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VPLD: Developing a Future-focussed Model of PLD

VPLD: Developing a Future-focussed Model of PLD: Hazel Owen

The following stories provide insight into Keiko and Veronica’s learning journeys and the impact of their participation in the Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) initiative (between 2010 and 2013). VPLD is individualised professional learning and development based mainly in a virtual environment.  As a result of their involvement, they were able to transform their practice in ways that are having a direct impact on student engagement and well-being. 

Participants in VPLD focus on their own inquiry in their own context, and are partnered with a virtual mentor with whom they meet online once a month for approximately an hour. They are also members of an online Community of Practice, where they share their reflections.

Each story describes the process and outcomes of their involvement in a future-focused environment (Bolstad et al, 2012) of virtual mentorship supported by a tailored online community of practice.

Key trends in education, highlight a shift towards differentiated, personalised, tailored and individualised learning. There is a growing focus on learning that includes choice, negotiated by the learner, and which, as a result, meets their individual needs. Most frequently, the subject of these terms is students in formal education, however, this story explores what happens when these approaches are applied to the design of Professional Learning and Development (PLD). 

PLD designed along these lines needs to consider the education practitioner holistically; as someone who has a family, whānau, beliefs, and interests they feel strongly about. All help shape their understandings of what it is to be a teacher and a learner. The PLD is designed to fit in with the education practitioner’s roles - within their school community, the communities outside school, and their wider interests and commitments. (Find out more about the specifics…. you might also be interested in this video that describes the VPLD model’s principles of identity, choice and support. (For more on this model, see Table 1).

Keiko’s story*

Keiko, who joined the VPLD in 2010, has a Diploma in secondary teaching and 14 years of teaching experience. She has been a dedicated teacher of Japanese since 2002 and has also been Head of Department of languages.  

From the beginning, Keiko told her mentor she wanted to enhance the learning experience for her NCEA Level 1 and NCEA Level 2 Japanese language students, in ways that would motivate them and encourage them to be more engaged. She began by working with her mentor to identify her needs and set goals for 2010. She wanted to encourage her students to be more active and to build a learning community focused on learning the Japanese language and finding out about Japanese culture, history, and education. One of her first steps was to start incorporating a lot more multimedia in her Moodle, as well as encouraging students to create and share their own.


By 2011, she was starting to look at how she could encourage students to collaborate, co-construct and support each other, and in turn potentially influence their learning outcomes. However, she wrote in her blog that 2011 was a “year of consolidation as well as frustrations”, in part caused by the unreliability of her school’s wireless network and unreliable IT support. The VPLD online community offered empathy, suggestions and support, and Keiko told her mentor she was “enjoying the group meetings in Adobe Connect, partly because of the sense of companionship that it gives, as well as the ideas and discussion”.. 

In 2012 Keiko continued to develop her focus and goals from 2010 and 2011, and she also wanted to encourage greater parent and whānau (family) involvement, using the students’ ePortfolios. She sought advice from the VPLD community on how to engage students in the Facebook group and site and started adding small quizzes and asking questions. As a result, her students now ask and answer each others' questions through the Facebook site. “They are asking each other and answering without me….We're learning together. The Facebook site emphasises that we are a class and we are learning together 24/7".

She reported increases in student confidence, motivation and engagement, as well as development of Key Competencies, especially learner independence. See The Long Journey: Developing a Model of PLD for the Future for a comparison of  Keiko’s 2010 to 2012 students’ NCEA results for reading and listening (a clear positive trend could also be observed for both speaking and writing). 

By 2013, through trialling, and developing her identity as a teacher and participating in the VPLD community, Keiko now saw her role as offering “assistance and help, not teaching...not saying remember this and remember that, but making suggestions, asking questions...guiding. It is way more that just teaching”.

Veronica’s story*

Veronica holds a Bachelor of Education and a teaching diploma. She has taught in six different primary and intermediate schools over her 24 years of teaching, specialising in Science, Mathematics and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). During her involvement in the VPLD in  2011 - 2012, Veronica taught at a large intermediate school, where she was also the lead ICT teacher.

Veronica had considerable experience with ICT infrastructure development and was an avid explorer of tools to enhance her teaching while also placing the student at the centre of the learning experience. However, she felt what she was doing wasn’t working any more. She wanted to know how to get her students more engaged and how to better meet their needs. 

VPLD classroom practice

In 2012, Veronica had returned from ULearn inspired by ideas about modern learning environments (MLEs). She had also watched her own children, noting their preferred learning styles and the way they chose a range of learning spaces depending on their mood. She unpacked these experiences with her virtual mentor and the VPLD online community, resulting in the setting of goals and an action plan. 

As an initial step, Veronica challenged herself to set up her own digital class. 

“Changing the furniture in the room was pivotal to changing my teaching and consequently student learning. They could now choose different spaces and groupings or work on their own. No more computer laboratories!... and we make decisions together.” She also explored online interactive planners which she adapted to focus on the New Zealand Curriculum Key Competencies, created videos for flipped classroom teaching, established programmes of learning in literacy and numeracy that incorporated digital tools and games, and conscientiously scaffolded student learning around these implementations. 

