One of the most bizarre moments of my professional career happened one year when I realized at the last minute that I didn’t have enough technology professional development credits—a required strand here in North Carolina—to renew my teaching license.
Ironic, huh? After all, I’ve been a leader in technology integration for the better part of a decade.
Anyone looking through my Digitally Speaking PD wiki or my technology book could quickly see that understanding the role that digital tools can play in teaching and learning is a professional strength of mine.
Wanting to keep my job, though, I started scouring the technology courses being offered by both my county and the state. The only courses being offered before my certification expired were:
- Getting to Know Your Computer: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Your New Machine.
- Getting to Know the Internet: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Power of the World Wide Web.
Both courses were 8 hours long, both were being offered by a local computer store on two consecutive Saturdays, and both were WAY below my level of ability.
So I called the licensure representatives at the county office, figuring that they’d help me to find a professional development opportunity that was more appropriate for my abilities.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: So I need a few technology professional development credits, but there aren’t any courses that will help me to grow as a learner.
PD Lady: I see two courses, Mr. Ferriter. One titled Getting to Know Your Computer. The other titled Getting to Know the Internet.
Me: Right. But those courses are for beginners. I’m not a beginner. Could I maybe do an independent study on integrating video into classroom instruction?
PD Lady: No Mr. Ferriter. You have to take an approved course.
Me: Even if I don’t learn anything?
PD Lady: Yes, Mr. Ferriter.
There are a TON of lessons to be learned about professional development in that one short exchange.
We’ve made the process for helping teachers learn more important than the people doing the learning.
As crazy as it sounds, learning isn’t the priority for most teacher professional development programs. Instead, meeting the requirements for certification spelled out in policy is the priority.
That rigid commitment to requirements meant that I learned nothing in the courses that I was forced to take and was certified anyway.
Stew in that for a minute, would ya?
If you care about seeing students succeed, think about the implication of a nation of educators who are taking courses to meet requirements INSTEAD of taking courses to improve what they know and can do.
And if you care about saving cash—an important consideration in today’s tight budget times—think about the the implications of investing in teacher professional development programs that have little real impact on teaching and learning in our classrooms.
We’re also sending horrible messages to teachers about the importance of differentiating learning for individuals.
If our school systems are going to successfully close achievement gaps and increase levels of performance for every child, we simply must begin to customize individualized learning experiences at the student level.
What’s cool is that momentum really is building behind the idea that differentiation matters.
Teachers are being encouraged to use data to make instructional choices. Remediation and enrichment are common expectations in every school. Digital options for independent exploration are being pursued at all grade levels and in all subject areas.
Yet the vast majority of our teachers continue to sit in one-size-fits-all sessions delivered to entire faculties on isolated work days a few times each year.
Do you see the disconnect?
Can we really expect teachers who have never experienced differentiation as learners to turn around and embrace differentiation as teachers?
What’s so darn frustrating is that the characteristics of effective professional development aren’t a mystery.
Paterson (2002) details how successful professional development programs consist of structural elements—a connection to curricula, linkages to state initiatives and certification, integration of information technologies, use of a variety of instructional strategies—and a strong connection to a school’s mission.
Quality professionally development also promotes reflective practices, fosters collaboration (Browne-Ferrigno & Muth, 2004), focuses on an educator’s needs (Marshall, Pritchard, & Gunderson, 2001), is based upon improving student achievement (Haar 2002), and has become embedded and job supported (Lairon & Vidales, 2003).
The only mystery is why so many systems fail to create meaningful learning environments for their teachers.
Browne-Ferrigno, T., and Muth, R. (2004). Leadership mentoring in clinical practice: Role socialization, professional development, and capacity building. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(4), 468-494.
Jean M Haar, “A multiple case study: Principals’ involvement in professional development” (January 1, 2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Paper AAI3041356. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3041356
Lairon, Mary and Bernie Vidales. Leaders Learning in Context. Leadership, v. 32, no.5, p. 16-18, 36, May/June 2003.Newcomers. School Administrator, v. 61, no. 6, p.18-21, June 2004.
Marshall, J.C., Pritchard, R.J., & Gunderson, B. (2001, February). Professional development: What works and what doesn’t. Principal Leadership, 1(6), 64-68.
Paterson, Kent, “The Professional Development of Principals: Innovations and Opportunities. Educational Administration Quarterly. April 2002. Volume 38. No. 2 (213-232).