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Opinion
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Commentary: The importance of professional development in teaching
Published on April 18, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Dr Carlton Mills

Teachers need to become partners in and ultimately responsible for their own learning. The process whereby this is achieved is through professional development.

Professional development is an ongoing, continuous process. Teachers should be desirous of constantly improving themselves – improving the way they teach, the way they think, the way they do things, the way they approach things. The ultimate aim in all of this is improving pupils’ performance.

carlton_mills.jpg
Dr Carlton Mills received his early education in South Caicos. He pursued studies at Excelsior Community College, University of the West Indies, University of London, University of Bristol and his doctorate in Education at the University of Sheffield.
Dr Mills taught in the school system in the Turks and Caicos Islands for a number of years. He was also Principal of three high schools on the islands and Vice Principal of the Turks and Caicos Islands Community College from September 1997 – February 2007. He was appointed Minister of Education from 2007 – 2009. He is the main editor of The History of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
According to Blatchford (1985), “The capacity for autonomous self development amongst teaching staff is one of the most valuable resources – but one which in many schools is left unrecognized, under- utilized and uncoordinated”. What Blatchford is saying is that schools need to have ongoing professional development. This can take various forms.

One such way in which this can be accomplished is through teachers sharing new ideas, engaging in group discussions, visiting another school and observing what is being done and also being what is described as a ‘critical friend’ to other colleagues. The ultimate success of such an initiative depends largely on teachers having an open mind and being receptive to change.

Being a critical friend though is an uncomfortable experience for many of our teachers in the Caribbean. This is because of our lack of interest in sharing ideas, resources and initiatives with our colleagues. We are not comfortable with others coming in our classrooms and sharing their opinions on our performances. This is not a part of our practice in the region.

Schools need to learn how to promote and develop by themselves. In order to accomplish this, schools need to provide teachers with the opportunities where latent skills can be nurtured and developed and where professional boundaries can be extended both individually and collectively. Bear in mind, years of experience is good, but experience alone will not provide a satisfactory basis for professional advancement.

Professional development is a dynamic process. It should marshall the collective energies of the whole school. It can help to transform teachers to respond energetically and collectively to new ideas, new knowledge and new experiences.

Professional development also helps teachers to discover their individual strengths and weaknesses – although some may get offended when their weaknesses are exposed. Those affected need to be mature enough to see this as a learning exercise geared towards their improvement.

Professional development is synergistic. It is inextricably linked to the whole school. It is not independent but interdependent. For the school to succeed, teachers need to share, to work together through developing professional relationships. Teachers also need to set example for others particularly new members of staff to follow – be role models – be the pace setters. The school is greater than the sum of its parts.

According to Hoyle (1976), it is an integral part of the creative school. Teachers need to create new schools, new ways of thinking and new ways of delivering quality education to students. Professional development is the vehicle through which this can be achieved.

Keys to Success

Need for a vision

Schools need to create an awareness among staff of the need for professional development. The manner in which this is approached is critical. It can be non-receptive or rejected. When creating such an awareness, there is the need to be creative, stimulating, non-threatening until teachers take on the responsibility for their own discovery and learning.

I know the million dollar question in the Turks and Caicos Islands is can I afford it with my meager salary? On top of this, they have also taken away my gratuity and my pension. My material allowance has also been cut.

Colleagues, despite these set-backs, these factors should not be a deterrent from engaging in professional development. You have to think beyond the TCI. You have to start thinking globally. There has to be an understanding that what is also important is institutional improvement. The professional development of teachers and schools are mutually dependent. According to Blatchford, to view them in isolation strikes at the heart of the professional development process, guaranteeing premature death.

The onus is on the senior staff to be committed and prepared for action. They have to develop a clear vision based on developments and changes within the society. This means that they have to keep abreast with what is happening around them. They also need to map out the areas and direction where the whole school will benefit while retaining an openness to new ideas and alternative strategies. The million dollar question, though, is do they have the will power to do it?

The ministry of education and department of education in the Turks and Caicos Islands must also be supportive of the vision. This includes preparing students for life beyond school not just passing the Grade Six Achievement Tests or Caribbean Examinations Council examinations. This does not fully determine success. Our students must be able to communicate effectively, be creative, innovative and think independently.

Professional Relationships

It is imperative that teachers establish professional relationships. Inadequate relationships can create barriers to effective cooperation, trust and freedom of expression. Professional development helps to break down these barriers and create an open environment with mutual support, trust and respect. Professional development is about your own professional growth and development and how you go about establishing professional relationships.

Role of the Principal

One or the roles of the principal should be towards helping to develop a consonant school, where tensions and dilemmas are reduced. This means that the Principal should take responsibility for guiding internal developments and ensuring they are consonant with each other and with external requirements. The objective is to create a harmonious environment.

Secondly, the principal should transmit positive values. Values are important determinants of behaviour. Negative values can result in emotional strain on teaching. They can also help to suppress anxiety, create a loss of confidence and insecurity. These can be reflected in how teachers teach and the extent to which they develop professional relationships. The teaching profession has no room for negative values. Such negative values need to be replaced by mutual support, encouragement and confidence building. The principal has to create this kind of culture in the school.

He/she also needs to create opportunities for mutual professional support in a practical way. The support of from other leaders in the school is vital to the fostering of this culture. Collectively, they help to build staff confidence by giving professional advice and increasing their sense of worth. The principal must not see his/her role as a dictator (as is commonly practiced in our region). He/she is a facilitator. He/she is responsible for providing opportunities for the growth of their staff. It is also imperative that the principal leads by example in this growth process.

The principal must also develop a culture of effective professional development for the school. This is done by creating and operating within a climate that encourages growth and development. Hoyle and McCormick (1976) developed the model of “extended professionality” and “restricted professionality”. This concept stresses the notion of collaboration and the limitations of the teacher in isolation.

According to these writers, some of the things displayed by the “restricted professionality” are:

• Skills derived from experience
• Skills derived from a mediation between experience and theory

• Classroom events perceived in isolation
• Classroom events perceived in relation to school policies and goals

• Introspective with regards to methods
• Methods compared with those of colleague and with reports on practice

• Value placed on autonomy
• Value placed on professional collaboration

• Infrequent reading of professional literature
• Regular reading of professional literature

Only the extended professionality mode is capable of enabling the teacher to develop and respond to change. This mode is more likely to promote development for teachers and it also relies on the very inter-team practice which is deemed essential for integration and development at the whole school level.

Schools generally need to take professional development more seriously. It should not be a ‘one-off thing’. This is why it is essential that schools have a staff development committee in place. Drucker (1988) argues that for staff, professional development should:

- Be holistic
- The organization must develop clear and explicit values
- Development must integrate theory and practice so as to inform action
- The end result is the continuous improvement of the organization, individuals, processes and out

Classroom research should form a critical element to school improvement and should be an integral part of the development culture of the school. Teachers should be able to lead workshops. Schools should be dedicated to fostering a culture where teachers are researchers – where teachers teach from their research. We should also be creating a classroom-focused research culture and the development of critical friendships.

Day (1996) sees this as being at the heart of what he describes as developing critical communities. Principals need to encourage this. We should also start to create personal development profiles of our teachers designed to foster their development as whole persons throughout their careers. We must recognize that teaching is bound up with their lives, their histories and the kind of persons they have been and have become.

Maybe, just maybe, one common factor in schools succeeding ‘against the odds’ is if staff be thanked and congratulated for particular achievements.
 
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