

The College planned that the implementation of the PLP would be staged and incremental. Our computers randomly chose 40,000 members to begin the program in September 2001 and brought the rest of the membership into the program a year later. The staggered introduction allowed time to enlist providers that met appropriate criteria in order to offer the broadest possible range of professional learning opportunities.

The College also promised to clarify the definition of a PLP course. The word 'course' suggested a vision of professional learning that seemed unacceptably narrow. The College expanded the definition to encompass the many ways in which members pursue professional development.

Today, PLP courses include a variety of learning opportunities that further teachers' skills and professional development. These include:

  • conferences,
  • workshops,
  • research projects,
  • participation in school councils,
  • mentoring,
  • professional portfolios,
  • participation in various education-related organizations,
  • design of professional learning sessions,
  • contributing to a textbook or other learning resource and a variety of job-embedded projects.

The possibilities are as varied as professional learning has always been for teachers.

Choice offered

From the outset, the College recognized a need for an expansion of the number and kinds of providers if the PLP was to have the depth and range of professional opportunities that were needed.

Providers now include school boards, faculties of education, universities and community colleges, independent schools, environmental organizations, cultural organizations, museums, theatre companies, health organizations, language schools, professional associations, subject associations, educational partnerships as well as private businesses and entrepreneurial individuals with an education-related service to sell.

The College is pleased to have approved organizations offering French and native-language courses, professional learning for teachers of the deaf and a host of other professional learning opportunities that members want. This wide range of providers helps to address many potential problems concerning access.

More than 11,000 College members teach in French and professional development opportunities have always been scarcer for them than for their English colleagues. Happily, so far the College has been able to approve a significant proportion of French-language professional learning opportunities. Twenty per cent of approved PLP courses are currently offered in French.

For members who live and work in less populated areas of Ontario, it can be difficult to participate in the classroom courses that they find most relevant to their professional needs. Moreover, nearly 3,500 College members live outside Ontario or abroad. Online and distance education is often essential to the continued professional development of these members. For these members and thousands more whose home commitments do not permit them to attend as many courses as they might like, nearly a third of approved PLP courses are now offered online or through other forms of distance education.

Of course, for most members, cost has been a considerable concern regarding PLP. Fortunately, more than half of approved PLP courses are offered by school boards, which provide professional learning opportunities for their employees free of charge or for a nominal fee. Not-for-profit organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross also offer lower cost learning opportunities.

Learning options

Additional Qualifications courses have always been a mainstay of the professional development that teachers design to meet their personal learning needs. The PLP has accorded each of these courses four credits.

At the end of 2002, the introduction of the Individual Learning Option (ILO) provided a major advance in the flexibility and responsiveness of Professional Learning Program. Through the ILO initiative, a professional learning activity that is not offered by an approved provider but meets all other PLP criteria may be submitted for credit.

Individual members complete the standard course-proposal application for the professional learning they have completed and arrange for the application to be submitted through an approved provider. A list of about 40 approved providers who are prepared to make submissions on behalf of College members is posted on our web site.

The ILO permits members significant autonomy in the development of programs that respond to their individual needs, including ongoing self-directed and job-embedded learning experiences.
Keeping you informed.

An important promise made by the College in 2001 was that information - scarce as it was in the beginning - would become more and more plentiful. At the launch of the PLP there was little information on how credits would be assigned, so the College developed an assessment table.

This table is posted on the College web site for the reference of both members and providers and helps those submitting courses for approval to accurately gauge the appropriate number of credits.

Over the past two years, staff undertook the day-to-day development and implementation of a responsive and rational program, the PLP committee approved each development in this evolution and the College web site and Professionally Speaking have been vital means of communication with our members and potential providers.

Quarterly updates in the Blue Pages of the magazine deliver information to all members on the latest PLP news: credits for AQs, exemptions for retired members, extensions for those not currently teaching at a job that requires an Ontario certificate.

The College web site delivers up-to-date information about the program and provides a searchable listing of all approved providers and courses, which includes contact names, course credits and more.

The site can also provide each member with immediate access to their unique, confidential Professional Learning Record through the password-protected Members' Area. Potential providers appreciate its convenience when applying for provider status and course approvals and when reporting successful completions of their courses by College members.

Two years after the Professional Learning Program was announced by the provincial government, it looks very different. And developments do not end here. The program will continue to identify and meet the needs of teachers - supporting their commitment to improving their skills, expanding their knowledge and honing their practice.

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