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March 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 6

In Europe / School-Based Inservice Education

School-based inservice education of teachers is a growing trend in many European countries. The Association for Teacher Education in Europe, a professional association of teacher educators with members in universities and other teacher training institutions in most European countries, has documented that growth. One of the association's 17 permanent working groups—of which we are members—focuses on the inservice aspect of teacher education.
Our group has undertaken a series of joint research studies in the field of inservice education of teachers, namely a look at case studies (Evans 1993), a profile of the qualifications of school-based inservice agents (van Lakerveld 1993), and most recently a career analysis of successful agents (Fischer et al. 1995).

The Concept in Europe

Educators have begun to recognize that the school must be the central unit in any successful reform effort. No matter how elegant the design, innovations that do not meet the needs of the school and approaches that have no support among staff members will never lead to meaningful change. To effect real improvement, schools must identify their unique needs and develop policies and plans that meet those needs.
As European schools have become more autonomous, inservice education has changed from a way for teachers to update their professional knowledge to a tool for change. It has become an instrument that allows educational leaders to take their schools in new directions.
Our working group has defined school-based inservice education as, "school-initiated inservice education ... derived from the curriculum needs and plans of the school. It may concern the school as a whole or in part (for example, a subject department), as well as provide for the individual teacher's inservice needs...." (Evans 1993). The following examples may give a more vivid impression of the concept of school-based inservice. Case Study 1. An inner-city school in Germany had problems with children from a large Turkish minority, especially those from an Islamic background. With the help of a colleague in another school who had spent several years in Turkey, a Turkish parent who was a teacher herself, and the Imam of the Islamic community school, staff members learned to understand the differences in religion, culture, and tradition, and to devise some small school projects to enhance mutual understanding and tolerance without attempting to suppress cultural differences.Case Study 2.The Netherlands has a strong policy advocating equal opportunities in education. Staff members, the principal, and the deputy at one school decided to devote the year's inservice effort to the issue of gender-specific interaction in teaching. They engaged a team of four specialists from the education department in the neighboring university who used a variety of methods, including mini-lectures and video observation to help the teachers modify the way they interacted with students.

