Thursday, May 18, 2006

Commentary: Sotir: Professional Development: It's the New Big Thing

Some call it 'professional development' some call it 'staff development' but whatever the title, it's the latest trend in education. While it isn't always done well, it is being done a lot, and with good reason. It's what educators need to stay ahead of the curve, and their students.

Most educators were trained in a era where you went to college, got a teaching degree, and then went off to teach the things you learned at college until you retired. Yes, there were things like 'Teacher Institute" days, and sometimes a few hours were spent brainstorming with your peers, but overall, what you learned in college pretty well was all you needed to teach a class. History teachers learned the history. Math teachers figured out the math. English teachers knew the grammar and used their market share of red pens. But suddenly, a mimeograph machine and a typewriter with lots of carbon paper and white out just weren't enough. Things changed. Words changed. Typing would not longer do were now 'keyboarding'. 'Cut and paste' were used outside of the kindergarten classroom. 'Windows' were not just the things you see through, but rather things you use to see with. And an entire generation of baby boomers were spending more time with their mouse than with their cats and dogs. It's a revolution, baby.

So administrations began to figure out how to take the old guard instructors and bring them up to new guard standards. CEU's were now worth their weight in gold. Everyone was going back to class, and workshops were popping up like dandelions in springtime. And professional development was coming into its own as a life force for instructors struggling to keep afloat in a sea of technology.

For years, the defining word for education was 'consistency'. Technology is anything but. So teachers were dragged, some kicking and screaming, and put into a strange new world where few wanted to be. However, there were the pioneers, (and pionettes), who said wow, this could really be useful. They turned on the LCD projectors (and even knew they had to turn on the computers first.) A new iteration of haves and have-nots appeared, though these were more precisely use and use-nots. There were the purists...'children who use calculators will not learn how to do math.' And the realists...'children had to know a LOT of math to be able to figure out how to use the calculators effectively'. And really good teachers knew the difference.

Professional development is no longer optional, it is essential. Whether portals or blogs, wikis or iPods, instructors need to know what they are and how to use them effectively. So professional development is not really a trend, but a life-time commitment. Functional technology literacy is just not enough. Not for students, not for teachers and not for administrators. This is a road we all need to travel together, and financial commitments, whether for hardware or training, need to be adequate to get the job done right. It's time to support the revolution.