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courtesy Kennesaw State University
courtesy Kennesaw State University

In schools across the United States, teachers have a wealth of knowledge.  But that knowledge is not always employed to our benefit as teachers.  There are many veteran master teachers in our schools, but until we start having conversations with those people and developing solutions, we will be obligated to continue “running the gauntlet” of overpriced programs that do not meet our needs for professional developments.

I have had to sit through some really mediocre and poor professional development seminars with presenter(s) who are neither experienced teacher(s) or who have left the classroom after a very short time, perhaps after three to five years.  One area of professional development that I really dread is computer technology.  The presenter is sometimes a sales person for the corporation or an IT specialist that does not have a clue about how a classroom actually works.  These people are knowledgeable about their product and what it can do but they lack the knowledge of how to implement it in a classroom setting.  Usually, they teach us “tricks” (like how to use social media to talk to someone under the guise of collaboration), but not how to move beyond “looking stuff up on the internet.”

The other professional development that I dread is teacher motivation.  We usually are given a small book with motivational quotes that employ a theme or gimmick.  Someone from the central office presents a Powerpoint on the theme and talks about how “cool” this analogy is as it relates to education. Well, as soon as it is introduced it will be the biggest joke in the school.  A solution that my district experimented with has been to invite people from the community to come in and deliver a “pep talk” to us.  As teachers, there is no shortage of people talking at us.  What we need are people talking for us, not to us, but rather to our local boards, state legislators, and Congress.

Inviting community leaders to come speak with the teachers concerning their needs for future employees or encouraging young people to become more involved in civic responsibilities or community activities would be beneficial. Your community members can be, and are, a tremendously valuable asset.  Without their support, the school will suffer.  Community members can make excellent ambassadors for new people moving in to your area.  Developing a team of community members to volunteer to act as liaisons between the teachers, school(s), businesses, services, and not for profit institutions would be extremely valuable to the schools.

So, we are all familiar with this situation.  What can we do about it?  We can look at our own school, identify the needs of the staff, and create our own professional development.  There is not anyone who knows your school better than you.  The staff at your school knows what they need better than anyone else.  This is a great place to start.  In your school, there is someone who has mentored other teachers, there is someone who is going to graduate school, there is someone who is completing research, and there is someone who knows how to analyze and look at data as it applies to the classroom; there are people that can help develop your own program.

As an aside, I would recommend that you employ teaching staff to deliver this program as opposed to administrators.  Administrators have a different mindset; they are focused on overall school results, more so than on your needs as an individual teacher or individual student success.  Remember, you are the most effective element in the classroom, so you need to have professional developments that address your needs to be the best you can be for the students.  You should also remember that if it weren’t for teachers and students, there would not be a school.  Your administrators and central office personnel should be fulfilling the role of support for you to have all of your needs met so that you can do the best job possible.  In other words, they are there to supply the service of support to you, the classroom teacher.

The First Step: Identifying needs.  You can complete needs identification through a needs analysis.  Do surveys, take a vote, talk to each other, and find out by some means what are the needs of the staff.  You may have more than one need and in all actuality you should have.  Prioritize those needs; concentrate on no more than three, preferably two professional developments.  The initiatives in a building need to be focused and limited. Depending on the size of your staff you could possibly have two ongoing professional developments, which run concurrently, beyond two you lose focus and it becomes “one more thing to do.” Professional development activities should require multiple days throughout the school year.  Growth is not accomplished in a one day “set and get.”  People need time to digest, assimilate and practice new knowledge.

As a designer or program director you need to be aware and cognizant of the school improvement plan.  Your professional development needs to address at least one of the areas on the plan.  If your school is like mine, there are committees.  These committees meet continuously to work on their goals again and again.  The committee goals are based on the school improvement plan. Sometimes there is little accomplished and sometimes valuable work results from these meetings. The work of the committee can be used in your documentation for the design of your professional development.

The Second Step: Identifying needs will lead you to goal development.  Your goal needs to be focused, what you want to achieve in the end.  What is the professional development supposed to give to the teachers so that they can be the best they can be in the classroom?  In other words, what do you want the teachers to walk away with?  In conjunction with goal development, you should determine how you will evaluate the program.  You will need to design or create some type of instrument that allows you to measure progress or success of implementation and the program as a whole.  As in the classroom, you should practice “backwards design” with this initiative.

The Third Step: Assemble a team.  You need that team to help gather data and design the program. Choose members based on their strengths and talents not on their popularity or connections to administration (although, you may have to take one of these to appease your principal).  This is the crux of teacher leadership and diplomacy; this is called compromise, give a little to get a lot. You will also need be to discrete about some things.  Think about circumstances and situations and make a decision based on your best judgment then be discrete. Find a mentor, for yourself and an adviser for the team.  Luckily for me, my mentor was my superintendent.  Your mentor might be your superintendent or another key individual from the central office or perhaps your building principal.

A few skills that you need your team to have are:  data analysis, technical writer, developer (for the action plan), researcher, presenter and project manager/director.  Some folks can wear multiple hats, just be cautious on overloading one person.  This is group work; everyone has to pull their weight.  This is also work for you and the staff, this is the opportunity to shine as a professional, make sure you have your documentation, research and plan well written, because you are going to have to “sell” this to someone who is your superior.

This work is “real” work, about your chosen profession, about your craft, and your personal success. Your team needs to be a team of volunteers or folks who are interested in creating a professional development.  Without that you will not have buy in or loyalty amongst your team members.  This is a tremendous amount of work.  Is it worth the effort?  Absolutely!  For society to change their perceptions about teachers, we have to present ourselves as more than just caring people, but as caring professionals.  Creating our own seminars, leading them, evaluating them, and developing new and ongoing programs that meets our needs will aid society in changing their perceptions.

Schools will be starting back in August, so this is a great time to be thinking about your own and your colleagues’ professional development.  This is the time to start preparing and seeking out your team members.  Get excited!  We are teachers; we are trained and certified professionals. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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