After getting positive results, Veronica decided that in 2013 one of her key foci would be to incorporate more culturally responsive practices into her learning designs, in part through use of Tātaiako. These competencies proved to be complementary to her pedagogical approaches and use of e-Learning - where students were encouraged to learn from each other and critique each other’s work.

Veronica’s second key goal for 2013, was to grow her eLearning leadership, in part through her research award studies into MLEs, as well as mentoring individual teachers at her school. She actively worked with the senior management team to develop a strategic plan for the school, and evaluated where the school was placed on the e-Learning Planning Framework tool to help tailor PLD and support for teachers and staff.

Through 2012 and 2013, Veronica’s Year 7/8 composite class of 30 students piloted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach. Through blogs, video creation, gaming and a change from teacher-centred to more student-centred learning, students engaged and achieved at improved levels both at school and at home. It also enabled greater parental engagement in student learning as both learning and teaching moved beyond the classroom. “We have a virtual classroom [and]...this has been well received by the students and parents as a method of learning 24/7.” 

Student achievement data began to clearly show positive results for most students in reading, writing and mathematics. Veronica attributes this to shifts in her own pedagogy and beliefs about learning, as well as in effective integration of eLearning.  “Even the ‘hard to shift’ kids...are showing accelerated learning outcomes now because they can’t help but be involved. Their enthusiasm for games, where they think they aren’t working, has boosted numeracy skills and problem-solving with my lowest achievers who have shifted up two levels through the year.”  Veronica also noted renewed student motivation to complete tasks using e-Learning tools, and increased ownership by students for their learning. 

Summarising her learning journey in 2013, Veronica said, “I’m amazed that others think I have something to offer. VPLD has grown us like babies, and suddenly we’re grown up and we’re off and flying…. My next to get e-Learning through the whole school, 100%, through modelling and mentoring, setting up buddy systems and of course, getting the management units in recognition of the extra workload.” 

You can watch a video of VPLD participants speaking about the highlights of the VPLD for them

VPLD Hui 2012 - Reflections from CORE Education Digital Media on Vimeo.

On reflection​​

VPLD logo

Developing a single coherent framework for educator professional development is a challenge, because there are a raft of variables to consider, many of which are arguably outside the realm of what is traditionally offered as PLD. However, within the VPLD both Keiko and Veronica were able to astutely identify the gaps they had in their professional  knowledge and skills, as well as non-cognitive (personal) and political factors that were influencing their professional roles. They were supported by their virtual mentor and the VPLD online community to help build resilience that enabled them to continue to grow their professional practice.

 The New Zealand Curriculum states that future-oriented educational practitioners need support to “develop a more complex skill set in order to become strategic systems think[ers], change facilitators, and learning leaders who can support and sustain a culture of continuous professional learning”. If this shift in focus is to be achieved educators “need [access to] new kinds of professional learning” (Bull, & Gilbert, 2012, p. 6). The VPLD programme appears to offer the kind of PLD that will help with the development of these complex skills.


Bolstad, R. and Gilbert, J., with McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., and Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting Future-oriented Learning and Teaching: A New Zealand Perspective. Wellington: Ministry of Education.  Retrieved January 19, 2013 from

Bull, A. and Gilbert, J. (2012). Swimming out of Our Depth? Leading Learning in 21st Century Schools. Wellington: NZCER. Retrieved October 14, 2013 from

New Zealand Curriculum. (2012). Future-oriented views of knowledge and learning. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from

Palmer, J. (2007). The Courage to Teach. USA: Jossey Bass. 

Table 1 

The VPLD has no formal 'content', associated accredited institution, or formal assessment; rather the programme offers multiple ways to participate (see Fig 1), while participants pursue their own inquiry based on the needs of their students, school and school community. The programme is available for participants for three years; in the first two years they work on their projects and in the third year, participants have the option to transition into a virtual mentor role (Owen, & Dunmill, 2013). As well as membership of the VPLD online community, each participant is partnered with a virtual mentor with whom they meet online once a month for an hour or so. Mentoring strategies are customised to suit the needs of both the mentee and the mentor, and during meetings a variety of subjects are discussed including pedagogy, what the participant has been working on, and how things have gone. The participant also identifies areas of support they need, and plans 'next steps' and interim goals (Owen, 2011). 

Fig 1: Components of Virtual PLD that meets diverse requirements and interests of participants (Owen, 2012, adapted from Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009)

 * Please note: These are not their real names, and some identifying factual details have been omitted or changed to preserve the participants’ anonymity. For a full description of the research please read Owen, H., & Dunmill, M. (2013). The Long Journey: Developing a Model of PLD for the Future. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1). Retrieved from

For more information, visit the Virtual Professional Learning and Development page or contact Hazel Owen.

Image sourced from Flickr.