Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Crazy Idea for Professional Development

We are required to do 14 hours of documented professional development.  I'm sure that this hour requirement is similar at most school districts.  I could do 14 hours of professional development standing on my head.  My estimation is that I spend 5 hours a week reading the professional writings of my colleagues, and another 5 on Twitter engaging my colleagues in professional discourse.  Not to mention the discussions I have with colleagues that I actually work in the same building with. 

When will professional development be more than just an accumulation of hours?  It is a necessity in our classroom to differentiate instruction so that we nurture the interests of our students and provide them with a customized learning experience.  The extent of differentiation that goes into our professional development is the variety of 2-hour workshops in the district catalog to pick from (as long as you pick 7). 

Everybody choosing from the same pool of workshops leads us to a situation in which we have a large number of people with an average skill level.  What better way to generate organizational inefficiency than not nurturing experts? 

So my proposal for professional development: A Portfolio.  A teacher and a principal can have a discussion that begins with "Show me what you've done to become a better educator."  What follows is a look at the portfolio, talk about what's been learned, talk about interest level, what was good, what wasn't so good.  The principal can provide some feedback and suggestions as to where to go next.  Maybe this conversation is a little bit better than putting a check mark next to the teacher that has successfully completed the 14 hours?

A district would still offer the same catalog, but employees would not be limited to taking just those courses.  You can expand your offerings as need be, when you find there are a number of educators looking for something that just isn't offered.  The district catalog becomes customized for the individuals that need it, not the other way around. 

I'm not even going to mention how happy this proposal would make the educational outsider that thinks teachers have no incentive to improve when they get tenure.  Okay, I mentioned it.

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