This research aims to evaluate the manner in which teachers perceive their professional development process. Forty-three teachers from Israeli schools participated in the study. I used a semi-structured interview to understand the teachers’ perceptions about their professional development. The qualitative analysis identified two dimensions that teachers referred to in their professional development stories: the professional development motivation (intrinsic/extrinsic) and types of aspirations (lateral/vertical). Using these dimensions, four ‘professional development patterns’ emerged. Participants’ professional trajectories are described in terms of these patterns: Hierarchically Ambitious, Hierarchically Compelled, the Laterally Ambitious and the Laterally Compelled. This categorisation could serve as an essential tool to help principals and decision-makers analyse teachers’ personal course of professional development. Hence, the categorisation of the teaching staff according to individuals’ professional aspirations could be utilised to design professional development programmes and incentives that would correspond to teachers’ particular needs.
In summary, unlike approaches that attempt to generalise about the essence of teachers’ professional development, the current study highlights the unique individual aspects of each teacher, as manifested in one of the four professional development patterns identified: the Hierarchically Ambitious, Laterally Ambitious, Hierarchically Compelled or Laterally Compelled. Thus, the data from the current study could serve as an essential tool to help principals and decision-makers analyse teachers’ personal course of professional development, according to the aspirations, desires and capabilities of each individual teacher. Hence, the categorisation of the teaching staff according to individuals’ professional aspirations could be utilised to design professional development programmes and incentives that would correspond to teachers’ particular needs. These needs could be characterised in terms of lateral or vertical development, while the incentives for development could address intrinsic or extrinsic motivations, such as promotion or remuneration.
Policy-makers will be able to use the model to develop system wide plans for professional development that are suited to the different preferences and aspirations of teachers, and according to the teacher’s location along the career continuum. In practical terms, professional development plans can be offered to teachers who wish to progress hierarchically (i.e. vertically) and different professional development plans can be offered to teachers who wish to delve further into their current fields and aspire to develop laterally. Principals could avail themselves of this typology to better understand the motivations and aspirations of staff members, through the use of interviews or questionnaires, so as to match the professional development process to the pattern type that characterises the educational staff members at the school. Likewise, those who teach professional development courses could avail themselves of the insights of this typology model, implementing a repertoire of approaches in their courses, taking into account the learners’ motivations and aspirations. Finally, in addition to the practical implications of this model that pertain to organisational aspects of professional development, individual teachers can identify – through a reflective process – their own preferences and patterns, in light of the model’s typology, and determine whether their current location on the career continuum is appropriate or whether they need to pursue a different professional development pattern in order to fulfil their personal career goals.