Guidelines for Inservice Education

  • Context. Schools need to look at their internal and external situation in order to identify their needs and potential. They should also look at what the school has achieved in the past and what plans it has made for the future.
  • Needs.The review will often uncover some different—and sometimes conflicting—needs. These needs must be prioritized, a process that may require the services of an external consultant.
  • Goals. Needs then must be translated into realistic goals. Schools should describe these goals in full, and should include explicit information about the role of each staff member.
  • Organization and methods. The next step is to develop objectives that define precise tasks for each participant. Then teachers can work cooperatively to devise ways to adapt their teaching performance to the goals and objectives.
  • Resources. An inventory of staff competencies should come next. Some schools may have a wealth of internal resources; others may need to incur the expense of hiring outside experts. (It is an unfortunate fact that more autonomy for a school calls for more imagination in raising funds.)
  • Evaluation. Evaluation is an ongoing part of the school-based inservice education process. Schools need to keep accurate records, document all decisions, and revisit these from time to time to monitor progress.
  • Increasing emphasis on inservice education as a tool for school management and change. More school managers are using inservice training to help teachers develop and implement innovative new programs. This is especially true in those countries where schools have become more autonomous. For example: In the Netherlands, parents value the freedom to send their children to the school of their choice. As a result, schools must compete for a share of the student population. To increase their chances in that competition, schools try to develop their own identity and image. Some schools serve gifted children; others manage diversity well. Some focus on sports; others stress the importance of the arts. In this process, they choose their own ways to help staff members develop a school identity and to work accordingly.National educational policies that require written plans and systematic self-evaluations regulate development efforts. Schools may exercise autonomy as long as they can demonstrate that they use it in an effective way and that they meet minimum standards (the content of the national core curriculum). Staff development efforts that are tied to the school's plan are convincing elements in demonstrating quality.
  • Moving from subject-oriented inservice education to methods, curriculum, organization, and management. Historically, inservice education focused on subject matter. School leaders viewed it as a way to help teachers update their knowledge of their subject matter. Today, many inservice education activities have broader goals. These include teaching methodology, classroom management, coping with diversity, problem-oriented learning, and improving study skills.In some countries, certain inservice activities remain subject-specific. However, this does not mean that those activities do not relate to the overall school goals. For example: The staff members at a school in Slovenia wanted to focus on educating gifted children. After comparing their goals with their resources, they decided it was realistic to begin with the science department. They sent a group of science teachers to an inservice course at the local university to become familiar with new teaching material. (Those teachers would then introduce the material to their colleagues.) Other teachers contacted the organizers of summer science camps. Others began planning for an extracurricular science club.While science may be the subject at hand, supporting the program for gifted students is the true purpose of this inservice project.
  • Emphasizing the training of internal change agents. Economic constraints prevent most schools from sending all teachers to inservice programs. The "cascade method" is one approach that can overcome this problem. A few teachers from each school participate in an inservice training initiative. They, in turn, function as change agents in their home school, sharing what they have learned with their colleagues.The cascade method might seem to be a traditional form of inservice training, but once the trained teachers begin to function as internal change agents in their home schools, the process often translates into school-based inservice education.
  • Shifting from inservice education courses to inservice education activities. For years, inservice education meant courses aimed at individual participants. The theory was that the needs of the school were served by raising the knowledge and skill levels of the teachers. Today, many inservice efforts target school teams or departments, and they include a variety of activities. Consider the following example: Staff members at a primary school in Denmark decided that—due to changes in society and family patterns—their "school start" routine no longer suited their students. Once a week for half a year, the entire staff got together, studied the current literature, talked with guest lecturers, and developed a new pattern for familiarizing children with school life. Their efforts created changes in the curriculum, the extracurricular activities of the school, and its physical ambience as well.Here we see inservice education combining study with development activities. This effort is a project rather than a course.
  • Changing from "externally ready" to "tailor-made" models. Traditionally, outside agencies developed training activities and brought them to the schools. Today, many schools define what they need and take the initiative to develop it. This shift requires that inservice education agencies be increasingly responsive to the needs of their clients. For example: In Norway, a counselor for preschool teachers suspected that many of her clients needed to make their teaching more meaningful. After negotiating with her clients, she initiated a project that involved staff members from 17 kindergartens and preschools in her region. As they worked to develop new teaching approaches, they became aware of how much knowledge and expertise they already possessed. Self-esteem increased, and a strong network developed.This activity was the result of negotiations between the school staff members and the consultant. The consultant developed a program designed to meet the needs of the staff members (the clients). This activity also shows that "school-based" does not necessarily mean "focused on a particular school." Schools may share an initiative to avoid reinventing the wheel.
  • Moving from centrally-financed to school-financed inservice education. In several European countries, money for inservice education is no longer given to agencies; it goes directly to the schools. The schools then may choose their inservice education providers. They "buy" the services they need. For example: In the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, many schools make their own spending decisions. Thus, to a large extent inservice education has become a free market system. Providers compete, and schools make their choices. Providers provide estimates. Schools negotiate the content, format, and cost. If they fail to reach an agreement, schools choose another agency.Because of this process, many educators have begun to develop an increased sense of ownership. They want to get as much as possible out of their programs. Contrary to the expectations of cynics, educators are spending more—not less—money on inservice education, and perhaps more important, they are investing more energy in making it a success.
  • Recognizing the need for train-the-trainer programs. Inservice education is no longer provided exclusively by successful teachers who share insights with their less fortunate colleagues. Delivering inservice requires an ever increasing array of skills. To that end, various European countries have undertaken initiatives to train inservice education trainers. Some relate to specific innovations or fields of expertise, while others are of a more general nature. These initiatives relate to the different roles that the inservice education trainers play.

Some Problems and Challenges

  • Competition. Not all trends in inservice education for teachers point in the direction of school-based programs. In Austria, Germany, and France, for example, most inservice education is still the province of universities or special inservice training colleges that provide what they believe to be best for schools. In the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, however, the schools develop the plans and choose the agencies that provide the services they need.As a result, the inservice education market has diversified. Competition has increased, and inservice agencies are attempting to develop distinctive features. They try to acquire quality certificates, and to take part in research. They also look for exclusive, long-term international contacts. European educators should keep this dynamic in mind as they explore their options.
  • Cost. Most of the current trends support the use of school-based approaches. Unfortunately, as educators discover the school-based option as an inexpensive means to provide inservice activities, there is a danger that they will be tempted to select inservice options primarily on the basis of cost.
  • Balancing the requirements. There are a growing number of multi-school inservice projects and networks; there is a trend toward internationalization; and increasing numbers of officials are coming to view inservice education as a political tool for system changes. The challenge for inservice education in the future will be to find a balance among school, political, and individual needs. This will require research, the international exchange of experience, the training of trainers, and collegial support.
Finally, it is important to note that school-based inservice is not primarily an approach of inservice educators. It is an initiative of schools and school teams. Schools identify their needs, choose ways to meet those needs, and, if necessary, hire someone to help them provide inservice.

Evans, T. K. (1993). School Based Inservice Education. Phaedon, Culemborg.

Fischer, D., J. A. van Lakerveld, P. Nentwig. (1995). Paths to Success. Phaedon, Culemborg.

van Lakerveld, J. A. (1993). Training the Trainer for School Based Inservice Education. Phaedon, Culemborg.

Jaap van Lakerveld has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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