AN APPRAISAL OF MY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPEMENT AND WHAT DOES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT MEAN TO ME. I believe that professional development is the exposure to learning that catapults me into continuous reflection, assessment and restructuring of my own teaching practices because of shared discovery and learning, making connections and communicating with other teacher learners and learning from being part of a professional learning community. In a professional learning community I have the opportunity to develop a shared language through quality conversations and exchanging ideas with other teachers, I have the opportunity to establish individual learning goals and receive professional guidance, support and mentoring from the broader professional learning community. I think that professional development encompasses a range of activities and can be viewed in many different ways. Professional development includes practices that range from attending professional conferences, university courses and workshops, in –service training and staff development, to co-teaching, learning by doing and reflection of teaching practice in action. Professional development also involves professional reading, collaborative inquiry and mentoring. I think that it is important that the focus of professional development should be on supporting my work as a practitioner, where professional development is part of my work life, rather than just support of my work. I think that professional development should focus on ‘reculturing’ rather that ‘restructuring’ teacher learning. (Louis, 2006). Professional development should grow a culture of professionalism. The focus of professional development should be on learning and the interactions that lead to learning.
I think that professional development that happens as close as possible to the real situation is most effective. This kind of professional development is referred to as situating professional development. Many pilots and doctors learning surgery participate in this type of professional development. It is interesting to note that not much of this type of professional development happens for teachers once they have completed their student teaching practicum. The Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES) highlights’ the kind of professional learning for teachers that strengthens outcomes for learners.’ (H. Timperley, A. Wilson, H. Barrar and I. Fung 2007). Professional learning can require a lot from teachers. Even if teachers are confident, experienced teachers, they can feel very uncomfortable when what they hold to be true, is challenged and they have to rethink their beliefs and practices. Often teachers come into teaching with preconceived views and ideas of what learning and teaching should be and what it should look like. This may make it difficult for teachers to then grasp and action new concepts, ideas and information. Professional development focussing on change needs to be a collaborative project where all stake holders have a voice and where they are clear about what is required and what it means for them. If this does not happen, teachers may take on board professional development in a superficial way, and when back in the classroom situation, revert back to their original preconceived ideas of teaching and learning.
In How People Learn (Bransford et al., 2001) it is suggested that a ‘metacognitive approach to professional development can help teachers take control of their own learning by allowing teachers to define goals and monitor their progress towards achieving these, so that they understand their daily practice.’ Bransford et al., insist that the ‘effectiveness of professional development is not measured by how teachers feel about it, but by the impact that it has on their practice and more importantly the achievement of their students.’ It is the view of Graham Young (2007) that ‘quality professional development must integrate theory with practice enabling teachers to make ongoing decisions about their classroom practice within the context of deeply understood relevant theory’. I agree that professional development should engage teachers as thinking professionals and intellectual workers, rather than just teach them ‘what to do and then set up compliance measures to make sure that they do it.’ (Gramsci,1971).
Timperley et al. have shown that ‘ quality professional learning comes from providing opportunities for teachers to engage with ideas and approaches to teaching, at a deep level’ and they need time to do this. Darling-Hammond (1996) explained that ‘shared decision making is a main factor in the transformation of teaching, where time is made for structured time for teachers to work together in planning instruction, observing each other's classrooms, and sharing feedback.’ It is their view that teachers also need to have access to ‘personal expertise, they need to have their thinking challenged, they need to learn alongside colleagues and to have the right conditions for this kind of professional learning’. I think that in many cases teachers never have the time to visit other classrooms and engage in conversations with other teachers. I think that many teachers feel isolated and I would love to have more opportunity to do this. I think that it is the responsibility of school leaders to provide the right conditions for this kind of learning to happen because I think that this is a very valuable form of professional development and it goes a long way towards developing a professional learning community. Professional communities offer teachers ‘opportunities to develop and share their expertise, and their focus is expanded to include an emphasis on professional learning.’ (DuFour & Eaker, 1998). Professional development should ‘focus on job-embedded high- quality learning for educators.’ (DuFour, DuFour et al., 2006; Haar, 2003; Phillips, 2003). Actively engaging teachers in professional learning communities will ‘increase their professional knowledge and enhance student learning.’ (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2006).
Rosenholtz (1989), maintained that teachers who felt ‘supported in their own ongoing learning and classroom practice were more committed and effective than those who did not receive such confirmation.’ Support by means of ‘teacher networks, cooperation among colleagues, and expanded professional roles increase teacher efficiency in meeting students' needs.’ Further, Rosenholtz found that teachers with a high sense of their own efficiency were more likely to adopt new classroom behaviors. McLaughlin and Talbert (1993) confirmed Rosenholtz's findings, suggesting that ‘when teachers had opportunities for collaborative inquiry and the learning related to it, they were able to develop and share a body of wisdom gleaned from their experience.’
