Types of Resources for Professional Development and LearningEdit
At some level reflection on practice is something you must do for yourself, since only you have had your particular teaching experiences, and only you can choose how to interpret and make use of them. But this rather individual activity also benefits from the stimulus and challenge offered by fellow professionals. Others’ ideas may differ from your own, and they can therefore help in working out your own thoughts and in alerting you to ideas that you may otherwise take for granted. These benefits to reflection can happen in any number of ways, but most fall into one of four general categories:
- talking and collaborating with colleagues,
- participating in professional associations,
- attending professional development workshops and conferences, and
- reading professional literature.
In the next sections we explore what each of these activities has to offer.
Colleagues as a ResourceEdit
Perhaps the simplest way to stimulate reflections about your own teaching is to engage fellow teachers or other colleagues in dialogue (or thoughtful conversation) about teaching and learning: What do you think of this kind of experience? Have you ever had one like it yourself, and what did you make of it? Note that to be helpful in stimulating reflection, these conversations need to be largely about educational matters, not about personal ones (“What movie did you see last night?”). Dialogues with individual colleagues have certain advantages to more complex or formal professional experiences. Talking with an individual generally allows more participation for both of you, since only two people may need to express their views. It also can provide a measure of safety or confidentiality if your conversation partner is a trusted colleague; sometimes, therefore, you can share ideas of which you are not sure, or that may be controversial.
A somewhat more complex way of stimulating reflection is group study. Several teachers at a school gather regularly to bring themselves up to date on a new curriculum, for example, or to plan activities or policies related to a schoolwide theme (e.g. “the environment”). Group meetings often result in considerable dialogue among the members about the best ways to teach and to manage classrooms, as well as stories about students’ behavior and learning experiences. For a beginning teacher, group study can be a particularly good way to learn from experienced, veteran teachers.
Sharing of ideas becomes even more intense if teachers collaborate with each other about their work on an extended basis. Collaboration can take many forms; in one form it might be “team teaching” by two or more teachers working with one group of students, and in another form it might be two or more teachers consulting regularly to coordinate the content of their courses. Collaborations work best when each member of the team brings responsibilities and expertise that are unique, but also related to the other members’ responsibilities. Imagine, for example, a collaboration between Sharon, who is a middle-years classroom teacher, and Pat, who is a resource teacher—one whose job is to assist classroom teachers in working with students with educational disabilities or special needs. If Pat spends time in Sharon’s classroom, then not only will the students benefit, but they both may learn from each other’s presence. Potentially, Pat can learn the details of the middle-years curriculum and learn more about the full range of students’skills—not just those of students having difficulties. Sharon can get ideas about how to help individuals who, in a classroom context, seem especially difficult to help. Achieving these benefits, of course, comes at a cost: the two teachers may need to take time not only for the students, but also for talking with each other. Sometimes the time-cost can be reduced somewhat if their school administrators can arrange for a bit of extra planning and sharing time. But even if this does not happen, the benefits of collaboration will be very real, and often make the investment of time worthwhile.
Professional Associations and Professional Development ActivitiesEdit
Another way to stimulate reflection about teaching is by joining and participating in professional associations—organizations focused on supporting the work of teachers and on upholding high standards of teaching practice. Table 13-1 lists several major professional associations related to education and their Internet addresses. Most of them are composed of local branches or chapters serving the needs of a particular city, state, or region.
To achieve their purposes, a professional association provides a mixture of publications, meetings, and conferences intended for the professional development of educators, including classroom teachers. Typically the publications include either a relatively frequent newsletter or a less frequent journal focused on issues of practice or research. Very large associations often publish more than one newsletter or journal, each of which is focused on a particular topic or type of news (for example, the [National Education Association ] in the United States publishes eight separate periodicals). Some also publish online journals (there are several listed as part of Table 13-2) or online versions of print journals. Whatever format they take, professionally sponsored publications stimulate thinking by discussing issues and dilemmas faced by professional educators, and sometimes also by presenting recent educational research and the recommendations for teaching that flow from that research. We discuss ways of using these publications further in the next section of this chapter.
The meetings and conferences sponsored by a professional association also take a variety of forms. Depending on the size of the association and on the importance of the topic, a meeting could be as short as a one half-day workshop or as long as a full week with many sessions occurring simultaneously. Sometimes, too, an association might sponsor a more extended course—a series of meetings focused on one topic or problem of concern to teachers, such as classroom management or curriculum planning. In some cases, the course might carry university credit, though not always.
As you might expect, the size of a professional association makes a difference in kinds of professional development experiences it can provide. In general, the smaller the association, the more exclusively it focuses on local news and educational needs, both in its publications and in its meetings or other activities. At a professional development workshop sponsored by a local teachers’ association, for example, you are relatively likely to see colleagues and acquaintances not only from your own school, but from other neighboring schools. Locally sponsored events are also more likely to focus on local issues, such as implementing a new system for assessing students’ learning within the local schools. In general, too, local events tend to cost less to attend, in both time and money.
By the same token, the larger the association, the more its professional development opportunities are likely to focus on large-scale trends in education, such as the impact of the No Child Left Behind legislation we discussed in Chapter 1 or the latest trends in using computer technology for teaching. Conferences or other professional development events are more likely to span several days and to be located outside the immediate town or region whether you live and work. You may therefore see fewer of your everyday colleagues and acquaintances, but you may also have a greater incentive to make new acquaintances whose interests or concerns are similar to your own. The event is also more likely to feature educators who are well-known nationally or internationally, and to call attention to educational trends or issues that are new or unfamiliar.
Whether large or small, the activities of professional associations can stimulate thinking and reflecting about teaching. By meeting and talking with others at a meeting of an association, teachers learn new ideas for teaching, become aware of emerging trends and issues about education, and confront assumptions that they may have made about their own practices with students. Professional meetings, conferences, and workshops can provide these benefits because they draw on the expertise and experience of a wide range of professionals—usually wider than is possible within a single school building. But compared simply to talking with your immediate colleagues, they have a distinct disadvantage: they take effort and a bit of money to attend, and sometimes they are available at convenient times. Well-balanced professional development should therefore also include activities that are available frequently, but that also draw on a wide range of expertise. Fortunately, an activity with these features is often easily at hand: the reading of professional publications about educational research and practice.