Magazine article AMLE Magazine

The Case for Meaningful Professional Development

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

The Case for Meaningful Professional Development

Article excerpt

Mention professional development to teachers and watch their reaction. Better yet, listen to what they have to say. You may hear some pretty ugly comments.

Why? In many schools, professional development means seemingly endless meetings, lectures, and time taken away from what teachers want to be doing: the meaningful work of educating their students.

Long faculty meetings and one-shot professional development sessions often serve little or no purpose and introduce ideas and concepts with little or no follow-up or oversight. Disconnected and short-term professional development does not positively affect how teachers teach and students learn.

In the Foreword to Hayes Mizelle's Why Professional Development Matters, Learning Forward Executive Director Stephanie Hirsch states: "Research confirms that the most important factor contributing to a student's success in school is the quality of teaching." She continues, "Professional development is the most effective strategy schools and school districts have to meet this expectation."

If we expect positive changes in student behavior and achievement, we must also expect teachers to change what and how they do things. In short, student achievement depends on well-trained and knowledgeable teachers. That's why meaningful professional development is critical.

Professional development should be relevant, ongoing, and job-embedded. The list of characteristics of effective professional development is extensive; however, following are some that we believe are non-negotiable:

* Professional development is ongoing, experiential, job-embedded, and relevant.

* Professional development is guided by the needs of teachers to better teach adolescents and understand their culture.

* Teachers and administrators work collaboratively to plan, implement, and assess professional development.

So when do we provide sustained, relevant professional development for teachers? And how?

the When of Professional development

Some professional development may take place during the summer, yet it is less effective than the professional development that is woven into the work day. These opportunities may come about during focused faculty meetings, common planning time, before or after the school day, or during district-mandated professional development days during the school year.

Because teachers do not have a lot of time to compare teaching strategies, talk about student academic performance, or share what works in their classrooms, common planning time-an important middle school structure-is critical. It is also critical that teachers use this time wisely to focus on their instructional needs and the academic needs of their students rather than grumble about personality conflicts or district policies.

Faculty meetings also provide an opportunity for meaningful professional development if they are well-planned and focused. Focused faculty meetings provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate, to be productive. On the contrary, traditional faculty meetings provide teachers an opportunity to grade papers, text, read newspapers, or check their e-mail while they half-heartedly listen to information that easily could have been shared in a memorandum or group e-mail.

Caution! If you promote these reimagined faculty meetings as professional development meetings, you must deliver! They can't be the usual dog-and-pony show. The meetings need to be well-planned, with input from the leadership team and other teachers, and they should be centered on specific topics that will be emphasized throughout the school year- perhaps incorporating the school's identified focus for the year.

the How of Professional development

Many schools limit themselves to one or two types of professional development, such as common planning time combined with district professional development courses. Yet just like students, educators benefit from a variety of instructional methods. …

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