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5 Ways to Make Professional Development More Relevant

Arlen Walker on Nov 19, 2013 10:52:00 AM

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When I was a new teacher in the 1970s, each new school year came with the excitement and anticipation of new beginnings. I would go to school a couple of weeks before the official start date to check my new student lists, begin classroom preparation, look over any new texts or equipment, and chat with staff and office personnel who might also be in early. I also tried to discover that year’s “fix-all.” There was always a new panacea to “ensure” successful teaching/learning, better readers, increased graduation rate, improved standard test scores or whatever issue was the current media and public concern. After my first year, I learned to steel myself for the opening meetings, so I could hold on to the joy I felt about getting back to what I loved best—teaching.

A day or two before the start of classes, we were subjected to workshops, guest speakers, hand-outs or films and presentations. Each one of which was to solve a problem or make education successful. During a K-12 career that spanned nearly thirty years, the program rarely changed.*

Teacher Professional DevelopmentEven now, more than ten years out of the secondary classroom, I hear from friends and relatives in public education that each fall is much the same. They sit in similar meetings and workshops, some better than others, where they are given lists of resources, shown the capabilities of the latest technology and provided summaries of its application.

With rare exceptions, there is no meaningful help or training to use the new technology or practical application of its capabilities. They often experience the same frustration after teacher conferences where they are shown new equipment and resources without immediate applicability.

Teachers know that integration of current technology into classroom practices is a must for success with today’s students. They want to reach students in our constantly changing digital world. Because most states require additional college credit to maintain certification and/or increase earning capability, teachers seek quick, convenient, affordable, application-based professional development which, in the best case scenario, puts PD credit on a transcript. To keep pace with today’s students and technology, professional development needs to follow suit.

Professional Development should be:

Quick. Because of rapidly changing technology, student mobile device connectivity, and nearly universal internet access, this time factor is solved by short, digestible applications and techniques, which can be accessed any time and reviewed multiple times.

Convenient. Teachers want learning options available any time, which they can do at home, on prep hour, lunchtime, 2:00 a.m. or any other time or place of choice. Such online training is even better if it includes multiple access options.

Affordable. Cost is a major concern of K-12 educators. Though there are a plethora of no-cost options in person and on the internet, they have such draw-backs as lack of credit, rigid scheduling and one-time access.

Applicable. Teachers like to leave a workshop or class with something they can put into practice right away. They like short meaningful techniques and teaching strategies with technology that don’t have extreme learning curves. Training should be more than a catalog of resources and software that must be mined and explored before it can be used in class.

Extrinsically Rewarding. Much of the best teacher training takes place in the faculty room or with neighbors in the hall where colleagues share what works and what doesn’t. This practice, which is the principle behind Twitter chats, lesson share, teacher blogs, online videos and free webinars, rarely, if at all, provides affordable professional development college credit.

A recent survey in the October ASCD SmartBrief supports the importance teachers place on receiving CEUs or college credit for their professional development. This newsletter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development has a readership of 215,000, eighty-eight percent of whom are teachers. The results show that 79.64 percent of teachers consider professional development credit either very important or somewhat important.

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, it is a sad commentary on society that there has been so little change in the way public education faces the challenge of providing professional development which meets the needs of modern educators. Professional development should enable educators to provide effective and successful interactive learning experiences to digital age learners. In the best of all possible worlds, professional development should contain all five of the traits teachers seek.

* One exception was the Madeline Hunter model which has methods for practical application (http://www.hope.edu/academic/education/wessman/2block/unit4/hunter2.htm). 

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