As summer quickly approaches so does the time for teacher professional development. While teachers frequently attend professional development throughout the school year and after school hours, we’re also asked (or required) to take additional professional development over the summer months to keep our certification up to date or to prepare us for the next school year as new initiatives roll out. Recently, I began to reflect on some of the best professional development experiences I’ve ever had — and it gave me pause. The best professional development experiences I’ve ever had were the kind that I didn’t have to go to.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against professional development in any way. I’m also a big believer in continuous learning. Thanks to technology, the teaching profession is changing at exponential speed and we certainly need to stay ahead of the curve. Nonetheless, looking back I realize that any professional development I had to go to — wasn’t the kind that I personally would have chosen for myself.
Often, professional development provided for teachers is not in the subject they teach. Focused on raising test scores, it’s test content centric and not otherwise instructionally or generally helpful. There is no love of learning, no love of teaching woven into it. Only a love of learning and teaching will result in creating students solidly prepared for life in the real world as productive, contributing citizens and responsible leaders. Only those students who follow their passions will achieve true success in what they do.
Donald Trump once said that his success came from finding his passion. Trump said when you find your passion, doing the work to succeed in that passion no longer seems like work. Putting in extra time to be successful isn’t a problem, therefore, because you’re enjoying what you do. That’s a mantra to live by.
So, ask me to sit in on professional development that I didn’t choose and I come in with a preconception that it doesn’t pertain to me nor will it necessarily interest me. Precisely because you haven’t consulted my power to choose, you’ve got a bit of an uphill battle on your hands. Now you’ve got to win me over. Allow a teacher choice and they select what interests them — and they move forward with an open mind. Then I’m excited about what you’re going to show me, and I want to learn more.
Of course, this means there should be many choices. And it follows that I would need to be provided with at least some opportunities that would likely align with my passions. This type of professional development would more likely result in my sharing what I learned with students or other staff. But I really need this PD to happen whenever it’s best for me. Because — let’s face it. Life gets busy for us all. Sometimes PD is inconvenient. I have things I have to get done, PD is only one of them. Offer it to me when I’m in the midst of grading papers late at night after a long day or working on progress reports or report cards and my mind will be elsewhere.
On the other hand, it would be easier to participate in something I’m both passionate about and that interests me. I can always watch an inspiring video, take part in a stimulating simulation, be part of a conversation, webinar, chat or professional learning network.
Even so, I need to be given skills that I don’t already have. How do you know what you’re showing me isn’t something I’ve already mastered — but perhaps someone else in the room has yet to grasp it? I need my PD to be individualized, just as my students need the same sort of instruction from me. Are we not, as educators, expected to be lifelong learners? Dare we ask our staff to participate in PD that doesn’t mirror the instruction we ourselves need to provide? We ask our students to sit in groups to really engage, but we sit through slide presentations? We don’t engage teachers, we do little to help them pursue their passion — and yet, we expect them to go back to the classroom and engage their students, to get them to get their students to pursue their passions and have their students assume the role of a lifelong learner?
I’m a lifelong learner. I am passionate. But please, don’t work that out of me by providing PD that doesn’t engage, that isn’t convenient, and that is geared for the masses and ignores my individual needs. Why not give me PD that I seldom get: the kind I go out and seek on my own. I go to conferences whenever I can. I sign up for workshops that interest me. I go home and try out these things I learned on my own to help myself to become a better educator. I belong to a Professional Learning Network (PLN) that allows me to converse with like-minded professionals in ways that allow me to develop and grow — on my own time and frequently online. Give me an avenue to find the answers I need from my peers, as well as experts in the field in which I need the help. Do so at a time and place that’s convenient to me. Let me be the professional that I am, and I will want to become better at what I do.
However, if I am not and if I don’t, then perhaps I’m not in the right profession. Maybe I need to consider finding somewhere else to go to find my passion. But if you help me do this, we both will be forever grateful. Otherwise, keep forcing PD on me I did not choose at an inconvenient time and that isn’t individualized and you’ll continue to get results from your PD that you never intended to get.
Greg Limperis, now Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district, was recently the Middle School Technology Facilitator in Lawrence, Mass., and founded the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. He has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st-century skills.