I must say, I’m very grateful for the pre-service training that I received as a student preparing to be a teacher and in the early years of my career when I was a substitute and leave replacement teacher. My professors, cooperating teachers, and the department chairs that supervised me all embedded and modeled for me the non-negotiable need for ongoing attendance and engagement in quality professional development. Here I am eight years later and that guidance has proven to be one of the most valuable tools which has not only driven but elevated my status and reach as a teacher-leader, advocate, and activist.
According to The Learning Policy Institute,
We define effective professional development as structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practices and improvements in student learning outcomes…Well-designed and implemented PD should be considered an essential component of a comprehensive system of teaching and learning that supports students to develop the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need to thrive in the 21st century. To ensure a coherent system that supports teachers across the entire professional continuum, professional learning should link to their experiences in preparation and induction, as well as to teaching standards and evaluation. It should also bridge to leadership opportunities to ensure a comprehensive system focused on the growth and development of teachers.
During my pre-service training, my professors taught me that, as a then burgeoning professional, I needed to learn about, join, and be active in professional education organizations. As an English/Secondary Education major, I was exposed to the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) as a great place to start. Like other professional organizations, NCTE offers discounted membership rates for pre-service teachers, subscriptions to professional magazines for English educators, annual conferences, and a host of other offerings that are vital to being in the know about the world of English Language Arts education from grades K-12. I joined NCTE as a pre-service teacher and have been involved with it ever since.
It is imperative that all educators find a professional organization that addresses their needs and passions as a teacher, and helps foster their growth and development in their field and content area. This can be on a district, local or national level. Either is fine. Get involved and stay involved beyond the professional development offered on the school level.
While functioning as a substitute and leave replacement teacher, I was embraced by the English Department at Westbury Middle School and Westbury High School. I was afforded the opportunity on two occasions, as a substitute and leave replacement teacher — I have to highlight that — attend the annual New York State English Council professional development conferences in Albany, NY. The chairwomen and fellow educators modeled for me the highly charged benefits of attending professional development outside of the building as a cohesive unit. I witnessed the department celebrate each other for their excellent practice in the classroom and their commitment to excellence not only for those students, but for each other. Those were powerful experiences to have in the early stages of my career that set the stage for my expectation of and commitment to quality professional development for teachers.
Since then, I’ve been consistently blessed with opportunities to attend professional development conferences ranging from local to international venues. Last week I attended and presented at South By SouthWest EDU, a national conference for educators in Austin, Texas. I’ve been fortunate to have school administrators who support my professional and personal efficacy and sustainability. This is a key piece: School principals, as you plan the trajectory of your school for students and staff alike for the year, please make specific provisions and recommendations for teachers to attend a variety of professional developments above and beyond those offered at the school or district level.
And, as you observe educators in their practice in their classrooms, think about what professional development organizations or conferences that would benefit them. Supporting educators in their craft only makes your school culture stronger. It’s an investment worth the expenditure. Often teacher leaders are identified though such exposures.
Just like everything else in education, there is inequity in the professional development (PD) offered to teachers. I can say without a doubt that SXSWEDU was one of the best PD I’ve ever been to in my career. I was empowered to have numerous days of back-to-back that I chose based on my interests and what I assess to be the needs of my students/my school community. I was able to plan each day of sessions based on common threads/themes that built one on top of the other, thus layering and interweaving the information I received. The ability to network with teachers from across the nation, as opposed to only those in my school building or district, added to what made this type of days-long intensive PD so meaningful. I was able to broaden and deepen the scope of my professional learning community. Now my students and I have links to students and teachers literally from across the country whom we can learn from and work with. That’s huge. All kinds of ideas come to mind for building bridges amongst our classrooms to develop cultural competencies and social-emotional learning, two area that are much needed yet not often address in middle-school curriculum.
Mandating weekly professional development in schools across the DOE requires a lot of creativity and knowledge that unfortunately doesn’t always take place. Allowing teachers to travel outside of our school for the enrichment required for us to thrive is one of the most empowering acts any school administration can afford their teaching staff.