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By: Inge Elliott

As a fellow teacher, I know that many of us harbour negative perceptions regarding the concept of professional development. There is already a myriad of pressing administrative duties demanding our attention without the additional strain of developmental requirements, which are often too far removed from the realities of day-to-day teaching to elicit much of a personal response. The contention is, however, that if done properly, professional development is the very model through which we re-affirm our specific talents and advance our individualised teaching methodologies.

Professional development stimulates the pursuit of personal progression if it is able to garner individual appeal. This can be accomplished by offering a variety of niche courses and sparking sufficient interest within the teacher that further personal enrichment is embarked upon.


The Power of Professional Development

Many of us teachers will recall the iconic scene in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ when educator John Keating (played by the talented Robin Williams) deftly jumps up onto his desk in front of his students in defiance of the school’s suffocating rigidity and outdated educational approach. Mr Keating explains this seemingly absurd action by informing his class that he does so ‘to remind [him]self that we must constantly look at things in a different way.’

The significance of professional development is expressed through Mr Keating’s character. His ambition was to broaden the bases of knowledge of his learners and fellow educators to include shifting perspectives and evolutions within the field of education and society at large. Teaching, akin to any other crucial profession, must constantly be enhanced in order to provoke the interest of the learners and awaken their creativity. It is through teachers that learning takes place and so the refinement of their proficiencies and content-specific passions is essential in awakening the sought-after 21st century thinking skills within our learners.


Ramsey Musallam’s ‘Three Rules to Spark Learning’

Ramsey Musallam, a high school chemistry teacher, once delivered a thought-provoking TED talk wherein he stated that the role of a teacher is to ‘evoke real questions’ within our learners. A teacher achieves this by injecting a studied phenomenon with just enough perplexity so as to induce the learners’ needs to discover the intricacies thereof. Musallam identifies three fundamentals in order to succeed in this endeavour:

  • The arousal of curiosity within our learners must form the foundation of our approach. Children possess the need to satiate their innate curiosity. The role of the educator is to ignite this curiosity already present within each child.
  • It is imperative to embrace novel ideas/approaches without the fear of failure. Teachers must feel supported in their efforts to enrich their teaching through pioneering an educational practice or theory.
  • In-depth and collaborative reflection is necessary to establish best practice.

The question we must now ask ourselves is how can the above be accomplished if teachers are not provided with the opportunity to seek out curiosities within their own subject matter? How does one confidently trial-and-error innovative educational methods if there is no emphasis placed on studying current educational journals or perusing relevant electronic media? Finally, the practice of reflection is only viable if platforms have been provided from which to spark individual growth within each teacher…


School Support of Professional Development

Schools must strive for significance by affording their teachers the required circumstances within which to develop their professional capacity through individualised support and exposure to best practice. The alternative is that many teachers will not deviate from their learnt routine nor re-engage with the pivotal task of mentoring their learners in the ‘how’, and not the ‘what’ of the delivery system that often define our schools.

The field of education is an ever-fluctuating entity in that no one day is the same as the next. There are too many variables, from the diverse personalities under our care to the outside influences which impact the way in which we engage with the task of educating. It therefore stands to reason that teachers need to be developing their own capabilities and adapting their viewpoints in order to be most effective in their professional role.

Professional development is a success when it heightens the status of the individual educator by igniting the desire for personal fulfillment. The exposure of teachers to fine-tuned developmental opportunities such as the creation of learning materials, community outreach endeavours or simply refining pre-existing skills so as to achieve modern-day relevance is of utmost importance. It is then when teachers ‘will look at things in a different way’ and provide the children under their care with a first-class learning experience.