Professional development (PD) today is a classroom full of zombies, educators who are busy thinking of the next day’s lesson, or how they can improve the lesson they delivered today, rather than listen to another minute of irrelevant PD. But, no more, with the passage of Washington House Bill 1345, which defines professional development for all teachers in the state.
House Bill 1345 offers all teachers, but especially those of us who are specialists, the opportunity to advocate for meaningful, relevant professional development. Consider my past experiences to help understand why House Bill 1345 is such a welcome tool for all of us advocating for non-zombiefied PD.
My Past Professional Development
The majority of my professional development opportunities are provided by my school district, who groups us by content area the entire time. Unfortunately, I am a specialist who teaches English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Us, orphaned content areas, pose a dilemma for district since we don’t necessarily have a group for collaboration. The administration, as well as teacher leaders, have always suggested ESOL teachers join the ELA professional development.
While that is somewhat helpful if I am supporting mainstream humanities classes, as my ESOL colleague does, it still lacks complete relevancy because all ESOL teachers have different teaching lines. For 9 of my 10 years, I have been co-teaching math and science classes. I teach the necessary academic language for these content areas. Administration thought it'd be a great idea to have me go to professional development with math or science, my choice.
Filling the Gaps
Although I have gained much content knowledge as a result, again this is not completely relevant to what I do. As an example, let’s consider my elective math class. This class is intended for newcomers to English. Sometimes, these students have many years of formal education, so they need only to transfer concepts by learning math language in English. Other times, I have students with limited or no formal education. Ask yourself, how can a student attempt Algebra when they cannot tell me what five times two is? The simple answer is they cannot.
I attempt to fill those gaps using resources from the internet, from my district and from high school math colleagues, but what they need to be taught is math at the elementary level. What is the pedagogy for teaching students how to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions? This is where relevant professional development could be really helpful. Because I teach at the high school level, my math content knowledge is mostly Algebra and Geometry. I am certain elementary teachers know. Of course, I make an effort to teach them anyway based on my own number sense. However, this is difficult when much of the number sense I have has become invisible by now. If these students want to have any chance of passing classes, graduating from high school, or even just being a productive member of our society, they need basic math skills. Despite the daunting nature of this situation, I have hope. HB 1345 calls for relevant, authentic, ongoing, teacher driven professional development.
The thought of implementing this new bill so that my students are better served, gives me hope. What does this implementation look like? How can we get all districts statewide, following this new law?
My Future Professional Development
For my context, PD is two-fold: early math literacy and strategies for long-term English language learners. I would receive PD from an elementary teacher that can deliver the knowledge of number sense pedagogy. If I could use the same teaching that my students with no or limited formal education missed at a young age, perhaps the gaps I see would begin to close. How powerful that would be for me and for them to be able to access Algebra because now when I ask what five times two is, they can scream 10! Another example of job embedded PD would be a class on strategies for long-term English learners. Rather than attending another ELA session, it would be so powerful to learn ways to reach students who have been in our program since elementary school, strategies for exiting them, strategies that truly prepare them to be as successful as their peers who were born into English speaking homes.
Professional development that is relevant, authentic, ongoing and teacher driven will certainly take time and effort to implement with fidelity. It will take initiative for districts to not group orphaned content teachers onto a one size fits all island of mis-fit content specialists, simply because the rest of their content areas have a group. However, this is the only choice we have if we want to retain excellent educators as well as graduate all our students, which research says is the only way they will be successful in today’s global society.