It’s time to rethink PD
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on professional development as it currently resides in the world of education and we need to do something about it.
Yes, that’s a collective we. You, me, and anyone within the world of education. Professional Development is necessary, and as educators, we are called to fully commit ourselves to lifelong learning. But what do we do when the Professional Development opportunities are scarce, lackluster, and/or, redundant? Of course, there are conferences, college courses or courses for college credit, workshops, seminars, webinars; but we need more.
We need something inspiring, relevant, new, and effective. Do not get me wrong here, I have used all of the above as professional development opportunities and some were effective, some shook me to my educational core and caused me to rethink my pedagogy and educational philosophy which have made me the educator I am today. I attend and present at one particular conference every year and return to my classroom with ideas to implement the next day — these are valid professional development options but I still maintain that we can and should do better.
Last summer, July to be exact, I challenged myself and an award committee to consider field experiences as professional development of the utmost relevance and validity. In particular, my idea was to join a field science expedition team in order to gain practical and authentic experience which I would then scale to my classroom. At the time I was composing my essays for submission, I thought this was a wild, progressive, “dream” opportunity that I was nearly certain would not be chosen for funding. In fact, I nearly did not submit my essays for consideration; I almost quit several times. I kept telling myself, “This idea is too much — dreams are made of this, not professional development.” Despite all of that doubt, I entered my essays, letters of recommendation, and resume to the Donna Sterling Award for Exemplary Science Teaching committee, already prepared for a stark “nope”. It would be about a month later that I received an email stating I was selected as the awardee and grant funding.
At that moment, I was thrilled, excited, scared, and in utter disbelief, really. I already had great respect for the Virginia Association of Science Teachers; after all several years earlier, they are the reason I met Andres Ruzo and Dave Burgess. The fact that they had faith in my far-fetched idea made me really think about them in a new way.
This past August was my field expedition and it proved to be everything (plus some!) that I had hoped it would be for me personally and professionally. The experience in the field observing and analyzing data, the lessons I learned about field team dynamics, and the ideas I dreamed up for my classroom were all incredible. Honestly, I am still processing, prioritizing, and creating classroom curriculum based on all that I experienced. The field team actually is more a family than a team. I do not know if that is typical of all field seasons, being my first of hopefully numerous, but our team was incredibly special. We still communicate nearly daily — suffice it to say we bonded. I think having to trust a group of people with your life (literally) that you have known for less than 24 hours kind of forces a bond but I can honestly say that we were more than a team that came together, accomplished our goals, and parted ways with respect for one another. Yes, we were definitely family. I wish you could see the ridiculous smile on my face as I compose these sentences, so many memories and stories from the field about my field family. I will definitely need to post a series to share those moments.
I am sharing all of this to challenge your current thoughts and experiences with professional development.
How can we make it better?
My idea is to make it real. Not just a workshop, a conference session, a college course, or a similar status quo opportunity that we say is “real”.
What about a field experience that IS real — it’s a life experience that allows you to experience what you teach in the real world?
I know what you’re thinking — “Becks,” (you can totally call me that) — “that’s easy for people who teach science. You just go outside with a scientist and do some science.”
Hey, dude, yes, you are right…partially. But let’s think about this: say you are a history teacher. Could you go join an archeological dig? Could you join a battlefield re-enactor? Could you work in a museum archive?
Oh, you teach English? Can we set you up with a publishing company to see the editing process from the perspective of an Editor? Could you work with a local newspaper columnist? Could you shadow an author in the throes of composition?
What do YOU know would be the best way to experience your craft in the “real world”?
I’m seriously curious — what is your “dream opportunity?” I am talking BIG — what’s your idea? What would be a better way to learn and improve your craft?
Let’s make it happen.
I found an option for me and I am actively pursuing more field expeditions, making connections with scientists, locating funding opportunities, and competing to make it happen.
Are you ready to fight for it?
Yes? Alright, buddy — let me see it.
No? I want to fight FOR you because our students deserve it. They deserve our best, they deserve educators who are ready and willing to do what it takes to improve in order to provide the very best for them. Let’s do this — let me help make it happen for you.
My vision is to make these authentic opportunities accessible to educators worldwide, no matter the age group or discipline you teach. You deserve relevant professional development that is easily attainable. Currently, it seems that these types of top-notch opportunities are only available to certain teachers or those that are motivated to compete for them.
I say, that is not good enough.
Every educator should be able to participate in this type of professional development. Believe me, I am working on it — in the meantime, however — let’s team up. Tell me your big idea, the outrageous one, the dream opportunity — I want to make it happen for you.
What are you waiting for?