The Delicate Dance of Professional Development |

The Dance of the Professionals is a phrase that describes the many different paths, decisions, and skills necessary for professionals to grow their careers. The dance can be difficult because there are so many things to juggle at once. Instead of being able to focus on one particular thing, professionals have been forced into being an expert in everything from marketing strategies to development frameworks. This has led some companies struggling with finding talent while others have started developing new opportunities around these complex demands. How do you balance your professional life? What path will work best for you?

The “professional development” is a delicate dance that requires careful planning and execution. It’s also one of the most important things in education.

A delicate dance of professional development

Drew Perkins, director of TeachThought PD

Professional Development. We need it. You’ll need this. Our students need all of us, but how do we do that? And when? About what?

But mention those two words – professional development – to almost any teacher, and you’re likely to get a nasty response. Roll your eyes, frown… maybe even say ugh.

A recent trend that is likely a reaction to this sentiment is teacher-directed learning. Edcamps and TeachMeets seem to be popping up everywhere, and rightly so, they can be very interesting. It’s not about attending a conference or a refresher course, coming back to a staff meeting and presenting yourself as if you are now an expert. Who would have thought that would be a good idea, huh? No, it’s informal and organically organized. Teachers share their experiences with other teachers, often on a voluntary basis. Of course, there are other ways to do this. All over the world, teachers organise and run in-service training courses in their schools and, fortunately, in many cases this practice is even supported by the government.

We love him.

What is your ideal balance for the PD?

But that threatens those of us who do professional development as external partners, doesn’t it? Well, I guess in a way it is, but that’s where this delicate dance begins. Like dancing, learning requires balance. If you lose your balance, you will fall.

Progressive educators reject standardization as an unbalanced approach. Our current imbalance between the culture of achievement and the culture of teaching and learning makes teachers and students feel like they are falling into a black hole of incompetence. In these dances, the partner does not match the specifications of the teacher and the student, which leads to pitfalls.

No, when you dance with a partner, you want a give and take relationship. We need leadership, communication, collaboration and creativity. If we stumble or fall, we want our partner to be there to catch us. We need balance, and sometimes a voice from outside can be just that.

Sometimes we have to dance alone, and honestly, dancing alone can be very productive. But too much solo dancing can throw you off balance as much as hearing your own voice in an echo chamber. Schools need to draw on the expertise and leadership qualities of their staff. It would be a shame not to. But it’s also important to balance this with external voices that ask good questions and help clarify clarity and a purpose while building internal capacity.

At TeachThought, we fight bias, which kills thinking, and similarly, schools need to fight the dynamic of teachers driving the learning process, which only reinforces what they think management wants them to do.  As a teacher, I remember principals coming to staff meetings after school and saying: The answers are in this piece, but what they really meant was: I’m going to let you talk until I hear what I want to hear from you. If your professional development partner is not taking into account the internal voices and concerns of your teachers and other stakeholders, you need to rethink their value.

Another sensitive aspect of professional development is the negativity mentioned earlier. As a teacher, I often feel the same way when it comes to professional development, and I realize that I sometimes have to overcome this stigma when I teach a seminar or class. Of course, there is a lot to be said for the work that precedes this stage, which is to create a need and a perceived interest among teachers, creating a dynamic of attraction rather than repulsion.

But it’s about being a good dance partner, communicating and collaborating in a way that aligns our learning and work with the questions and voices of these teachers.

Just as in the classroom, where we expect differentiation, it is important that professional development meets teachers and staff at the stage they are at in their development and works together to move forward. As in the classroom, this is often best achieved by working individually or in small groups, balanced by an attentive facilitator who helps guide and adjust with an added perspective of experience and knowledge.

Ideally, professional development should never answer questions like How long will it take? and What do we have to spend? and we welcome the movement where teachers take responsibility for their own learning. Like a good dance, you need to balance learning with the experience and knowledge of an outside partner who will support you when you stumble.

Are you interested in balanced professional development? Visit TeachThought PD.

Professional development of delicate dance; image assignment to flikr user Michael Coghlan.

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