Professional Development

Educators, me included, are guilty of using jargon that may make sense to us but is basically a foreign language to other people, including our district patrons.  This posting will attempt to address one example of educational jargon – professional development.

When I started teaching 30+ years ago, we had what was referred to as in-service, e.g., time to teach the staff “new” things.  At that point in history, the focal point of staff in-service was usually some type of management training et al.  Occasionally we would get something about actual teaching pedagogy (art and science of teaching) like cooperative learning, outcome based education, and a slew of other things with jargon”ish” names.  However, we never really had a focus on teaching strategies that would help kids to learn better.  We never had chunks of time to delve deeply into what we were doing or why we were doing it.  We never took time to actually see if kids were learning … review of data was never part of the discussion.  The focus was not on student achievement; thankfully things are different today.

Over the years the term “in-service” morphed into what is now called professional development.  Part of the reason for the change in terminology is the emphasis now on actual teaching pedagogy (defined as the art and science of teaching).  The educational research base has grown exponentially in the past 10+ years, e.g., we have solid, reputable research to guide best practices in teaching and learning.  Consequently the term professional development actually is accurate as time is spent on teachers working on their teaching; professional development does not include time for the regular routines of teaching, e.g., grading papers, using the copier, etc.  The bottom line is professional development is the time we as a district can spend on becoming better, in changing to meet the changing times, and simply put, becoming better at helping kids to learn.  Data is now at the center of almost every discussion on what is working, what is not, and what are we going to do.

Teaching and learning is MUCH MORE than having a teacher talk at students all the time – it is incredibly complicated work that is becoming more and more based on new and exciting research.  Sometimes the question is asked:  Is teaching an art or a science?  Frankly, in my veteran opinion, it is both – great teachers know how to relate to kids, are able to read their moods, treat them with respect and earn their respect, etc. – that is the art of teaching.  However being a good “people person” is not enough; through research we know how kids learn and strategies that maximize that learning – the science of teaching.  What we’re after as a school system is moving forward and transforming our system through the science of teaching while continually developing the art of teaching … and that only can occur through professional development.

In coming posts I’ll share some of the planning taking place regarding professional development at Interstate 35 Community School District.