July 17, 2024
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The Importance of Professional Development

As we head into a new school year, it is important to remember that educators need and want pretty much the same things that their students do. Motivation, encouragement, support and a general sense of excitement that injects an energetic and productive vibe into the classroom.

While our students will receive guidance and structure through all the various means and methods that teachers apply, the educators themselves woefully lack the tools and concrete methods to provide continued and consistent results. I am speaking of Professional Development, or PD, as those of us in the trenches “affectionately” call it, otherwise known as “the day teachers don’t teach but get sent to various places in the city to attend a day of supposed enrichment but usually ends up as a waste of time and I would have rather spent the day in my room catching up on my work”… phew, that is a mouthful…

But in all seriousness, PD is seen as more of an annoyance and an obligation; it certainly is not attended by choice. (I’d much rather have an actual Election Day off.) These sentiments tend to be echoed by my colleagues and the list below is the general consensus of the top reasons why PD is met with groans and sighs.

1. I think the subject matter is irrelevant, abstract and frankly boring.

As an educator of some 20+ years in the public school system, I have watched the trends come and go, and while some sessions I attended were somewhat informative, most lacked any real substance. Unfortunately, much of PD is not targeted to the specific nature of the educator’s needs, including classroom environment, demographics and physical and emotional make-up, and in some cases don’t even apply to what is being taught! While some improvements have been made, much along the same lines as student-centered activities, PD must be more teacher-specific when considering presenters’ proposals. Yes, this is a more costly and convoluted process on the part of the administrator, but it has been proven that effective PD benefits from the “ripple effect.” By providing relevant and specific topics targeted to educators’ concerns we see lasting effects throughout the year.

2. There’s a catch; when I find something that’s applicable to my teaching, I invariably have to purchase/order something in order to have effective implementation.

I can still remember returning to the classroom excited to put into action the information accrued during PD, only to find that I had to purchase some obscure supplement or order something from the company that provided the “free” lesson. As a teacher short on time, the last thing I needed was to go searching for 20 fuzzy pipe cleaners, dashing to Ms. M.’s classroom to beg, borrow and steal in order to provide effective lessons. Note to PD providers, please be kind enough to include all necessary “ingredients” when offering these “hands-on” activities. I always appreciated a free link that was easily accessible that I could download. There is nothing a teacher hates more than being unprepared.

3. Too much preparatory work; I don’t have enough time to write lesson plans as it is!

Speaking of preparedness, the last thing I want is to bring home reams of papers and three-ring binders full of abstract, convoluted stuff that I have to review with a fine-tooth comb in order to locate some semblance of a classroom activity. If a PD provider is going to provide “child-centered” activities, make sure that the teacher can share said activities with minimal instructions, directions and notes…KISS…(Keep It Simple, Stupid)!

4. Not enough/any support for the teacher.

Finally we come to the chief complaint, the issue of support. I like to term this number one guaranteed failure in PD as, “Drop a Load and Run.” Those presenters that still employ an antiquated “chalk and talk” session, or flashing slides and reading ( I can clearly read what I see), tend to include a glut of information, scads of references and tons of papers…and then the session is over and that is it!!! Teachers are just as valuable as the students they work with and need support—continuous, digestible information, imparted in an even stream over the course of several weeks or months. I like to call this the hand-holding approach and I use it every chance I get from my presentations and follow-up emails to personal phone calls. A presenter should want to see the teacher succeed, and no one can absorb everything in one sitting. It is why we see so much educator indigestion.

I am especially cognizant of this information overload given my involvement in the already abstract world of neuroeducation. I am proud that teachers and administrators are increasingly determined to apply new knowledge about the brain to create classrooms and lessons that are brain-friendly and more effective. But often the available information about brain research is esoteric and difficult to apply. And just as important, most training doesn’t itself model good brain-friendly education. If we want to effect real change in the way teaching and learning develop in the classroom, the principles of brain-compatible teaching must be incorporated into the training itself. After all, teachers have brains too!

Annette Simmons, or Ms. “K” as she is affectionately called by her students, is an early childhood consultant, academic interventionist and Kinder musik educator. A well-seasoned veteran of the NYC Department of Education, Mrs. Simmons brings her firsthand experience to her presentations, workshops and events. She prides herself on introducing innovation in education to neighborhood schools and centers. Her most current initiative is seeing neural-based programming in the classroom.

By Annette Simmons, ME(printed with permission)

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