The following will appear in the November/December Reading Today magazine, as one half of the regular Two Takes feature.
Professional development (PD) is critical to the field of education. School districts should provide it to teachers and they should make sure it is effective (i.e. quality). Here’s why. Districts often dictate the use of specific models, frameworks, and programs, such as collaborative learning, RtI, and guided reading. It’s simply not possible to read a book on these subjects and then implement them in a classroom. Complex models and programs demand sustained, coordinated, and job-embedded training. Furthermore, to fulfill the requirements of the profession, teachers are regularly asked to acquire specific skills, such as operating a grading program, or acquire specific information, such as the legalities of mandated reporting. Professional development in these areas might be difficult or downright impossible to find, or it might be available only in large schools or big cities. Thus, districts should provide it.
District-provided PD also insures that all teachers have the opportunity to grow their skill set and develop their knowledge base. There are literally millions of teachers teaching in America. Many work and study beyond the requirements of district policies and union contracts. But others do not. Why? Teachers are people. Some have time consuming family obligations, such as raising children or caring for elderly parents. To make ends meet some work two jobs. Others are putting kids through college and don’t have the money to cover PD costs. Still others, while hard working and competent in the classroom, have never developed the professional habit of reading a resource book over the summer, attending a conference, or scrolling through an education blog. To reach all teachers, districts must be ready to offer quality professional development.
To be clear, I am not advocating for a one-way street. Rather, I believe professional development should be a collaborative endeavor, with the teacher responsible for parts of it and the district responsible for others. Wouldn’t it be great if all teachers could craft PD to fit their interests and aspirations, even as they align their learning to district goals? Consider general areas of practice, such as reading instruction or the integration of technology. In these areas, teachers could identify career goals and then pursue them within the district. This could be called career development instead of professional development. Some schools already have progressive models in place. Differentiated supervision comes to mind. So does longitudinal job-embedded coaching provided by peers or outside consultants. Both of these are steps in the right direction. So is the idea of a professional learning community, but only if districts truly allow teachers to gather and learn as self-directed teams, and only if those teams are then free to implement what they have learned.
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I am a teacher, literacy consultant, author, musician, nature lover, and life long learner.