Professional Development Needed in Our Schools
When your son or daughter has a day off school, teachers most likely are having a PA or a PD day. But what does Professional Activity or Professional Development mean? Are teachers planning for the next school year? Are they working on curriculum together? Or are they studying some video or book on the art of teaching? It could be that teachers are trying to handle “integration,” or new ways of assessment and evaluation, or other such like tasks that belong to the profession of teaching. Through professional development, teachers equip themselves to provide covenant children better education. In our Christian schools, teachers must constantly be developing professionally.
To make this a reality, all school community’s stakeholders need to ensure that this professional development continues.
The term professional development can be a very general term. It makes a teacher extend beyond the self to improve in the knowledge-base for or in the art of teaching. Broadly defined then, professional development means developing as a professional in the what and the how of teaching.
When they hear the word professional development, some teachers, education committee members, or board members have the idea of “taking courses.” In the educational literature, you will also find this more narrowly defined focus. Professional development can simply refer to a teacher’s plan to develop himself or herself by means of taking courses towards a diploma or degree. In this definition, professional development becomes very personal; it can exclude staff development, curriculum work, and any other activity that goes beyond the focus of this teacher.
Another type of professional development is known specifically as staff development. In a staff development situation, the principal together with his staff determines an area of need in which all staff members can develop. It may be that a curricular area needs to be revised; it could be that students’ misbehaviours have escalated into bullying situations which need to be understood and addressed; it could be that issues regarding special needs children need to be studied by both classroom and special ed teachers. Whatever the issue, the principal directs all staff to sink their teeth into the issue together, to understand it better, and to come up with solutions or improvements.
Like other Professions
Professional development is not unique to teachers. Almost all professions demand that their members partake in professional development. Lawyers need to review new cases constantly; they need to educate themselves in revised laws and regulations. Medical doctors need to keep up with new drugs, procedures, and medical studies, and not just those in their own countries. Mechanics need to regularly train for understanding and repairing new technologies found in vehicles or for developing skills to learn how to best use new equipment. Computer programmers and computer techies need to upgrade regularly to be able to repair, upgrade, or network computers. Trades people need to learn about new products on the market, when to use them or how to install them. All seek to develop in their profession.
Professional development is executed in various ways. In most cases, the company sends employees to seminars or courses on company time; however, to keep the edge, the professional employee needs to educate himself or herself online, or in reading journals/books in their area of expertise, even in his or her own time. Usually, companies will pay for general expenses incurred, for example, mileage, housing, and course fees. Likewise, teachers may receive from their boards some professional development days, or they may be paid by their schools to take workshops or courses; however, many teachers realize that whenever they can, they should be reading educational journals, magazines, or books to continue their professional development. Teachers, more than in any other profession, should realize that children and adults alike must be learners. No adult is too old to learn. Professional development should be an intuitive part of a teacher’s teaching.
Following a Personal Professional Plan
A teacher, based on experience, previous education and colleagues’ advice will decide to forge ahead in a specific area of teaching. Perhaps the teacher did not yet attain his or her Education degree. Perhaps, and now I’m thinking specifically for a high school situation, the teacher does not have enough knowledge in the subject area, and wishes to pick up a Science or an Arts degree. In any case, he or she will seek a personal professional development plan to obtain a higher level or broader scope in the chosen field.
Usually, schools follow a standard practice regarding the implementation of the plan. The teacher’s proposed personal professional plan will be shared with the principal or vice-principal in charge, given that the plan is part of the profession in which the teacher is busy. It could be that a teacher may be involved in other areas of learning unrelated to the area of teaching which then would not need to be shared with the principal, nor would it need the support of the school. Usually, the principal will work with the teacher on the personal professional development plan and will share the plan with the education committee of the school. In most cases, schools will then support the teacher by assisting financially or by providing time, if necessary.
Supporting Personal Professional Development
Personal professional developments should always be valued by our supporting communities. Knowing that the teacher desires to follow this plan for the benefit of his or her teaching should be a laudable goal; any board, staff, or school community would recognize the value of improvement. The school community can show their support in different ways, but across the provinces a number of Canadian Reformed school communities have recognized the value of supporting teacher’s personal professional developments. It is true that in the western province's communities have had external pressures, like government funding, to support teachers in obtaining education degrees, but it is also true that the western provinces have supported other teachers’ personal professional plans. Ontario schools may not have had government funding, but most recognize the need to have all teachers fully qualified for their teaching tasks and will support teachers in becoming qualified. How this support is realized may differ from school to school.
Proper qualifications may mean further courses, obtaining a teaching degree or a master’s degree or an administrator’s certificate. More than adequate knowledge of our subject matter and of didactics is a must. Proper qualifications can also mean taking further courses or studies in Christian education, in teaching in a Reformed manner. One who has his or her degrees would still be more apt to teach in a Reformed school if they took courses that deal with Reformed teaching.
