Professional Development

Characteristic: Ongoing professional development reflects best educational practices.

I can still hear my principal on the day she interviewed me for my first teaching job: “My teachers get 8 PDs a year. PDs are great! I encourage them – they’re fun and we all need a day off once in a while.”

Her priorities were clearly mixed up, but if I’m to be entirely honest, I have looked forward to a few PDs for a day off, a chance to relax, sit back, and do the listening instead of the talking.

This is the problem with a lot professional development workshops and seminars. Seminars are structured such that the attendees are passive rather than active learners. We listen to a lot of theory about best practices, but we don’t have a chance to practice or internalize how to apply this to our own work in the classroom.  Workshops oftentimes are a hodgepodge of small group discussions and sample activities, but the new skills or knowledge acquired are not necessarily a priority, or what we really need to focus on to improve our teaching practice. (Unfortunately, I do know more than a few teachers who have taken PD days simply because they had one in the “bank,” not because they were interested in learning anything new.)

Professional developments should be coordinated by a strong school administration that uses data to determine the exact areas in need of improvement within the school. To be effective and meaningful, professional developments are ongoing; teachers have time to take in information, to put new policies or skills to practice, to reflect on what works and what doesn’t work, to keep data on improvements (or lack of improvements), and to get together with colleague to share findings and discuss thought and opinions. True professional development is meaningful and relevant to the needs of the school and teachers and requires continuing reflection and collaboration. It is NOT a day off.

Example: Over the last few years, educators have started to rely more and more on the Internet as a resource. Social media, particularly, is being used as effective professional development. Here are a few examples:

Social Media is time-efficient, relevant, global, and unlimited. Twitter and blogging, particularly, allow teachers to take control of their own professional developments by engaging in ongoing, reflective discussions and collaborations with other educators worldwide. By logging in to Twitter or engaging in discussions on education blogs, teachers are able to seek out information that is relevant to their needs, and take an active role in improving their practice.

My classroom: I have had a few really good professional development workshops that were extremely relevant to my teaching practice, especially during my first year teaching students with autism. These workshops taught me strategies and skills to use for students with specific special needs (such as ABA therapy, TEACCH methodology, or behavior management for middle school autistic students). However, now that these basic structures are up and running in my classroom, I’m still looking for ways to improve.

Now I have a 4-week-old Twitter account and my first blog. Every day I am in conversation with fellow educators, regularly reflecting on my work with autistic middle school students and constantly getting ideas for how to improve. I’ve suddenly found myself in a truly ongoing, relevant and meaningful professional development. My biggest takeaway these last few weeks: you get out of professional developments what you put in.

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