I’m a new teacher who graduated last year from Brock University’s Bachelor of Education program. Immediately after graduating from Brock’s Intermediate/Senior program, I completed Additional Basic Qualification courses for both the Primary and Junior divisions, and I now work full-time as a Grade 7/8 French Immersion teacher. I have attended many PD events so far this year, which where provided by my school, my school board, or by my teacher association. The topics of these days, workshops, sessions, and events have ranged from instruction and assessment in French and Math, to the integration of technology in the classroom, to teacher performance appraisals, to voice care, and everything in between.
I think that these PD events have all been useful and never a complete waste of time. All PD, whether I experience an earth-shattering revelation, or a mind-numbing distraction, has taught me something, and I sign up for as much of it as I can.
I have discovered that the most useful PD has included one or more of the three following things:
1. SHARING IDEAS WITH MY PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY (PLC)
In terms of instruction and assessment, when I get the opportunity to share with what I’m doing in my classroom, and for my colleagues to share what they’ve been doing in their classrooms, I benefit greatly from hearing the multiple perspectives on a topic or issue. As a new teacher, when I hear someone explaining what they’re doing, and it’s similar to or exactly what I’m doing, I feel validated in my teaching practice. One of the things that I worry about most as a new teacher is whether or not I’m doing this teaching thing “right” (though I’m slowly learning that what “right” means is rather difficult to pin down). When my teaching techniques are different from those of my colleagues, I have the opportunity to either decide to implement what others are doing within my own classroom or to take a closer look at the context in which I find myself. From this context, I can question whether what’s being shared would work in my classroom, or whether what I’m suggesting would work in other teachers’ classrooms.
2. GIVE ME USEFUL IDEAS THAT I CAN IMPLEMENT RIGHT AWAY
The best ideas that I get from PD events are the ones that I can incorporate into my practice immediately and with little or no preparation time on my part. If I have to wait until the beginning of my next unit or Teaching and Learning Critical Pathway (TLCP) to implement an idea, chances are that I won’t implement this idea. Teachers are busy people; human beings are busy people. As teachers and human beings, we tend not to seek out things that are going to create more work for us. Perhaps as I become more experienced and more practiced at this whole teaching thing, I’ll have more time to create work for myself (though my more experienced colleagues tell me not). Perhaps if I were better organized or felt like I had more time, I would prepare and implement some of these rich, but time-consuming ideas. As it is, I’m likely missing out.
3. DON’T JUST GIVE ME TECHNOLOGY – SHOW ME HOW TO LEVERAGE IT!
I don’t find it useful when a piece of technology is plunked on the table and I’m told, “Ta-da! Look! It’s technology that will make everything so much better!” (I am, of course, paraphrasing). What I do find useful is seeing this technology demonstrated and having the opportunity to experiment with the technology myself. I find it particularly useful to see what students can do with the technology when it’s put in their hands. I also like books. I’ve found that there are many high-quality book clubs and reading groups run for teachers, and I think it’s important that teachers, who spend so much time preparing courses of study, engage in some study themselves.
We have a strong professional development system in Ontario and we’re lucky to be able to share our strengths and weaknesses in a safe and professional environment. I’ve never felt that I was in competition with any of my colleagues. I’ve only felt that we have been, for lack of a better word, collegial. Not all professionals in Canada can claim this benefit. Many work in systems that pit professional against professional and do not create an environment in which these individuals are free to speak and be vulnerable.
To imagine that PD or Teacher Education programs could possibly be enough to prepare teachers for the realities of the profession is naive. However, this realization does not give us permission to stop trying to make PD the very best it can possibly be, just as the realization that as a teacher, you can never fully prepare a student for what lies ahead, does not excuse teachers from trying to do so.
My recommendation is that if you are a teacher, young or old, new or experienced, take advantage of every PD opportunity that comes your way. Teaching is a challenging, yet rewarding profession, and I don’t see it becoming any less challenging in the years to come. Teachers are going to need all the PD that we can get.
A message to all other education stakeholders, please continue to encourage teachers to seize PD opportunities. Make decisions that protect and maintain the safe learning environment that our teachers now enjoy. After all, teachers who are lifelong learners will better fulfill their purpose of creating and inspiring a brighter, and well-educated, future.
Even if you happen to disagree with me about the state of PD today, I hope that my post has been sufficiently optimistic, naive, and cheerful to at least make you chuckle.