Category CSE Magazine
Title Professional Development is a Process
Author/s Sam Barfell, EdD
Preview It is my view that professional development is ongoing, continuous, and lifelong.

This past fall, in October and November, over 14,000 Christian school educators attended NEXUS Live 2013. We call it an annual celebratory gathering of Christian school educators ... for the purpose of professional development. It is an event, and most professional development efforts are event driven. Professional development events are great and necessary. However, if that is the sum total of my efforts to grow professionally, I may fall just a bit short. It is my view that professional development is ongoing, continuous, and lifelong.

Why is growing and improving as a professional educator important? First, as believers, Scripture is clear that we are to pursue excellence. Luke tells us, "To whom much is given, from him much will be required" (12:48, NKJV). James reminds us that teachers will be "judged more strictly" (3:1, NIV). Paul is very direct in commanding Timothy: "Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you" (2 Timothy 1:6). Clearly, God wants us to pursue excellence. I believe that Christian school educators should be the best on the planet. The best professionally prepared, the best academically competent, and the best lovers of children ... because as Christian educators we bear the name of Christ and do it for His glory.

Second, growing professionally is critical because we know intuitively that great teachers greatly make an impact on students. But we also know from research that teachers who are professionally prepared make an impact on student achievement. "Rigorous research suggests that sustained and intensive professional learning for teachers is related to student-achievement gains" (Darling-Hammond et al. 2009, 9).

Sadly, research also indicates that as a profession, educators have not given staff development a high priority. The National Center for Education Statistics published research in 2001 that described teacher staff development in the United States as follows (Parsad, Lewis, and Farris Westat, 4-6):

Minimal. The typical teacher spent a day or less in a professional development activity in the last 12 months.

Isolated. About 80 percent felt the professional development activities were not linked to other school improvement initiatives to a great extent.

Irrelevant. Only about 10 to 15 percent reported that they were given significant follow-up materials or activities.

Ineffective. Less than one in four teachers reported that their professional development activities improved their classroom teaching.

A follow-up study done by the National Staff Development Council in 2009 indicated that although there was improvement in staff development during the preceding decade, the improvement was not significant (Darling-Hammond et al., 19).

The definition of professional development that I gravitate toward is from Canadian educational researcher Dr. Michael Fullan, who said that it is "the sum total of formal and informal learning experiences throughout one's career" (1991, 326). As a lifelong learner, I love both the simplicity and depth of this definition. So, whether you attended a professional development event this year or not, you can be actively engaged in growing professionally both formally and informally.

I believe that reading this issue of Christian School Education (CSE) represents your desire to grow professionally. Although it may be informal in nature and you will not be awarded a CEU, you are reading from thought leaders who will challenge you, stretch you, expand your knowledge, and increase your effectiveness.

My prayer is that this issue of CSE will be one more piece of the sum total of the process of your professional development. So, "fan into flame the gift of God" that is in you!


Darling-Hammond, Linda, Ruth Chung Wei, Alethea Andree, Nikole Richardson, and Stelios Orphanos. 2009. Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council.

Fullan, Michael G., with Suzanne M. Stiegelbauer. 1991. The new meaning of educational change. 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College Press.

Parsad, Basmat, Laurie Lewis, and Elizabeth Farris Westat. Teacher preparation and professional development: 2000, NCES 2001-088. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

With eternity in mind,

Sam Barfell, EdD
Vice President of Professional Development

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