To the Editor:
Scott Sterling’s Commentary on teacher burnout contains numerous useful ideas that are vital, but limited. There is a bigger picture, where teachers look inward, outward, horizontally, and vertically for the professional development that will keep them from burning out.
Teachers are members of five communities. Their professional development plans should be developed and fulfilled through these five roles.
1. As classroom leaders: Every year, before the end of the year, administrators should ask their teachers what PD they would like to complete the following year. A menu of choices might be offered, but engagement comes from the teachers.
2. As cohort or subject leaders: All teachers within a grade level in elementary school or a subject area in middle and high school should create a PD plan for their common interests. For example, all 4th grade teachers should create their own PD plan, as should all high school biology teachers.
3. As department leaders: All K-12 teachers within a subject should create a plan crossing grade levels. Elementary self-contained-classroom faculty wear three or four costumes in a day, but true cross-grade-level PD should be a focus at least once a year.
4. As school leaders: Common needs at the school level should not be ignored. Some training is mandated each year by the local board of education or the state, while other topics should come from internal assessments at individual schools.
5. As district leaders: Joining together for districtwide PD would enable educators to know what others in similar situations are doing across an entire district.
Burnout avoidance starts with a clear definition of a teacher’s role and function in a district. Some engagements are self-driven. Others are mutually created. Others are mandated. All should be known in advance of the following school year, properly funded, and aligned with curriculum needs, school objectives, and district goals.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of History
New York, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as Professional Development Should Serve Teachers’ Roles