|Title||Developing and Following a Professional Development Plan|
|Preview||When designing an individual professional development plan, it is vital to partner with a professional community. This partnership enables us to collaborate and to nurture and sustain clearly defined goals.|
Have we become complacent or just so overwhelmed with classroom responsibilities that pursuing a professional development plan has dropped to a lower position on our priority list? There are times when we find ourselves hopelessly engulfed in the busyness of fulfilling expectations, both professionally and personally, in our high-tech, global, instant-message culture. We may neglect planning time to assess our professional goals and review the intentional as well as the incidental benefits that a professional growth plan provides. However, if we recognize that learning can be a social process that enhances our ability to engage in situations while experiencing a high degree of proficiency and enjoyment, we will value professional development more.
An attitude of respect for teachers and for the responsibilities of their mission is the driving force behind a highly effective professional development model. To help create a learning culture, the school leaders need to communicate an understanding of the pressure and time demands on the faculty. Effective planning to facilitate not only the addressing of existing needs but also the efficient use of resources will enable teachers to take responsibility and to seek ways to include professional development activities in their busy schedules. Services such as providing childcare during after-school sessions for faculty development activities, offering professional seminars at the school site, or providing transportation to a local site where a workshop is taking place can encourage teacher participation.
"Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life" (NASB). This faithful reminder from Proverbs 4:13 tells us that we are called to be lifelong learners. Our professional growth involves developing relationships with others as we knit together our knowledge, gifts, talents, and collective responsibilities to become purposeful long-term learners. Our growth encompasses the spiritual, academic, and personal aspects of our lives.
When designing an individual professional development plan, it is vital to partner with a professional community. This partnership enables us to collaborate and to nurture and sustain clearly defined goals. In order to promote success, systematic steps in an action plan need specified target dates for completion of each goal. Those in a professional learning community communicate with one another, realistically supporting one another in achieving well-defined goals. Adaptations to an expansive range of schedules, interests, and needs should allow for tailor-made in-service sessions directed to specific topics of choice.
The systematic process of developing a plan should begin with considering the desired results. What do you plan to accomplish? What value do you attach to meeting the goals? Consider the increase in personal productivity, the effect on students, or the encouragement of a schoolwide positive attitude about seeking wisdom and knowledge. Prayerfully and thoughtfully write the goals, focusing on improving student learning. Action steps may include learning a new software program, designing a classroom learning center, establishing a parent component on a website, or developing a tutorial program. Explore innovative ways to reach the goals. Set specific target dates for completing each step in the action plan. Be specific and flexible. As you work your plan, incorporate creative means to meet the goals. For example, if you are unable to secure the speaker needed to conduct a seminar for the parents of the children in a particular class, adapt the plan and use the expertise of someone in the school community who can address the parents.
After you have established the goals, clearly define the evaluation process that you will use to assess success. It is important to demonstrate the advantages of what you are already doing. Carefully make connections to what you already know and have mastered. Align the purpose with action steps that focus on teaching and learning. The evaluation should be a tool that measures the results of the action plan. Here are some examples of measured results: As a result of the action steps completed during the past 10 months, there is an 85 percent increase in the number of parents involved in classroom activities with their children. The number of books that students are reading at home has increased by three books per student per month. Test scores in reading comprehension have improved by 10 percent.
Appropriately planned professional development requires the support of the school leadership. Leaders who recognize the importance of modeling long-term professional growth provide resources to accomplish established goals. In many schools, standards for accreditation define goals for professional growth. Ongoing development and a framework for improvement are embedded in the accreditation process. Accountability and responsiveness to the needs of the school community can be woven into professional development plans. When a school provides formal development programs, it is investing in the teachers' professional practice and process of critical reflection for growth and improvement. If student performance in reading comprehension needs to improve, the school leadership should support the goal to improve student success in that area.
Several years ago, I had a conversation in Beijing, China, with Ken Smitherman, the president of ACSI. I was reminded of the importance of organizational alignment in establishing priorities and allocating resources for professional development. I had just finished presenting a seminar at a conference we were both attending in Beijing. My presentation described educating a Chinese student in becoming a responsible citizen. The accreditation process was one of the tools I used for evaluation. Dr. Smitherman and I enjoyed a lively and very encouraging discussion on the value of consistency in evaluation. The leader's plan must include setting the vision and providing the resources. There is a strong relationship between successful professional development and an effective goal-setting process. When the alignment in the school organization includes support systems that promote and reward strategic planning, professional development is enhanced. The goals of individual teachers should align with the mission of the school and should reflect the values of the community.
Learning to learn with others and envisioning learning as a multidisciplinary process empower the participants. The creative aspects of a plan enhance the interactive changes in an instructional design that benefits more than one classroom of students or more than one department in the school. The action plan may include attendance at professional conferences. As teachers dialogue with one another and share their challenges and successes, a high level of community develops, facilitating involvement in professional growth activities. Continuous follow-up and evaluation of progress will lead to improved teaching and learning. Teachers build connections, discuss research, relate with other professionals, and initiate intentional mentoring experiences.
Goals should be manageable, measurable, and meaningful. As we achieve our goals, it is important to reflect on the spiritual growth that we have experienced. How have we changed? What will we do differently as we establish our next set of goals? Will we share our successes and challenges with others? Who in the Bible mirrors some of the difficulties we face? How can we build relationships and solve problems using biblical principles? God may be equipping us to mentor another teacher as we walk the pathway of professional growth. Professional development is an ongoing process filled with opportunities to embrace the power of prayer and enjoy the fellowship of colleagues. "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:15-16, NIV).
Sandra Trinca, EdD, is an associate professor of education in the department of education and behavioral studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University. She serves on the board of directors for national and state accrediting organizations. Dr. Trinca also speaks at international, national, regional, and state conferences for educators.
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