Sunday, January 14, 2007

Is professional development just smoke and mirrors?

Recently I attended a meeting with a group of tech trainers, coordinators, IT bosses and such. The topic of staff development came up and some of the methods we were using and/or looking at in our respective districts. Most of the time these conversations are interesting and I can usually find some new ideas to improve training in my district. However, the conversation on this day was directed more toward how we are going to shift duties around so we can do more with less as budget cuts loom over all our heads.

From here there were two prevailing thoughts.

  1. Cut spending so one person will now do the work or two or three people.
  2. Cut programs which top level administration feels can be removed.

Neither of these two thoughts are fun to deal with, furthermore; it sends a frightening message to three groups of people.

  1. The people doing the job tend to feel there work is not appreciated or even noticed.
  2. The teachers in the classroom who rely on these experts to help them improve learning opportunities for their students.
  3. The community may question why these jobs were added in the first place and certainly will question why they are being brought back when the budget crisis is over.

While administrators work through the process balancing the budgets, those who work in one of the jobs on the preverbal chopping block vie for position. Worse human nature can kick in and finger pointing of which program is more important becomes not only counter productive. It becomes a cancer on the organization driving moral down.

I will not toss stones at my colleagues in the professional development world but being a tech geek myself I of course will always state that professional development is necessary. However, let’s keep content areas out of the discussion. In fact, let’s take the conversation away from education for a moment and consider a few thoughts:

  • You require a medical procedure to be performed. The new procedure dramatically increases your chances of survival. Do you want your doctor to be properly trained?
  • Tax time is around the corner. Do you want your tax accountant to be up-to-date with the current tax codes?
  • Last year you paid $38,000 for a new vehicle which has a specialized transmission. Today the car is shifting funny and requires repair. Do you expect your mechanic to know how to work on your vehicle?

The answer to all of these questions is yes. We expect professionals to be knowledgeable in their field and we expect them to be current with best practices and techniques.

Shifting back to education, parents and community members have the same expectations of our teachers. What is not often realized is vast number of changes and requirements placed upon our teachers. The burden of keeping track of these changes and providing in-services to our teachers along with best practices for implementation falls to the teachers who work in these professional development assignments. Once these professional are removed from their position or find themselves doing two or three jobs, the burden will fall back to the classroom teachers. Time spent preparing engaging and rigorous lessons may fall prey to budget cuts.

While there is no simple solution to this problem, the teacher in me feels that educating our parents and community about the implications of loosing these jobs is the first step. Maybe we should call it Parent & Community Development.

Professional Development
Shawn Wheeler

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