A few posts ago I posited a working definition of Professional Development. Here is another one, which I wrote back in 2005.
Faculty-to-Faculty confirmed what was already known – that to be most effective and useful, professional development related to one’s discipline has to happen on an as-needed basis when it can be put to use, tried out, tested, and refined in a timely fashion.
RCDS has always encouraged faculty to attend workshops and conferences by providing funding for most requests. Most often people participate in off-campus offerings specific to their fields of expertise. This makes much sense when the goal is to develop subject expertise. But a professional development program can do more than that. A professional development program can expand horizons, inspire thinking outside the box, cause empathy with learning styles, create admiration for those with different skills sets, promote more rounded intellects, and provide simple satisfaction.
I have coined a term for professional development that is all-encompassing – a “synapse factory”. Synapses are those miniscule spaces between neurons in our brains where one neuron transmits to another neuron. Researchers think this is where learning takes place and memories are made.
Ideally, in synapse-factory oriented professional development, faculty would take workshops of personal interest, workshops outside of their comfort level and zone of expertise, and workshops that complemented what they teach. For instance, a history teacher might take an art course related to the time periods s/he teaches, as well as a drawing class.
This aspect of taking workshops outside of our areas of expertise actually models what we strive to share with our students, which is to be a life long learner. By being students along side of our students we help build a community of learners. By having students teach teachers, and switching roles, we model respect for the students and acknowledge that teachers do not have all the answers, and by having administrators participate we model respect for the equality of learning.
It’s all about building synapses. And that’s what professional development is all about.