By James Cordonero
Were we to know what the future holds in store in our teaching careers, and were we to have foreseen all the challenges that lay ahead, there would be no need for in-service training in today’s world. This gap is where continuum professional development comes to provide instructors with opportunities to keep abreast of new and emerging trends in teaching practices and theories.
In Nicaragua, opportunities for career competency growth may not be as ubiquitous as in developed nations, but some educational institutions strive to offer workshops and other types of related meetings as part of the professional development experience, which is praiseworthy considering the many budget constraints that many schools face. Nevertheless, there is research evidence suggesting that “teacher development has moved beyond simple in-service workshops and has expanded into a more robust system of continuing education” (Quattlebaum, 2012). This trend in teachers’ competencies development is gaining new ground and having an impact on the quality standards of education worldwide.
The OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, defines professional development as a series of “activities that develop an individual’s skills, knowledge, expertise and other characteristics as a teacher” (2009). According to Hassel (1999), professional development is “the process of improving staff skills, and competencies needed to produce outstanding academic results for students” In other words, this new approach to teachers’ training proves essential in meeting today’s educational demands. But what clear goals can continuous professional advancement serve beyond pre-service training? The OECD establishes the following:
• to update individuals’ knowledge of a subject in light of recent advances in the area;
• to update individuals’ skills, attitudes and approaches in light of the development of current teaching techniques and objectives, modern circumstances and new educational research;
• to enable individuals to apply changes made to curricula or other aspects of teaching practice;
• to allow schools to develop and implement innovative strategies concerning the curriculum and other aspects of teaching practice;
• to exchange information and expertise among teachers and others, e.g. academics, industrialists; and
• to help weaker teachers become more effective in their practice
For professional development to be effective, it has to be ongoing and in-depth, include practice and feedback, and provide adequate time and follow-up support. It should not be brief and shallow as it currently happens with some of the single training sessions most instructors receive.
Since a great deal of effort in specialized training and development has been diluted in the elusive pursuit of achieving higher standards of education in many developing countries, some scholars have argued that the term “professional development” is a misnomer and that we should be thinking about “professional learning” instead. The former, meaning that teachers passively acquire knowledge intended to “influence their practice”, while the latter denotes “an internal process in which teachers create expert knowledge through interaction with colleagues and other educators in a way, that challenges previous assumptions and creates new meanings.” Hence, professional learning is what will enable instructors to overcome deeply rooted problems that call for “transformative rather than additive change to teaching practice” (Timperly, 2011).
Thus, if we want to achieve qualitative changes in our educational system, “professional learning” is what we should be aiming for. To achieve such a goal and to reach higher standards, radical changes must also take place in the scale and quality of development opportunities available to teachers. High-quality professional learning for teachers should not be the exception but the rule. Teaching should be a learning profession where schools or institutions should provide plenty of opportunities to keep their academic knowledge and practice fully up-to-date.
We are at the dawn of new era, witnessing the start of a culture change in the English teaching profession. Professional development or learning, for that matter, may not be the panacea that will solve all the pedagogical issues that arise in our respective classroom settings, but certainly it is a step in the right direction, and instructors should grasp with both hands every opportunity for professional growth whenever it comes their way.
Hassel, E. (1999). Professional development: Learning from the best. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).
Quattlebaum, S. (2012). Why professional development for teachers is critical. The Evolution.New Jersey Public Schools. Retrieved from http://www.evolllution.com/opinions/why-professional-development-for-teachers-is-critical/Sheppard, B. & Dibb
OECD. (2009). Creating Effective Teaching and Learning Environments. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
Timperley, H. (2011). Realizing the Power of Professional Learning. New York, NY: Open University Press.