For this reason, several western boards have taken the initiative to promote the taking of a Reformed education course from Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers College. In Ontario, many have the CCRTC diploma already; yet for those who have not done so, taking courses or workshops offered by the CCRTC would help any teacher to be fully qualified to teach in our Reformed schools.
Supporting Staff Development
For the development of the school, personal professional development is great, but staff development is even better! It generally will yield better direct results for the school’s students, staff, and community. All stakeholders, however, must be on board to make the staff development a success: full-time and part-time teachers, education committee and board members, and perhaps even the parents, depending on the need. I cannot emphasize enough that staff development only works well in a school if all stakeholders are involved. Obviously, staff development needs to have good directive, focus, and time limits too. Not so obvious, however, but equally important, is the fact that some staff members who want to be busy with their personal professional activities may have to drop these activities for a time (or be formally excused from them) to ensure the success of the school’s staff development project.
In most Ontario’s Canadian Reformed schools, teachers follow the document called “A Model for Professional Development” (2000) prepared by a committee of the League of Canadian Reformed schools in Ontario. This document offers four strands of professional development. In the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools, the teachers follow another model, more prescriptive and specific than the one used in Canadian Reformed schools. I’m sure that in each province, models developed by a College of Teachers, by government departments, or other educational institutes are being used by teachers and schools. Without discussing the differences in models, one can deduce that in each province or in each school system, professional development, which includes personal or staff development, is important!
Is PD Really Needed?
Some teachers and some community members will still ask this question cynically. They may argue that human nature doesn’t change, nor do kid’s learning styles change; therefore, why should they learn anything new? Some may see advantages in staff development but will not see the advantage of having and supporting personal professional development. They may negate workshops and methods as secular or as “tried-it-done-it” models. They may be apathetic to change of any kind. Some school supporters may also cap their arguments with an additional negative view about time or money “wasted.”
Those teachers and supporters who look at professional development for direct results, who cannot evaluate and discern the value of new teaching methods, or who are cynical of progress in education will never be able to answer the question of the necessity of professional development in the affirmative. Yet those who seek to be life-long learners, who want to discern a new method for its philosophy and effectiveness, as well as those who desire to use whatever God has given to us, will seize the opportunities to grow and develop. True, the secularism in our culture is prevalent and strong in educational areas; but that should not cause us to negate personal professional development. Instead, it should urge us to work harder on seeking Reformed means to further educate the teachers. Our teachers need to be revitalized in purpose, in spirit, in knowledge, and in focus to remain or to become better teachers.
I have a newer text for my Grade 12 history course entitled The West and the World (Haberman and Shubert, 2002). Although it covers the Great Reformation more thoroughly than previous texts, including a good section on Calvin, Zwingli, and other reformers, it heavily promotes a post-modern philosophy. How did I discover this philosophy in the text? Another high school teacher warned me about it. I then searched for it especially in introductions and conclusions of the text’s chapters.
I wished to have been steeped in Dr. Oosterhoff’s history course, but living too far away, I could not. So I pulled out and read her book on Post Modernism as well as her book entitled Ideas have History. Researching these sources in lieu of a course has cost me time, but has benefited me greatly in teaching the Western Civilization course from a scriptural perspective. And I feel that I have only begun to understand my post-modern text and the place that this text will have in my course.
Learning is an ongoing process. To teach, teachers need to learn. To teach in our Reformed schools, teachers need to be steeped in Scripture and in educational foundations. Teachers need to be able to refute or accept new textbooks, new teaching methods, or new philosophies. Teachers need to hone their didactic skills. Engaging teachers in these matters during professional development days, workshops, or courses should be promoted by all society members and by every Canadian Reformed school board.
School boards and school communities cannot afford to not have teachers engaged in staff or personal professional development. While the question whether it is really needed should always be answered with a resounding “yes,” the question whether it is always done must be answered with a very cautionary “sometimes.” The excuses of being too busy, of not having courses or decent workshops available, or of not having the funds to be engaged in it, are either indicative of apathy among teachers or are genuine excuses. Good teacher are often busy in the evenings, workshops are not always available, and costs are often prohibitive. Likewise, the lack of a contractual agreements which include professional development, allows teachers to slip out of it. While most teachers see the need for it, most teachers need a better system to guide and push them into doing it. Professional development work must be included in the daily work of each teacher in our Canadian Reformed schools.
Christian teachers need to teach understandingly, faithfully and professionally. To do so, teachers constantly need to be engaged in professional development. Schools and their supporting communities must support them to make on-going professional development a successful reality. So when you see the teachers busily working on your son’s or daughter’s day off, tip-toe quietly by so not to disturb them, or stop in to share your support.