Whether you’re new to teaching or have enjoyed it for decades, I’m sure you’ve had varying experiences with what has been labelled professional development. If any of this has been PD you have chosen, then good on you. If it was thrust upon you because someone thought you needed it, then I hope they were right. In either case, I wonder what the focus was.
4 popular areas of Professional development encouraged in teaching are:
Now guess which one of these four is stated by most teachers as the most important area for teachers’ growth, and which happens to be the least addressed in professional development. You’ve got it … Pedagogy.
Why does pedagogy get left behind?
I think it’s best to start looking at why the other 3 are more popular.
Curriculum is popular PD because most education systems prioritise this over key competencies due to the relative ease of measuring content acquisition. Driven by meeting grade targets, teachers and their leaders are keen to find the best way to deliver curriculum. It is also attractive PD because teachers gravitate towards others whom they know will have mutually agreeable issues and aims. Opinions differ more on matters of technology and pedagogy. There is comfort in knowing that another look at curriculum will be a more pleasant experience without challenge to mindset. The common focus in curriculum PD is to better prearrange what learners should look at, rather than any sense of empowering them.
Technology PD is popular because it’s often a practical workshop with shiny, visually pleasing outcomes. It is also less likely to include lecturing and even if it does, you’ve got something to play with. Technology is not necessarily going to challenge a teachers approach to running their classroom the way they already do and many school cultures view technology as just make existing tasks easier. A superficial reason that school leaders will support tech PD is because it makes the school look good in the eyes of parents who see it as an agreed and required modernisation.
Even if it’s not popular, professional development in administrative systems, grading and protocol is common. It is often encouraged by many school leaders eager to meet targets set by higher authorities. Most school leadership teams spend the majority of their time outside the classroom and it’s easy for them to accidentally develop a school culture focused on issues they are most familiar with, namely admin.
Pedagogy – learning not teaching
Pedagogy and the learning environments that teachers create are the key ingredient for determining genuine, motivated and deep learning. That’s learning that stays with you and that you wish to continue with. So why is it discussed so infrequently in many schools? For me, it’s again a matter of school leadership and to what extent they truly understand the pedagogical options available and why many of them are so important in this increasingly changeable world. If leaders don’t promote pedagogical debate as a norm, then teachers will not feel encouraged to either look into it or worse, bother implementing it against the existing tide. If teachers don’t feel supported by their school culture to make significant change in modernising pedagogy, they will shy away from trying to.
Readdressing the balance
There are many exciting and dramatic changes happening in education around the world, particularly around student-led learning. These changes do impact on curriculum, involve technology and even require a little administration, but their most common focus is on pedagogy and way in which schools organise learning. It is time for your school’s PD to reflect this and look to empower a new generation of young people to make a real difference in the world.