Saturday, February 22, 2014

Personal Professional Development vs Prescribed Professional Development

I think it's time that we (teachers, administrators, district officials...) completely reevaluate and overhaul our current approach to professional development. Unless my district is the exception to the rule our current professional development model is a mostly out-dated approach to teaching teachers based on what Sir Ken Robinson describes the "Factory Style" of education in general. Just as he laments that schools are killing creativity and that our entire educational system is not equipped for the challenges of the 21st Century I would contend that the same critiques could be levied against the way we currently teach and develop experienced teachers.

Currently my district's approach to professional development is largely top-down and prescribed. A set of district and building goals are developed, and then throughout the year various speakers, meetings, and workshops are carried out to help all teachers meet those goals. Very mass produced, very impersonal, very ineffective. Now, I must clarify for a moment - I do think it's important that districts set out goals that are important to meeting the needs and challenges of their students. However, the manner in which those goals cannot be tackled with a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. Just as our students have unique abilities and needs, so to do our teachers.

With nearly limitless resources and tools readily available for teachers to access and utilize to meet their needs, why are we still taking this top-down prescribed approach to improving our teachers? Twitter and various blogs are obvious sources for professional growth - but at times those can be intimidating and overwhelming. However, there are also focused sites dedicated to professional development - TeachingChannel, YouPD,  and PD 360 to name a few. I can't vouch for all of these, or is it a tacit endorsement (TeachingChannel and YouPD, however, are free)...what I can say, with confidence, is that there is no need to approach our professional development in such a standardized way.

We know that students learn best when motivated and engaged in curriculum that captures their interest and that they find relevant. The same can be said for us as educators. Do I need to sit through yet another workshop on how to incorporate Google Docs or utilize technology in my lessons? Hardly. Am I an expert? Of course not, but I'm definitely more than capable in this realm and my time could be better served learning about something that I can improve in my teaching. We as teachers know our weaknesses, and if we don't we need to be surrounded by leaders that will help us isolate those weaknesses...but even more than that we need to be surrounded by leaders and peers that will help us improve on those weaknesses and improve our craft.

Our current model of professional development is standardized throughout our districts or our buildings. Not because it's best practice, but because it's neat, easy, and efficient. If we want out teachers to tackle the challenges of teaching learners who are not standard and who demand something more from their education, then we need to develop our teachers in a way that moves beyond the norm, beyond the standard. We need to innovate and change our professional development if we ever hope to have teachers who themselves will innovate and change their teaching.

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