Thoughts on Professional Development
Professional development, according to The Glossary of Education Reform (2014, EdGlossary.org, para. 1), is “used in reference to a wide variety of specialized training, formal education, or advanced professional learning intended to help administrators, teachers, and other educators improve their professional knowledge, competence, skill, and effectiveness.” The definition itself regards the idea of training for improvement to be the goal. For educators, professional development is essential when given at the right time for the right reasons. It can inspire and motivate educators and administrators, helping them create and innovate new ways of thinking into their schools and classrooms. As education professionals are given opportunities to grow and learn through professional development, they must also be comfortable evolving their beliefs and practices that are necessary to their learners’ successes. In having had these opportunities, I will be reflecting on my experiences with various types of professional development, and how it has impacted my teaching.
Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning
In the Fall of 2015, I had been given the opportunity to join a cohort of educators and be trained in on Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning (CLRTL) (Hollie, 2012). CLRTL (2012) provides educators with understandings and strategies that help them validate and affirm their learners from all walks of life in order to bring them to where they need to be academically. Being a part of a diversity group with other colleagues within my school, which discusses ways in which our school could continue to meet our learners’ diverse needs and identities in and outside of classrooms, CLRTL (2012) was the natural next step to learning how to effectively implement understandings of cultural and diverse strategies into my school. This, in turn, would enable me to provide training and support to my staff in these understandings and strategies.
Prior to the CLRTL (2012) professional development, I had not considered what it meant to validate a learner. I had not understood how validation could help my learners in their academic successes, affective maturation, and relationships with me and others. The four focus words that CLRTL (2012) is grounded in is Validate, Affirm, Build, and Bridge (VABB), which intend to move the learner “toward being situationally appropriate” (Hollie, 2012, p. 39). “To validate and to affirm means understanding the complexity of culture and the many forms it takes, including age, gender, and social class. The understanding creates opportunities for meaning making experiences in school. Likewise, acknowledging and affirming the home language of the student as a nonstandard language is another opportunity for validation and affirmation” (Hollie, 2012, p. 41). These two concepts enable educators to build a connection between the learner’s culture and their academic works, while bridging their understandings through differentiation. Gaining these pieces of knowledge through this professional development opportunity helped me begin to empathize with my own learners in ways I never had. I now was able to apply a new lens of understanding to my own teaching practices, while spreading this knowledge with my colleagues to help nurture a culturally and linguistically responsive school.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
As a school, we are finishing up our third year administering the evidence-based practice of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) (PBIS, 2017). PBIS (2017) “is an application of a behaviorally-based systems approach to enhance the capacity of schools, families, and communities to design effective environments that improve the link between research-validated practices and the environments in which teaching and learning occurs” (PBIS, 2017, para. 1). Their goal is to sustain “Tier 1 supports (universal), Tier 2 supports (targeted group), and Tier 3 supports (individual) systems of support that improve lifestyle results (personal, health, social, family, work, recreation) for all children and youth” (PBIS, 2017, para. 1). Prior to this year, my PBIS (2017) cohort and I had received two years of training. These professional development opportunities were not only significant for learning what it was and how to administer this model ourselves, but was incredibly vital in understanding how to train our entire school staff in it as well.
During these professional developments for PBIS (2017), we were given an overview of the entire model, the goals that should be met for implementation in our schools at specific times of the year, training of the behavior tracking system that would be adopted by our schools, and time to develop ways we would teach PBIS (2017) to our colleagues as a whole school initiative. Having the education of what this initiative was and the support of how to embed it into our schools was necessary. The two years of professional development in PBIS (2017) were set up strategically and intelligently by their staff, which speaks to the success of PBIS (2017) in schools they have trained. As we are nearing the end of our third year of using this system, we are beginning to see success in our very own schools. Analyzing behavioral data has become more meaningful, allowing for administration to take into consideration not just the negative behavior of the learner, but looking into the antecedent of the behavior and the whole child. The culture of the school has become that of not just quantitative data generated by standardized assessments or disciplining learners based on our own biases or thresholds, but rather focusing on the affective needs of our learners and creating a positive approach to all situations.
Next year, it is my goal to merge both CLRTL (2012) and PBIS (2017) together, which will allow for our school to continue to evolve and strengthen our school culture as a whole and not in separate initiatives. Educators do not need to be told that positive relationships can help bridge a learner to success inside and outside of the classroom. However, resources are often what they may need. Activities, strategies, articles, etc. are resources that should be provided to help educators continue to learn and grow themselves.
As a co-teacher who works with a special education teacher to plan, organize, deliver, and assess Language Arts instruction to a cohort of learners who need additional support, professional development was key if we wanted to see success in our learners and be successful educators ourselves. This being my second year co-teaching, we have received professional development in co-teaching both years. Last year, a few colleagues who had been previously trained in co-teaching trained us in what co-teaching was and was not, strategies to use in the classroom, ways to plan and work together in the same classroom, expectations, and more.
Understanding what co-teaching was and what strategies we could use in our classroom were helpful as we began planning our year together. One aspect of being a co-teacher that you could not be trained in was the ability to share a classroom with another educator, work closely with another who may have different philosophical beliefs and a different personality than you, and the relationship that would be, or not be, made. This was something our professional development trainers had specified to us, and made it a point to emphasize how time to plan and get to know one another was possibly the most important facet of co-teaching. In our second year of professional development in co-teaching, this was also emphasized. Both sessions of professional development covered the same information, but allowed for us to dig deeper into the different areas of co-teaching, which was valuable. Though us co-teachers do not receive the time to plan or continue to get to know each other in our work days, everyone getting the same information from the trainings allows for us to divide and conquer our work accordingly in order to nurture a successful co-teaching classroom.
Professional development is something educators consistently need to ensure that they are aware of new opportunities in education that they may implement into their classrooms, to continually evolve their teaching practices that remain student-centered, to keep their practices and resources relevant to the 21st century learner, and to allow opportunities to collaborate with other educators. In working with human beings, there are never ending areas of improvement educators should strive for. Each cohort of learners is different. In order to help educators be successful and understanding of every new cohort they receive, they must have resources, tools, collaborative opportunities, and information that will allow for them to meet the needs of all of their learners with assuredness, confidence, and success. Professional development gives educators these opportunities to better themselves, and should be seen as necessary in all districts.
Professional Development. 2014. In EdGlossary.org’s online dictionary. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/professional-development/
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. 2017. What is school-wide PBIS? Retrieved from http://www.pbis.org/school
Hollie, S. (2012). Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning: Classroom practices for student success. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Educational Publishing, Inc.