I think that the foundation blocks of sustainable professional develop that makes a difference are a shared vision and value of learning, and a school culture that ‘recognizes and capitalizes on the collective strengths and talents of the staff.’ (Protheroe, 2008). I think that professional development should encourage groups of people ‘sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive learning-oriented and growth-promoting way’. (McREL, 2003). Professional development should support and provide opportunities for educators to ‘work collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.’ (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006). These characteristics, in essence, capture the spirit of a professional learning community and the infrastructure or the way that people need to work together, for the process of professional development to be meaningful, effective and sustainable.
My own professional development over the last 20 plus years has been quite varied and as I look back, interesting. I am embarrassed to say that it is only over the last six years, when I had the opportunity to work at a cutting-edge school in Auckland, NZ, that I really, for the first time, understood the importance of professional development and the impact that it could have on me as a teacher learner. In the beginning years of my teaching career, I did not even think about professional development. I started working at a school where there was no beginner teacher support or mentoring and you were just thrown into the deep end. It was pretty much a case of sink or swim. I think that I taught in the way that I was taught and for many years my focus was just on my teaching subjects. However, on reflection, I think that I have always been a learner. I have always intrinsically wanted to find out more about teaching and how to be a better teacher. Over my long career as a teacher, I have continued to study at a range of learning institutions and am a professional student, I have worked at different schools around the world, and taught different ethnic and socio-economic groups at all levels and in all curriculum areas. I think that I was very much a product of staff development rather than professional development. Staff development focused on exposing teachers to a variety of activities or sessions designed to enhance teacher knowledge and skills of teachers and lead to change in their classroom management and behaviour. (Fenstermacher, and Berlinger, 1993). During the earlier stages of my teaching career, any professional development sessions that I attended were basically information sessions that were delivered to me. There was no expectation of a re-examining of beliefs on subject matter or student learning or perhaps, instructions in the light of authentic, innovative teaching. In the last seven years, I have been exposed to the idea of professional development being important for me as a teacher, to help me to change and move towards actioning carefully identifiable and articulated teaching and learning goals. Over the last seven years I have had the fortunate opportunity to work in a school where the vision of ‘reculturing’ and developing a professional learning community is of paramount importance, and this is a vision that drives the school. Over the last seven years I have had the opportunity to attend and be involved in professional development at all levels from in-service sessions, action research and in-depth reflection of teaching practice with colleagues, attending courses, conferences and seminars and supported in leading professional development initiatives and mentoring others. I have had the opportunity and time to learn new skills, develop new insights into pedagogy through up to date professional reading, and use this to reflect on my teaching practice. I have been exposed to 21st century learning needs and digital literacies but now need to work with others to support me overcome challenges that come with putting into practice technology to support Inquiry based learning. I think that some of the main changes that have occurred over the last seven years is that I now have more of a hand on my own professional learning and development. I understand the importance of professional reading and the connectiveness and collaboration of belonging to a professional learning community. I am more an ‘architect’ of my own growth and I have also been recognized for the growth that I have made.
So what still needs to be done? Fullan (1991) explains professional development as “the sum total of formal and informal learning experiences throughout one’s career from pre-service teacher education to retirement” (p. 326). There is never a day when there is no learning to be done. I am passionate about the integration of technology in learning, that supports demonstration of the process of learning, knowledge and understanding, as well as reflection of learning. I believe that these are some of the roots when growing life-long learners so I need to examine my practice to see what am I doing to achieve this and question how I could improve my practice to bring about these changes in student learning. I want to engage in collaborative teacher learning with other teachers, not just those from my school. I think that this is valuable because it extends ones learning horizons, encourages conversations and the sharing of stories and helps one to be a more critical reflector. I want to be part of a broader learning community. I want the students in my class to also experience this kind of learning and so I feel that I need to engage in a collaborative professional development initiative and be a learner before exposing my students to this learning opportunity. I think that life-long learners should be risk-takers and innovators who are open to change and how they learn. I am keen to trial new initiatives with the support of a mentor. I think it is important to relate practice to theory. I want to extend my professional reading and read with a closer focus, as well as establish a collection of relevant readings that are relevant and enriching. I want to have the opportunity to share what I learn with others and so I will have to find opportunities and avenues open for me to this. I think that this makes learning valuable and worthwhile. You also learn as you share. Continued professional development is a vital component of my growth as a teacher learner in the 21st century.
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