Personal Development is the Key to Educator Professional Development

Sep 04, 2020

Have you ever found yourself completely disengaged during a professional development session? 

Perhaps you’ve questioned whether or not the facilitators understand that you are a well educated professional or you feel compelled to roll your eyes when someone introduces the “next best thing” because you recognize it as a loosely repackaged version of the training du jour from five years ago. 

Maybe you really want to get the most out of your faculty meetings, in-service days and training programs but end up feeling like you could’ve accomplished more if you just had that chunk of time to work in your classroom to get caught up and create instructional materials. 

I have experienced all of the above at one point or another throughout my career and I have also experienced some really phenomenal meetings, trainings, and initiatives.  Thankfully, I was able to use all of my experiences, both good and bad, as guideposts when I started creating and facilitating my own professional development opportunities. 

I learned a lot as a trainer and as an instructional coach and I often joke that teachers are the worst students, but after really listening to their concerns and perspective, I couldn’t blame them for resisting my best attempts at transforming their instruction, especially since the vast majority of them do not need transformation, they need support and encouragement.

Once I fully understood those needs for support and encouragement, I began to shift and incorporate a more personalized to all of my training regardless of the topic.  Around that same time, I began an in-depth exploration of personal development and, as my own life and career began to transform, I couldn’t help but realize the power of the personal development model in the context with improving teacher performance. 

Many of the best teachers are stagnating and burning out because of the demands placed on them in the name of standardization, accountability, and a plethora of mandates from the local, state, and national levels.  These pressures, coupled with shifting administrative teams, less than ideal conditions for students, and a serious lack of resources leads some of the most beloved and talented teachers to find new careers and others to disengage from their work out of self-preservation. 

Clearly these challenges are systemic and the only “magic bullet” solution would be to tear down the system and start from scratch, but the likelihood of that is not very good.  However, there is hope for the current school system because it is being sustained by some of the most brilliant, compassionate, and capable professionals in our society.  In order for those professionals to keep fighting the good fight, they don’t need another technology tool, grant program, or curricular initiative, they need support, encouragement, and stress management.  Personal development tools that foster resiliency, authenticity, positivity, and a growth mindset are the key to keeping great teachers in the classroom doing great things.

School administrators need to incorporate personal development opportunities during professional development time for many reasons, but these four are at the top of the list:

1. Teachers are the only constant in education. 

This is definitely the most important reason because, without teachers, there would be no schools.  I know that sounds a little too obvious, but teachers really are the most valuable resource.  Schools and districts invest vast amounts of money in technology tools, textbooks, and other resources but teacher wellness and stress-management programs are very few and far between.  Since other elements of education come and go, it only makes sense to focus time and resources on fully supporting these individuals in a way that not only encourages them to stay, but also encourages them to grow and make more significant contributions.

 2. Teaching often ranks as one of the most stressful occupations. 

Most educators are aware of this statistic, but it has become a concept that people are merely accepting without trying to change it.  An informal poll of teachers revealed that many of them are eager to learn stress-management techniques and they also reported that it would be comforting if their school leaders would just acknowledge the reality of their stress.  Many teachers tend to avoid sharing their struggles due to fear of judgment, a tendency toward perfectionism, or the ever-present retaliation from a society that believes that a salary, benefits, and summers off should outweigh any and all challenges we may face.  Personal development provides the tools and the context to look at the obstacles in terms of opportunities to grow, and that perspective benefits everyone involved.

3. Personal development allows teachers to model important social and emotional concepts.

The emphasis on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been steadily increasing since the Sandy Hook Tragedy and it is becoming widely accepted that SEL skills are just as important as academic skills.  We all know that the best way to convey concepts to students is through modeling, so if we want empowered students with the skills to navigate adversity, manage stress, and thrive in challenging situations; it makes sense to ensure that the teachers are similarly empowered.

4. Positive school culture makes a big difference.

A recent NPR article, “How A Happy School Can Help Students Succeed”, detailed the findings from a study that show a strong correlation between school culture and academic success.  Even more importantly, the study found that, “There's no link between school climate and socioeconomic status. In other words, there are plenty of happy schools in low-income neighborhoods, too” (Lonsdorf 2016).  The article also commented on the likelihood for higher teacher retention rates in schools with positive cultures and, although that seems like a no-brainer, it bears repeating.  Good teachers want to work in positive environments and leverage their skills and passion to make a difference for their students.  If schools want to keep good teachers like that, they need to foster those skills and passions and create that positive environment.  Personal development opportunities help with all of the above because empowered teachers make positive choices that create positive environments regardless of external factors.  They understand that we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we react.

 Does your school offer personal development opportunities?  If so, I would love to hear more about them!  Please leave a comment below, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter for free educator personal development delivered weekly, and check out the new 21st Century Teacher Toolkit to find out how you can get quality personal and professional development every month.

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