Professional Development – Perk or Priority?

The leadership team is meeting to review professional development plans for the teaching staff. Glancing over the dozens of applications, ‘Who gets to go to the conference this year?’ quips the primary principal. Cringe….

Who ‘gets’ to go? Right there in that session, is where that leadership team sets up the ‘culture’ for PD across the school. In the international school how easily PD can become a ’fringe benefit’, a ‘reward’, an entitlement – essentially a potentially expensive PERK. And when we design a PD program with PERK as the central idea, it’s pretty clear where that will NOT lead – to the real goal of PD, -improved learning through improved teaching.

We cheapen significantly the whole teaching profession with the ‘perk’ approach rather than as the essential PRIORITY it is for improving student learning. It’s not about who ‘gets to go’ to that conference in a sunny warm place in the dead of winter, or who ‘deserves’ it because of all their service, or whose ‘turn’ it is. It’s not about onsite days where the kids stay away, school provides lunch and gives teachers the latest ‘buzz word’ PD.

Professional development activities are the vital link between student learning and our growing understanding of what makes learning possible. Serious educational professionals pay attention to the latest understanding about how learning happens and seek out those specific opportunities which will help them translate that new understanding into classroom practice. And, yes, it can be both job-embedded or externally provided. They can both work, each generating unique benefits, when the premise is right. But when it isn’t – when the underlying premise is’ perk’ rather than priority, what we design and how we design it will fall short.

At this point in the school year, many international school leaders will be looking for those ‘external’ opportunities to boost learning for teachers during the long break between school years. . Here are some suggestions to ensure those experiences are beyond ‘perk’ thinking:

BEFORE approving attendance at an eternal PD session:
For each potential attendee:

  • What specific learning goals for students are we working to improve by sending this teacher to this PD session?
  • What do supervision and evaluation data for the teacher indicate regarding skills to be addressed?
  • What is the teacher’s own analysis of skills he/she needs to improve?
    About the session being considered:
  • Is the PD session directly aligned to the desired learning results our school is attempting to achieve?
  • Are the learning objectives primarily skills that a teacher would use in the classroom?
  • Is there evidence that participants will actually practice skills during the session?
  • Is the intended content commensurate with current research?
  • Are there any built-in follow-up strategies (e.g. a ‘next steps’ planning processes embedded in the session strategies?)
    AFTER the session:
  • How will we ensure that the teacher is actually applying what has been learned?
  • What measures will we use to determine if this PD made any difference?
  • And a big DON’T: DO NOT ask the teacher to ‘share what they learned’ BEFORE they have had the opportunity put it into practice in their own classroom.
    And a reminder that we at TIE and the PTC do offer some PD options for international teachers and leaders…

…all in the quest to move from PD as PERK to PD as PRIORITY.

About Bambi Betts

Bambi Betts is the director of the Principals’ Training Center for International School Leadership (PTC), the Teacher Training Center for International Educators (TTC) and founder of the two additional training centers for international educators, including counselors and school business leaders. She has also recently completed ten years as the CEO for the Academy for International School Heads (AISH). Bambi has been a director, principal and teacher in international schools for over 30 years. She has been a consultant in over 150 international schools, conducting professional development sessions on a wide range of topics related to the effective international school, including assessment, curriculum leadership, teacher leader strategies, instructional strategies, faculty evaluation, and governance. She has written many articles on practical ways to improve international schools and authors a regular column on the PTC pages of The International Educator (TIE), as well as a blog.
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2 Responses to Professional Development – Perk or Priority?

  1. Judith Brown says:

    I have been an international teacher and had the privilege of attending some PD International conferences and true that was over10 years ago. However I was
    always amazed at lack of diversity at these conferences and particularly lack of Blacks. I do hope that this issue has been addressed.
    As Inread of Black teachers who are being honoured here in Canada and see the amazing techniques they have used it has been most gratifying and I know that they would possibly bring a whole new dimension of proven teaching methods to the International setting. Many are not just followers but leaders. Some of their styles and ideas just humble me and I feel that they are real examples of “thinking and implementing outside of the box.”

  2. Viggo Pete Hansen says:

    Excellent specifics – But, having been in ed-biz for 60+ years I am somewhat appalled that very little emphasis is on a teacher’s (and schools) ability to inspire and lift students spirits and visions. To me this is far more important than learning content.

    I feel your list is somewhat “computerizable ” i.e. you can get a robot to evaluate outcomes by some kind of checklist) Years ago I asked the UCLA “behavioral objectives” guru (you remember him)) what is the behavioral objective of life.? When he didn’t answer I loudly suggested – DEATH.. When he didn’t answer I then added that it is not getting there (dead) that is important –but rather it is the fun we have in the journey.
    When evaluating student teachers and seasoned educators, including principals – I looked for the overall learning environment– – are classes meaningfully and HAPPILY engaged as they merrily factor trinomials by completing the square or — conducting faculty meetings, etc. I would like to suggest your list include something about attitudes and ability to inspire others. . A jovial and sometimes funny educator wins every time. This takes a human.

    So let curmudgeon Viggo kindly ask – what are the behavioral objectives of an education? Shouldn’t one of these be that we make education one of the greatest components of life’s journey?

    Hopefully my deep aversion to computerizing (compartmentalizing) all of life’s experiences is evident in the above remarks. Thanks for reading.

    Curmudgeon Viggo

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