The #ITBE2016 Convention was full of fantastic information and networking opportunities! Good to see some familiar faces and connect with colleagues from around Illinois.
Above are the slides from my presentation on professional development. This mini-workshop actually stems from a larger conversation we’ve been having in our program over the past year. The questions posed were:
- What is professional development?
- How ‘much’ professional development is the teacher expected to do in a given year?
- What ‘types’ of professional development count?
- (Scare quotes are my own, but added because these are good discussion points.)
Interesting questions. The current literature from our field identifies the teacher as holding primary responsibility for figuring out what s/he needs. The program is responsible for providing time for professional development and fostering a collaborative environment where the exchange of ideas can take place.
I had an thought-provoking exchange with a conference attendee. She asked what counts as professional development and how it is defined.
Here are the two scenarios:
- You attend a webinar on task-based instruction. Learn a few tips. Think about how to apply the information. Then go about your daily business.
- You are team-teaching a particularly difficult class of students. You engage in a meaningful conversation in the break room with your team-teacher and discuss how to adapt your lessons to meet the students’ needs. You walk away with some good ideas to implement during the next class.
The questions are:
- Do these activities both count as professional development?
- While one activity may be given more weight in terms of an end-of-year appraisal, which is more valuable to your daily practice?
An additional challenge comes in the form of communicating your ongoing professional development activities up the chain to your supervisor (in a meaningful way). Having worked in administration for a number of years now, I will tell you that administrators love analytics! Give me something I can easily measure.
The burden of demonstrating the value of any ongoing professional development really lies with the teacher. There are many ways to do this, from digital portfolios, to narrative descriptions, to tracking hours. That said, professional development is ongoing, and capturing your growth over time as you work on different projects or initiatives can be challenging. If you’re adjuncting in different programs, there’s added difficulty as you work around hectic teaching schedules, juggle different programmatic expectations, and are constrained by limited resources.
One strategy is the Chinese Zodiac approach.
Choose a theme or topic that you’re interested in and work on that topic for an extended period of time (e.g., 1 year) – instead of the Year of the Monkey, maybe it’s the Year of Task-Based Instruction. This allows you to delve into that topic and explore it from all angles: reading the literature, experimenting with new methods in the classroom, targeting workshop presentations, conducting action research, and then doing a capstone around the theme in the form of a conference paper or article (or even a simple book review).
I use Excel to keep up on my projects. Here’s an fully editable Excel spreadsheet that you can download and use to start tracking your activities: Professional Development Tracker
Again, the at-a-glance overview helps you keep track of your goals and clearly demonstrate all of your wonderful work to those higher-ups.
At the end of the day, professional development is still complicated to unpack, and only as helpful as it is relevant to the particularity of your individual teaching context.
Read More: Post on 5 Paradigms of Professional Development.