I was recently invited to participate in the Working/Learning blog carnival based on the theme “work at learning; learning at work”, which has piqued my interest because that is what I do professionally. This month’s post is hosted on the Xyleme Learning Blog.
To be a bit more precise, I teach at an independent school. A quarter of the time finds me teaching Flash electives in middle and upper school, but three quarters of the time finds me collaborating with students and faculty in the process of facilitating our 1:1 program. I even have a title, Technology Training Coordinator, though the words hardly do justice to my actual practice.
My passion for adult learning and professional development is partially what led me to begin this blog. I have been teaching in independent schools since 1982, and for most of those years have pursued my own professional development while also being responsible for providing the same for my colleagues.
I have found it to be the case that the effectiveness of professional development on a teacher can be viable, but for that impact to carry over to the institution as a whole, the institution has to have its own strong culture of professional development – of wanting the organization to grow as a result of the growth of its teachers.
I have yet to come across an educational institution that does not support individual professional development for its faculty. However, almost always the focus is on expanding the faculty member’s pedagogy or level of knowledge about the subject they teach. Just about every teacher I know, some more often than others, participates in pd in this manner during their careers.
My ideal of professional development is for teachers to engage and challenge themselves in areas outside their subject area expertise. Professional development should be multidisciplinary and feed one’s creative needs. And I believe schools should champion and subsidize these endeavors. Elkhonon Goldberg, active in clinical neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, has written and presented on brain plasticity and cognitive fitness. At last April’s Learning and the Brain conference in Cambridge, MA, he stated that as we age, we should “turn neuroplasticity to your advantage” by:
- Welcoming novel challenges.
- Beware of being on mental autopilot.
- Remain cognitively active.
All teachers can and should “work to learn” by stepping outside their comfort zones to pursue new avenues of interest. The benefits to the teacher include:
- stimulate new synapses in their brains (which means new learning)
- (re)develop empathy for different learning styles
- expand one’s horizons
- promote thinking outside the box
- derive simple satisfaction
- feed one’s creative outlet
The benefits to the institution include:
- model what it means to be a lifelong learner
- reenergized faculty
- more interesting, well-rounded faculty
- faculty who feel supported by their institution
- faculty who feel their institution values them beyond their basic utility
The questions then become:
How to convince organizations (not just schools) to pursue such a program?
Are there case studies or research that support my premise?
Are any of you at organizations where such a policy exists? And if so, please would you share your organization’s approach in a comment below.
Do any of you have alternative concepts of professional development programs? And of course, if so, please do share your ideas below. Thanks!