I feel very fortunate to be working in an environment where teacher development is encouraged and supported, although I can appreciate that not all teachers are as wildly excited by PD as myself. If you’re reading this, it probably means that you are also quite keen on PD, perhaps because of or in spite of the environment you teach in. Fortunately, for those working in schools where opportunities for professional development are limited, the World Wide Web can offer incredible resources from every corner of the globe (hence the capitalization and separation of worldwide!). But, let’s think about some of the reasons why schools wouldn’t organise or promote teacher development, especially given the current climate of concern over preliminary teaching qualifications, namely the CertTESOL and CELTA. (To read more about that, check out this article on Teacher Training Unplugged, which links to Hugh Dellar’s original piece.)
This could perhaps be one of the main factors affecting management’s decision to provide PD. Many teachers are currently working a significant number of extra-curricular/non-contact hours to plan lessons, prepare materials, write reports, mark exams, and so on. Also, in-house sessions require somebody to prepare them and whilst asking teachers to share their knowledge and experience by running a session is another fantastic opportunity for PD, it puts pressure on an already busy workload.
This links to a certain extent with the idea of Time – are teachers paid to attend in-house sessions? On the one hand, school owners could argue that it’s for their own benefit that they’re providing development sessions; however, it’s worth remembering that teachers are likely to be the main contact point for students and anything which can help them to become better teachers will have a knock-on effect on the school. Continuing the idea of in-house development, observations are another source of development, but these involve financial questions as well. If you’re fortunate and have a dedicated Director of Studies who has the time to observe, it’s less of an issue. But what about peer observations? Often these are a far more rewarding and much less daunting experience for teachers – but does the school have the resources to cover teachers whilst they are observing another group? And, thinking further afield – are teachers supported financially to attend sessions which may be held locally?
Ah, the old argument of a teacher who has 20 years’ experience (or was that 20 times one years’ experience?). Personally, I would be concerned about teachers who were in no way interested in their professional development. Yes, we can all be invested to varying degrees, but no matter how long you’ve been teaching, professional development is vital – to make you more aware of changes in education, to encourage an old dog to try new tricks, or, equally as importantly, to validate what you’ve been doing all along. PD gives you the right to defend your point of view – if you’re open to a new concept, but decide it’s not for you, at least you took the initial step of finding out more rather than dismissing it without a second glance.
A key to the solution is ensuring that PD is meaningful – is it relevant to the current teaching environment? If it’s not immediately relevant, can teachers be given a clear rationale for why it’s important? Is there a good balance of theory and practice? For schools where there are financial constraints or limited opportunities for local professional development, it’s worth devoting some time to raising teachers’ awareness of the wealth of resources available to them at the click of a mouse (or touch of a screen) – but teachers will benefit from guidance in this area too as there is SO much on offer that it can be tricky to know where to start. It’s also vital that PD is approached positively – management should assume that teachers are doing their jobs well and PD should not be seen as corrective; reactive and proactive, yes – but not corrective. Another way of approaching PD is to move away from an “all or nothing” approach – development is not only professional but also personal and offering options and variety can make PD more enticing as teachers feel they are attending sessions which interest them.