Sunday, January 15, 2012

what is professional development?
One of the great things about being a teacher is the chance to be deliberately engaged in life-long learning. This happens during the work day, on my own time, on non-instructional days, and in summer.  It happens when I am alone -- reading, writing, viewing, musing, planning, creating.  It happens with colleagues at formal get-togethers like workshops and conferences, it happens less formally in deliberate conversations at school and on the internet, and it happens very informally in the unexpected conversations in the hall, on twitter, and via email.  When looked at as a whole, personal and professional learning are part of an “ecology,” a connected cycle of theory-making, reflective practice, and action-research. This “pro-d” takes many turns around a few key topics for me:
  • conducting research and reflecting on how, what, and why students learn, and understanding the educational landscape in which this takes place 
  • learning more about my subject area as I plan for lessons, read and write on topics like democracy, citizenship, environment, sustainability, and history, and focus on what students do/can’t do/could do/should do 
  • participating with other educators in collaborative discussions and projects on topics like heritage research, identity & inquiry, analyzing trends in current events, authentic balanced practice, critical thinking, meaningful assessment, and educational technology 
  • independent study, course design, textbook review/writing, advocacy for public education, and follow-up on all the powerful questions raised by colleagues and students. 
My classroom is about student learning and student achievement, as is the planning, instruction, assessment, and humanity I put into my time as a teacher. Reflecting on my professional development is a step back (or a pause, at least), centered on what I am up to, but it is ultimately about the same thing... the social, intellectual, cultural growth of the students I meet. Regardless of the theme or focus, pro-d is ultimately about what I am learning, and what others are learning around me.

There is a special role in my reflection for interrogating the structures that accompany public education, for celebrating the emergence (in any form or context) of cultural attributes that signal a new attitude towards community development, environmental sustainability, total cost economies, and perhaps some other “cultural” values that reckon with my own. The BC public education system is rife with dysfunctional structures, shallow thinking, and misunderstood paradigms, but it is also filled with creative ideas, caring educators, curious students, and committed parents who are making moves towards new cultures of being that are good for people and the planet. When we see formal learning as a relationship between real people in community, more like a guild and less like a factory, the bizarre eduspeak and various social agendas attending our system can be broken down and allowed to find their appropriate place. A central irony in my practice is that I seek some form of disruption, not unlike the calls for education reform from our own government, and yet the approach reformers take is almost always at odds with both my way of thinking and what I believe to be sound politics, discourse, and progress. I suppose I am fated to dwell midst the irony, and do so as a polemic loner.

I have also come to realize that in order to remain caring, hopeful, and optimistic as an educator, I have to own my trajectory and work towards my dreams with or without the support or understanding of structures and people around me. At the same time I am compelled to work at improving the structures around me, listening to others, and being open to interdependence. This hit home for me while listening to Stephen Lewis’ eulogy for Jack Layton (Aug 27/11). The basic idea that caring public service starts with a desire for fairness and mutual aid is a deep conviction and compelling goal.

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