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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Peeling the Onion of Professional Development

By Peter DeWitt — April 26, 2012 4 min read
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“CfE places the teacher at the heart of curriculum development - as an agent of change. And yet, schools are places where such agency is often restricted by accountability practices that hinder innovation” (Priestley & Minty).

Recently, I read Developing Curriculum for Excellence (CfE): Summary of Findings from research undertaken in a Scottish local authority by Dr. Mark Priestley and Sarah Minty. Scotland is undergoing a major change in educational reform, much like the United States. One of the areas of concern by the teachers surveyed for the study was in the area of professional development opportunities associated with CfE.

Professional development is an area that will always come up as a concern because as the professional lives of educators change, they want to make sure they are provided with the most current information to help them grow with those changes.

On any given day, schools are hit with a multitude of professional development opportunities. Teachers and administrators can find anything from one day workshops, multiple day conferences or webinars to meet their needs. Unfortunately, budget cuts are creating situations where districts can no longer afford to send teachers and administrators to attend professional development opportunities. This will require teachers and administrators to find self-directed professional development.

Educators entered the profession to be lifelong learners. Teachers and administrators must always keep abreast of changes happening in education as well as the most current and innovative practices. It is vitally important that we find practices that will help us stay relevant with our students.

Professional Development Opportunities
The professional development we engage in has a direct effect on our students. The new methods we learn have the potential to the best way to capture their attention. I often wonder if we brought some of our students to some of these conferences, if they would agree that the methods being taught would help engage them or not.

Educators are now starting to explore Twitter to find their own professional learning communities. However, self-driven professional development does not just have to involve Twitter. There are multiple pathways to engage in professional development.

Some of these methods are teacher-driven while other forms of professional development can be administratively driven. Teachers and administrators do not always like to step outside their comfort zones, so some of these opportunities will require a push. The following are a few methods to establish self-driven professional development:

Books - Clearly there are thousands of great educational books available. Creating a book club, reading on your own, and meeting up with colleagues to discuss what was read is one great way to create your own PPD. Many educational books come with action steps and discussion questions which make the book club work more effectively.
Professional Organizations - Professional organizations are offering virtual conferences, webinars and podcasts. Some of these are free while others are offered with yearly memberships.
Twitter - I know I sound like a broken record because I have written on the topic several times, but Twitter offers amazing professional development opportunities. It has literally changed my life. Educators from around the world share their thoughts and opinions on education.
Facebook Discussions - Teachers and administrators set up Facebook pages so they can discuss different educational topics.
Wikis - A Wiki is a great way to discuss educational issues or things happening within a school. Wikis are password protected and members have to be invited to join, which streamline who belongs to the group.
Journal articles - If a school has a culture that supports professional learning; teachers and administrators should be sending each other articles from journals or education blogs. We cannot learn in isolation and must be willing to share our knowledge with others. Many colleagues are reading, and learning from, what we send.

In the End
Professional development is about finding the best resources to help educators grow in their profession. If the opportunities are not explored with integrity, then teachers and administrators are not getting the true benefits of the PD. I have seen teachers have sidebars through a whole day of professional development. Everyone knows the saying, “You get out of something what you put into it.” If educators are not putting in the time, they are just wasting it. If we, as educators, want to be treated as professionals then we must act like professionals.

Now, more than ever, we have endless possibilities when it comes to professional development. The internet allows us to learn from professionals that we may never have been able to afford to see in person. With drastic budget cuts to areas like professional development we have to find new and creative ways to be able to further our education as lifelong learners. Thankfully, we now have the venues to meet that goal.

  • Questions to ponder when exploring PD opportunities:
  • What do you want to know?
  • Why are you delving into professional development?
  • Are you doing it because you want to? Or are you doing it because you have to?
  • When you learn this new information, are you implementing it with integrity?
  • Are you actually using what you learned?
  • How will you use the professional development you learned?
  • Is it possible for you to share what you learned at faculty meetings?

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.