Professional Development. What’s the Point?

Do you love to learn?  I do!  I love gathering information and learning new things.  In fact, I’m often reading about 3 books at a time and I spend my nights watching PBS.  However, none of this matters if I don’t nurture and share it.  Who cares if I have 2 degrees and lots of experience if I don’t use it to help others and further the goals of a learning community?

Today, as I was researching teacher professional development, I realized that this is a problem in schools today.  Teachers are often confined to their classrooms without ever seeing the face of another teacher, unless it’s during a rare break.  This is neither beneficial for the teacher or for the students.  Teachers need to collaborate with colleagues and have time to analyze student data together.  They need to share ideas, knowledge and experience with fellow teachers.  These groups are often called “Professional Learning Communities”.  They are typically formed by teachers in the same grade-level (elementary) or by similar content (secondary) after teachers have gone through some type of professional development together.

This poses another problem all by itself.  Professional development is often seen as a personal responsibility for teachers to take care of during their “free time”.  It usually last for a few hours on one particular day.  The teachers arrive, sit through a power point lecture, have a break and then finish out the day with more lecture time.  They then take the information back to their classrooms and perhaps even implement their newly acquired skills for a month.  After that, everything falls back into routine and that professional development simply becomes hours on paper.

In my mind, professional development should be ongoing.  Think about how children learn and retain information.  Do they hear something once and immediately remember and practice it?  Do they learn better when they are sitting and listening or actually actively participating in a lesson?  Adults aren’t much different.  Would you rather sit in a classroom listening to an “expert” talk for a few hours or be zestfully engaged in an example of the skill you are trying to learn?

String Machine

My idea of professional development is not just a one day deal.  It includes actively learning a new skill (or refreshing an old one) and then practicing and using the skill in a real-life classroom.  This is something I am challenging myself to provide as I build relationships with educators in my own community and beyond.

Teacher Learner

Question:  As a teacher, what would you like to see happen during a professional development session?  What do you think is missing when it comes to helping teachers to become lifelong learners?

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