by Gage Jeter ELA Curriculum Specialist, K20 Center
Ask any teacher who has been in the classroom for a year or more how he or she views professional development activities and workshops. The reply received might be accompanied with an eye roll, heavy sigh, and overall sense of exasperation. According to Lieberman and Wood (2003), “as teachers have known and research has shown, ‘professional development’ of teachers has been notoriously unsuccessful,” and “there is little knowledge about how, or even if, professional development organized for teachers ever finds its way into classrooms to enlarge teachers’ repertoires and enhance student learning” (p. 3). Teachers may not always see the usefulness or effectiveness of professional development because of their own negative experiences as participants being talked at about topics they either cared little or nothing about or saw little or no relevance to their own teaching and/or students.
Even if the content presented is relevant, the presentation style might not allow for collaboration and social learning with and from one another. It is all too common that teachers leave professional development settings without strategies, ideas, or activities to implement in their own classrooms. Hill (2009) discusses how “teachers themselves are lukewarm about their professional development experiences” (p. 472). Lukewarm feelings could very well leave teachers unsatisfied and unfulfilled in regards to the (lack of) professional development they experience. These lukewarm feelings might stem from outside “experts” presenting professional development to teachers with little knowledge of the teachers’ context, needs, and individual and collective strengths and challenges. This traditional notion of professional development involving an outsider “developing” a group of teachers is often unsuccessful; teachers’ experiences during these types of opportunities are likely negative. In accordance, Gray (2000) describes teachers as “cynical of most school staff development efforts” (p. 49).
As a former middle school teacher, I think back to the many 7:30 a.m. professional development meetings and workshops in which I participated. I use the term “participated” lightly – usually I was answering emails, grading papers I should have graded the night before, or working on my lesson plan for the day. I have lost count of the number of hours, days, and maybe even weeks spent in this type of setting that I feel was wasted because it did not affect my educational philosophy or practice. I would rarely learn or do anything during these sessions that I could use in my classroom. So, my colleagues and I often checked out to attend to business that mattered since the professional development certainly did not. Lieberman and Mace note that “professional development, thought well intentioned, is often perceived by teachers as fragmented, disconnected, and irrelevant to the real problems of classroom practice” (2008, p. 226). Although, through informal conversations, I can attest that I am not alone in these experiences, I wonder how other teachers have experienced professional development activities.
In the past few years, four particular professional development venues have opened my eyes to what professional development can and should be: - K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal - Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English's conferences - Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Institute - National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention
I now know that professional development can be: - Meaningful - Applicable - Useful - Engaging - Transformative - Collaborative - Powerful - Fun!
What about you? What are your experiences with professional development? What is "good" professional development, in your opinion? What's the best professional development you've attended? Please share your ideas in the comments section.
Also, submit a proposal and register for the 2016 OKCTE Fall Conference, held on the OU campus on October 1, 2016. Imagine the potential power of this professional development if YOU participate!
Gray, J. (2000). Teachers at the center: A memoir of the early years of the national writing project. Berkeley, CA: National Writing Project Cooperation.
Hill, H. C. (2009). Fixing teacher professional development. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(7), 470-476.
Lieberman, A., & Mace, D. H. P. (2008). Teacher learning: The key to educational reform. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(3), 226-234.
Lieberman, A., & Wood, D.R. (2003). Inside the national writing project: Connecting network learning and classroom teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.