This post was first written as a comment on the blog of the Secret DoS. To read the interesting article that prompted it and the discussion that followed, including my original comment, click here. I have adapted the comment for this blog post.
Conferences are just one of the many PD options
I can never understand why some people think professional development (PD) should be optional. If we want to consider ourselves a profession, and I do, then we have to act like one. Why is it that teachers should be allowed the right to do their training, get a job and then coast for the next twenty/thirty/forty years? If I found out that my doctor, or the architect who designed the hospital he works in, or the engineer who constructed it, had the same attitude I'd be deeply worried and hightail it to the hospital on the other side of town.
Professional development means that a teacher is at the very least keeping up to date with developments in their field and updating their teaching accordingly. It can go a lot further than this, encompassing writing, reflective practice, presenting and networking, but it doesn’t have to. What it symbolises is that the teacher takes their job seriously.
This doesn't mean that I think all teachers should be blogging or tweeting, far from it. PD can take many forms and not everyone needs to be doing it in public. A small discussion group is a great way to reflect and improve. Reading methodology books is enough, if that suits you.
So I think an employer is quite justified at looking for their employees to take some responsibility for their jobs and give something back to the students who are investing their time and money in lessons. And I see nothing self-righteous about demanding high standards. This is about giving students value for their effort, having a sense of personal pride and driving up the standards in our profession.
But what to do if you are responsible for encouraging staff who have no desire to improve? How do we motivate those who don’t wish to be motivated? I have reservations about forcing them. To have any success, I think it has to come from them. I would also avoid an over-emphasis on tech and web based solutions as I think those who are resistant to change are most likely to reject these methods. You need as wide a range of options as possible, tech and non tech, so they can decide for themselves how they develop.
Ideally, they should lead this. If you plan on running an incentive scheme based on points and prizes, as the Secret DoS was planning to do, I would definitely ask them to create their own list of PD options, and they can even decide how points can be assigned. I think that if they feel like they own this process, they are more likely to engage in it. You can even ask them to choose the prize.
My final suggestion, and this is where I go back to being hardline again, is the true solution to this problem, but it’s not a quick fix and it needs institutional support. It involves a cultural shift I’d like to see not just in individual schools but across our profession. I think that when you employ someone, you make them understand in their interview that PD is an expected part of their job. PD can be tied to bonuses or whatever system your school operates. You have to get the right people in there from the beginning. I think this is the only real way to create that staff room that we all dream of.