Yesterday, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on personalized professional development (PD) hosted by EduMatch.org. I was talking through this issue with other educators and curriculum coaches from across the U.S. and in both K-12 and higher education. It was a lively discussion, and it really got me thinking. So, I thought that I would take a moment to talk a little further about some of my thoughts about personalized professional development.
Honestly, the EduMatch panel came at a rather auspicious time, as I’m currently blogging my way through my own annual PD project—completing TESOL International’s Advanced Practitioner Certificate. Each year, NYU Shanghai provides all instructional faculty on contract lines with funds for their professional development. How we use it is relatively unrestricted as long as we can make the case that it will improve the instruction that we deliver. Some of have used it for Chinese language classes, some have used it for conference travel, or books, or publication fees, etc. This year, I’m using it to get the TESOL Advanced Practitioner Certificate to extend my knowledge of my field and to shore up my credentials as an educator, as opposed to scholar, researcher, or administrator. TL;DR, at NYU Shanghai professional development is institutionally supported (through funding), but it is all personal, and isolated, PD. I hadn’t critically thought of this situation before being invited to talk on this panel. But, the EduMatch Panel gave me a reason to dig into it a little deeper by posing three questions to me.
How do you frame personal PD?
For me, personal PD requires institutions and administrators to empower educators by giving them agency over their professional development. This happens in a few ways. First, it occurs by allowing teachers to pick the direction and methods for their continued professional development. This doesn’t mean that PD becomes willy nilly and fly by night. Rather, it means that educators must take control over their PD by making the case that their PD actions extend their current skill set in a way that will benefit the institution—by helping students to achieve, to learn. Second, it means activating the talent, skills, and competencies that are already in the building. It means treating educators as the professionals and experts that they are and having them work together to extend that knowledge to new contexts and situations. This means enabling the instructor to use their current expertise, perhaps in ed tech, to help others grow in this area. We cannot ignore the social act of personal PD. It is inherently social, and it must be so, or else growth cannot occur. Finally, and this I’m borrowing from one of the other panelists. It meets educators where they are at and allows them to meet PD requirements at their own pace and in physical spaces that work best for them.
What is personal PD such a hot topic issue?
I regularly participate in PD-style events like luncheons where I discuss working with LGBTQ students or Culturally and Linguistically Diverse students. I also regularly work with disciplinary professors to address issues of second language writing in their courses. When I’m working one-to-one, I rarely have to work very hard to get buy in. However, if I’ve been invited in by the department chair, then I have to overcome resistance to PD. I think that this, resistance to standardized, top-down PD, is the reason why personal PD is such a hot topic issue and will become one in higher education in the near future. As higher ed begins to see that it owe its students quality instruction, as students increasingly demand it of us, we will have to help researchers, scholars, and disciplinary professionals become quality educators. This requires training and sustained PD. Personal PD can be a way to overcome resistance to the process. I think that this need for instruction-oriented PD is a reason why we see more and more Centers for Teaching Excellence coming online at universities across the U.S.
One of the other panelists pointed out that personal PD could also be gaining attention in K-12 because of tighter district and state budgets. I’ll voice the concern that I feel they had, yes personal PD is good, but if it’s creating additional costs to teachers, with no fiscal assistance, it’s going to backfire in a big way. To me, asking a teaching to decorate their classroom and have some supplies on hand out of pocket, and then asking them also to foot the bill for a PD seminar is…problematic.
Is personal PD a good thing and should schools adopt it?
Here, I’ll be short. Yes, it is a good thing. But, you shouldn’t view personal PD as something that occurs in isolation. It must still be seen as social. Educators must have a platform to share the lessons learned in their PD to help further professionalize others.
Should schools adopt it? Most definitely.