Re-thinking Staff Development for the 21st Century

Along with teaching, staff development has been somewhat of a passion of mine. I have spent a short time as a staff developer in our district, and while I did make the move back to the classroom, continue to work, through the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network, with teachers to create student centered, literacy rich environments. Recently, I have been a part of our district scheduling committee, and we are moving from 43 minute to 58 and 80 minute periods. This is a big move for the district, and with a change of this magnitude comes the question, “How do I engage kids for 80 minutes?” And with this comes a great need for staff development.

Staff devAs the conversations around staff development needs, curriculum shifts, and time management began, I revisited a book that has served as a ‘big picture keep it current and future’ focal point for me: “Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World”, Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. In the book, Jacobs discusses the impact the changes that technology and the 21st Century bring on all aspects of the school system, staff development included. As Stephen Wilmarth points out in his essay, from the book, titled Five Socio-Technology Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching (2010), ‘the learning process is becoming messy, nonlinear, and highly organic’, and therefore so must our teaching become reflective of this type of stimulating and productively chaotic environment. This is different from what we have been used to expecting in a classroom. Just as schools are now being challenged to re-think how they allocate time, space, staffing and curriculum and just as students are being challenged to collect, process, evaluate, synthesize, and present information and their learning, teachers are being challenged to re-think how they create, assess, and in the end deliver material to help best facilitate student learning.

As we begin to rethink and conceptualize how we will use our time, resources, and physical space in a school, I believe a major consideration needs to be that of a staff development classroom. Take a minute and try to picture a school in which, along with staff developers running after school workshops, in-services, and spending time in classrooms as a peer coach, they are acting as facilitators for teachers who are attending, maybe 2 days out of a six day cycle, class. A class that would serve as their ‘professional period’ or ‘professional development time’, Act 48 hours, possible flex time, etc.

There is enough literature out there to show how important consistent and meaningful follow up to staff development sessions is to teachers actually implementing what they learn, as well as how likely it is that they will buy into the ‘reflective practitioner’ concept. This type of model would create a true learning organization in which teachers could bring their own lessons with their own content and get a steady dose of ‘graduate level type of high quality staff development and instruction’ to keep them current, bought in, and consistently improving. It would turn a traditional classroom into a learning lab. Keeping in unison with Andragogy and the importance of providing choice for adults (see an earlier post I authored about the importance of empowerment for teachers), the ‘courses’ teachers could take would be a dictated by a combination of district and school initiatives (district achievement data could drive this), along with teacher input.

In education we talk about collaboration, and teachers always talk about ‘time’ to do it. This would provide that time for interdisciplinary, cross-curricular work. We talk about how important it is to ‘model’ for our students. How powerful would it be for a student to walk by room C12, the staff development classroom, and see his/her Science or Business Ed teacher sitting in the ‘student’s’ chair, learning—modeling what intellectual curiosity and proper group dynamics looks like. That’s not even to mention the combination of face-to-face and virtual offerings that could be built in. Teachers could use this time to learn to use and get comfortable with new technology—through both its use and beginning to infuse it into their lessons. As we are swept into the 21st Century, the demands put on schools rise as time grows short. Building a staff development classroom in a school could really change the manner in which we use our resources, personnel, time and space in our schools; it could serve as ONE way in which schools can begin to adapt to try to meet these changing needs and increased demands of the 21st century.

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