Mary Dagani | June 2018

Knowing is Growing: The Need for Professional Development

I’ve always found it ironic that in order to be an excellent teacher, we also need to be a willing learner. And believe it or not, professional development is recognized as the primary way for teachers to improve their teaching skills.  Fortunately for us, these opportunities come in a wide variety of forms.  Enhanced skill, improved knowledge, and greater effectiveness are the basic intent of this higher level training.  When you stop to think about how quickly our world is changing, it is understandable that the educational needs of our students are changing just as rapidly.  Inevitably, it is up to us to stay on top of these changes.  This reason alone is why we, as educators, need to be open to professional development.

Taking a closer look, professional development covers a wide range of topics and comes in just as many formats.  In his resource encompassing the values of professional development, Hayes Mizell provides a detailed list (page 9) of the various modes in which educators may choose to engage in PD.  Add this, an article from Teacher.org, and you have an idea of the countless topics or content areas covered in many professional development requirements.  However, there are a few things we must keep in mind when engaging in higher level learning.  According to the NCLB Act, PD needs to be above all, “comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach to improving teachers’ and principals’ effectiveness in raising student achievement.”  Succinctly put, it all boils down to student achievement!

Let me stop here a moment and say that I haven’t forgotten about the ever-present challenges to this process.  I understand that time away from the classroom, lack of funding, lack of support from administrators, lack of choice in topics, and the reality of too much work already being heaped upon teachers are all enough to make me throw my hands up and cry “Uncle”.  (Oh, for the young’uns out there, that’s an old fashioned way to say, “I give up!”)

My hopes are that you will stick with me, and see that in a profession that requires us to stay on top of best practices, there are some very creative and fun ways to go about doing it.

Think Critically

We are truly fortunate that we are required to participate in this advanced learning.  However, more often than not, we are also required to pay for it.  While preparing for this article, I found myself wondering if there were any free workshops out there.  My district recently provided 2 days of voluntary PD in the area of Arts Integration (provided by yours truly!).  We had so many requests to attend that we had to turn teachers away.  The benefit to this is they have now created a demand for more Arts PD next year!  I also came upon this free training provided by our local County Office of Education.  Although this flyer is expired, I’ve been assured that there are more free workshops scheduled for the up coming school year.

If you do have a bit of extra cash on you, there are many online and in person opportunities happening this summer.  I highly recommend joining us right here at EducationCloset’s Summer Conference.  The ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) also houses a variety of online professional learning courses for a reasonable fee.  The nice thing about online training is that it can often be done at your convenience.  Oh, hang on to those receipts, you never know when the opportunity to be reimbursed may present itself.

Depending on your location, many metropolitan centers for the performing arts have teacher/educator conferences during the summer months.  You can find examples of these summer institutes here, here, and here.  The cost is affordable, and many of these organizations provide scholarships based on need.

Communicate

There are many different ways to obtain funding for these endeavors.  However, they require that you do some leg work.  If you plan ahead, crowd funding sources such as Donorschoose.org, FundForTeachers.org, and The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Teacher Development Grants, are all viable means to secure financial support for your training.  And by all means, ask – ask – ask your administrator!  It’s amazing at how money magically appears when it comes to comprehensive PD ideas.  Another often overlooked source of funding, is your local community stakeholders.  There are very generous philanthropists out there just waiting to invest in the future of their community.

If one of these sources does work out for you, congratulations!  Regardless of the manner by which you acquire monies, remember to write a personal thank you note.  Yes, I mean a good, old fashioned hand written card expressing your heartfelt thanks.  A little kindness and gratitude can go a long way!

Collaborate

And finally, if you are not in a position to venture down any of these avenues, please don’t give up.  What about creating your own book club and reading up on the latest trends and best practices?  This is can be a very flexible option and fit well into any schedule.   I would highly recommend, however, finding a partner or two to do this with.  Why?  Because this way, you can hold each other accountable and you have someone to bounce ideas off of.  You can find some great recommended readings here at EducationCloset.  I, personally, am looking forward to rereading some books by my favorite author, Eric Jensen.  You can find a whole array of his books about brain-based learning here as well as some articles and leads to other fascinating possibilities.

Creativity

Well, as you can see, the opportunities for professional development are all around, even if we need to be a little creative in finding them.

So, here’s to a summer of endless possibilities and inspiration.  Happy knowing and happy growing!

About the Author

Mary is a STEAM TOSA, Project Lead the Way Launch Lead Teacher, and an Orff Schulwerk music specialist. Her eclectic background, along with her 28 years of elementary classroom teaching, gives her a unique perspective on Arts Integration.