May 5th, 2009

Taking Professional Development Seriously


I have been struggling all morning to rewrite a chapter in my new book that has organizational problems. I was hoping the reviewers wouldn’t notice, but they did. I’m okay with the ideas. I think they make sense and put the right kind of frame around the rest of the book, but they don’t hang together like a frame. The chapter seems more like a mobile of free hanging ideas that loosely associate and occasionally bang into each other.

What I’ve tried to create is a way of approaching, as in thinking about instructional growth and development that makes it an endeavor worthy of career-long effort. That means it has to be a positive process powered by some pretty lofty ideals. Teaching can make a difference in people’s lives—the lives of those who teach and of those who learn. It also needs to be a process that overcomes the enervating realities of higher education—that gives faculty reasons to persist when their efforts aren’t rewarded and the institutional environment compromises their effectiveness.

I firmly encourage faculty to change the way they approach their growth and development as teachers. We have a long tradition of not taking our instructional health and well-being all that seriously. We get tired—it is a demanding profession—especially at this time of the year. But some faculty are always tired, worn down, beaten up, and no longer in love with teaching. For them teaching has become a lot like a bad marriage—hard to say when it started to go bad and hard to say when it passed the point of no return. But very clear, if it could be done over, it would have to be done differently. Taken seriously, professional development can do much to prevent tired teaching and burnout.

There needs to be more respect for the process of professional development for teachers. Sure, a few new techniques now and then help with some problems, but career-sustaining growth has got to be about more than instructional bells and whistles. It has to engage the intellect and the heart.

There’s a number of myths that prevent or inhibit growth: teaching is a gift, a set of natural abilities out of which excellence grows with no effort; improvement should be avoided, it’s only done by the deficient; a bit of training every now and then is all good teaching takes, for starters.

Those are the main pieces, condensed and abbreviated. Now, how do I make them a coherent whole?