Voices in Education

PD by Any Other Name is Still as Sweet

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PD is a common acronym in education. Those in other fields might wonder if it means Panic Disorder, or Pediatric Dentistry, or Pure Data. Educators, however, know the term well and place PD at the center of effective instruction. Good schools everywhere devote a lot of time and money to provide teachers with Professional Development (PD) opportunities throughout the year. Of course, everyone knows that not all PD is created equal! 

Quality PD is designed with at least the following four characteristics addressed in its planning:

  1. Timely – Everything changes. PD choices must reflect current needs and keep teachers up to date with important changes in the field:
    • new standards and how they affect curriculum;
    • new technologies and how they can be used both by teachers and students to enhance and accelerate learning;
    • new approaches that engage students in innovative and constantly evolving ways; and
    • new content that embraces discoveries and developments in each field and that can be readily accessed in different ways.
  2. Accelerated and Accessible – Teaching is one of our most demanding professions. Yes, teachers spend the required time with students but the job does not stop there. Effective teachers also spend long unpaid hours beyond the school day to provide valuable feedback to students, maintain long records of students’ progress, provide continual evidence of meeting institutional demand, and, above all, plan, plan, and plan quality instruction. Very often, community, personal, and family issues take a back seat in a teacher’s weekly schedule. PD offerings, therefore, must recognize that teachers can significantly improve performance in a short period of time instead of having to take semester-long courses, good as they may be, to meet certification and other requirements. PD must also offer flexible participation schedules in asynchronous formats to meet participant needs.
  3. Competent – PD must be delivered to meet the above demands, apply the latest approaches advocated by reliable research, and be offered by professionals who are themselves trained in those approaches.
  4. Exciting  –  A final characteristic of quality PD worth mentioning is that it is exciting and inspiring. Like good chocolate, teachers can’t wait to share it once they get their taste or fill of it! Or like many wildfires, it is difficult to contain!

Can quality PD show evidence that it is producing systemic changes in our schools? I have taught graduate courses with PBS TeacherLine (TL) for many years. For example, in reading courses, participants immediately apply innovative and engaging activities with and without technology, to help younger (or older) students develop early phonemic awareness on their way to practicing phonics and acquiring later vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Teachers who lack that training, especially at higher levels, often skip steps in student development, which lands them in remedial courses or worse, out of school completely. Others who take math courses immediately implement real-life projects that promise to engage students, keeping them from developing lifelong math anxieties. Other examples and success stories abound.

Perhaps the most promising outcome of quality PD is that teachers enthusiastically talk about what they are learning, sometimes developing shared activities with instructors from other disciplines, grade levels, and even schools in the process of completing courses. 

Leecy retired as a tenured ESL/Basic Skills instructor and Video-Technology Trainer at El Paso Community College, and now works as an educational consultant with her own Reconnection Company, developing curriculum, training, and evaluating federally-funded educational projects. She serves as a national LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System) trainer, resource reviewer, and moderator for the Reading and Writing Community of Practice. Leecy trains teachers (PreK-College and Adult Ed) online and through live-video or blended instruction on a variety of topics: adult literacy and college preparation, early reading acquisition, real-life math instruction, instructional technology and distance ed delivery, ESL instruction, and cultural influences on learning.  She has taught courses for Colorado and national PBS TeacherLine, and for Colorado educational institutions for over fifteen years. 

Leecy Wise

Leecy Wise Founder, Reconnection Company

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