Professional development encompasses a wide range of formal and informal learning. It begins as one seeks a particular degree or accreditation and should remain a lifelong process. The learning may occur in a classroom, at a presentation dedicated to a particular topic, or from experiencing a life event. Professional development is critical to the success of an organization and each employee should be required to actively participate in whatever program a company designs.
The idea of professional development in education is not a new one. Education is an ever-changing business that has always required new methods of operation. Today, instructors must not only learn the latest instructional methods and strategies but must also be able to adapt these techniques to accommodate a variety of learning styles and to manipulate all forms of content and instructional materials. Acquiring and maintaining these skills demand that teachers be well versed in the latest research and understand how to most effectively use the latest tools. Recent studies indicate that student gains and improved academic performance can be linked directly to the skill levels of teachers. Given that knowledge, it is critical that in all educational systems there is ongoing professional development for teachers.
Most school systems keep their staff informed by conducting or paying tuition for seminars, workshops, and conferences during non-teaching periods. While attendance at these meetings is essential, it should not be the only requirement. Professional development should not be a once-a-year event but rather a system that gives teachers the information they need to continuously improve their techniques. It should be student centered, based on current best practices, and include student and teacher input. The purpose of any professional development program should be to provide teachers with an understanding of the most effective methods so that they can incorporate them into their teaching style. The end goal should be to provide each student with an equal opportunity to learn the lessons being taught.
Since professional development is meant to impact so many levels of learning, it needs to be a more collaborative process. Teachers should meet to share ideologies and techniques, to discuss issues like classroom management and student engagement, and to establish course competencies and curricula. The system should also include a teacher observation as one of the most effective ways to measure teacher learning. An observation assessment of an actual classroom session would indicate the depth of a teacher’s understanding of new concepts and techniques and the level at which students are engaged.
The team approach is already being used in many school systems. Administrative and peer review has long been used at the university level as part of the tenure evaluation process. This type of professional development works as long as it is collaborative rather than competitive, and constructive rather than negative. Regular peer feedback is a valuable tool and can lead to almost immediate behavior change. When everyone has a vested interest in improving, the levels of both teacher and student performance cannot help but rise dramatically.