Challenges and opportunities in professional development of educators

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Manju Gupta,
Principal, Kothari International School, Noida

Professional development had always been the need of the hour even during the Vedic period when extension activities such as yatras andkathas for gurus were organised—mentoring and updating knowledge and skills.

Over the time, the ways to professionally develop the teachers have changed. Students benefit more from teachers who are not only qualified and experienced but at the same time always have updated knowledge base. To update the teachers and consequently to the students they teach, we need enrichment programmes often.

Even if a profession has people with the required qualifications and experience to stay in the job but no opportunities to improve, update knowledge base with changing time and growing needs, it affects their and also the students’ performance adversely. In the last 40 years, as a teacher I always loved to learn new skills & pedagogies and update knowledge base. As school leaders motivate colleagues to learn and grow and later nurture teachers as a professional development (PD) resource, I have encountered challenges which were turned into opportunities.

Creating horizontal learning in place of the top-down approach

The education system in India is largely a top-down approach, in which the decisions always come down from a higher authority, knowledge always comes from a senior and is passively transmitted to the learners. So is the case in most professional development programmes where the teachers inactively accept the knowledge from experts in a passive mode in most seminars and workshops. A democratic horizontal approach to learning is in which all stakeholders are brought to the same platform, the heads, the coordinators and all the teachers and even the students where they discuss, reflect, do need analysis and design a meaningful PD programme.

If you want to know how to make something work better, you go to the people who are doing it as you do in the automobile industry. We learned from the Japanese that you have to go to the people on the shop floor to figure out how to make a better car. Why we continue not to do that in the field of education is beyond comprehension.

Practice flexibility

Make these programmes more flexible so that the work pressures on teachers of syllabus completion and other secondary duties can be handled well. Distance, online or part time modes are very useful in this regard.

Partnerships

We may also have PD programmes run in partnerships of colleges, universities, partner schools and organisations. This results in a horizontal flow of knowledge and sharing of resources among the stakeholders, also helping in their better funding too.

Autonomy

Unlike the present systems of professional development where everything from strategies, methodologies, topics, discussed, etc, are pre-decided, the need of the hour is to give freedom to the teachers to decide which programmes of PD will they like to attend and what they would like to improve or learn than making it an obligation. This will help in making the PD programmes more need based and fun.

Strengthening the existing systems

Mostly a group of teachers attend an intensive and focused PD training on few skills by experts–‘master trainers’, and they come back to their work environments as ‘champion teachers’ and provide the same training to their peer teachers. It is time and cost effective and helps disseminate information to the maximum number of teachers.

Building a database

A sound database for maintaining a record of the people attending a particular PD programme with details related to it as well as reflections and experiences of teachers helps in designing future PD programmes.

Using ICT for proper follow up and feedback

Follow-up and feedback after attending PD session is very important and is a much ignored feature in most of programmes. ICT tools such as phone calls, Skype, email, whatsapp, Twitter, facebook, blogs and other social media can be used to collect feedback from the participants and also later when they implement the learnt strategies in schools, follow up can be taken instead of losing touch with them.

Evaluation of PD programmes

Evaluation may not be confined to feedback about general satisfaction of the participants but on actual results and experiences after implementing the strategies learnt in the programme in real classrooms. The tools can be questionnaire, rating scales, checklists, interviews, etc and even students can be interviewed for this purpose.

Respecting individual differences within teachers

Teachers too, like students, have individual differences, likes and dislikes. It is important to consider these differences and provide them with more autonomy to choose a PD programme beneficial to them.

Long-term PD programmes

Short-term workshops cannot meet the objectives of all areas of teacher development so to be effective in real sense; some PD programmes could be intensive and long term.

Teacher support

Seniors supporting the teachers to meet the challenges like classroom management, discipline issues, dealing with special children, guiding the novice teachers through strategies like peer coaching and mentoring bring about a more conducive developmental environment.

Research by teachers

Is research in education prerogative of research scholars only? It is beneficial to train the school teachers and encourage them to doaction research on various problems they face in schools and come up with solutionsfor the same.

Expression

The teachers publish their successes, achievements, research and initiatives. Encouraging them to express their views and concerns by writing articles and publish journals is to create a channel to understand their problems and learn from their experiences. The teachers may also present their research finding at staff PD meetings or educational conferences.

Growing up through collaborative learning with colleagues

A majority of schools in India have a system of providing structured and prepared lesson plans to teachers and prescribed methods of teaching enforced upon them by the authorities. To combat individualism and isolation among teachers, they work in groups, create a lesson plan through discussions, implement it, reflect, discuss on their practices thus collaborative reflecting, problem solving and debriefing helps.

Discussions

Discussions may be a strategy widely used and taught to the teachers so that they not only learn to discuss among themselves but also apply it in their classrooms with their students. This approach helps in facilitating collaboration, helps sharing of ideas and encourages students torespect each other’s opinions.

Team teaching

While the present teacher training programmes train the teachers with one teacher for many students in classrooms. Teachers may be trained to teach a concept together in teams with trans-disciplinary approach. This would help making teaching interesting and barrier free as the expertise of all teachers can be put to use together at the same time.

Experimentation

Teachers may be trained to freely experiment with methods of teaching and help sharing their successes and failures. Autonomy to teachers is required to achieve this and it is a challenge in the Indian scenario where most teachers have to generally follow a prescribed pattern of teaching and adhere to syllabus or rigid lesson plans in schools.

Sharing resources

Often the journals, books and latest learning materials are available to few teacher, which make it difficult for immediate use in a classroom. Teachers may share resources with each other without hesitation and for this rigid rule of issue from libraries may be relaxed. Only then the concept of creating learning communities can be realised.

Celebrating successes

Even the small successes achieved through professional development programmes such as building resources, learning materials, student achievement, etc could be celebrated.

Personalised PD

It is important that teachers take the responsibility of their own professional development rather than being compelled by the authorities. Let there be a proper system of carrying out personalised PD where the teachers take responsibility of their PD in an organised way.

Let’s be better than yesterday.

Manju Gupta, principal of Kothari International School (Noida), is a recipient of the National Award for Teachers (1999) and many other allocates conferred on a string of schools she had been headed. Mention of some schools where she served since 1999 may include Navrachana Vidyani Vidyalaya (Gujarat State Board School); Navrachana International School (Accredited by University of Cambridge, International Examinations-UK, International Baccalaureate Organisation, Geneva and CBSE, New Delhi), Navrachana College of Education (a teacher’s training college affiliated to SNDT, Mumbai), among others.