Category Archives: Professional Development

Which is more important- the Why or the What?

When it comes to professional development, which is more important- the Why or the What?

Time is so limited, so in an effort to be efficient, most “professional development” opportunities focus on the what.  Over and over, you will hear teachers say,  “Just tell me what to do and I will do it.”  I completely understand this sentiment, but lately I’ve been wondering if this is really what’s best for us in the long run.

Sure, in the short term, it seems most appropriate.  We only have 30 minutes to attend this training- so  just explain what teaching strategy we should use, and then send us on our way.  But does this really help us become better teachers?

Without understanding the why behind the what, the teaching strategy becomes simply a task to be completed. Teachers are not robots to be programmed with tasks to carry out (although I must admit, it does feel that way sometimes).  While we may not realize it at the time, as we are juggling a myriad of responsibilities, understanding the why is what truly makes us better teachers.

We are fortunate to be teaching in such exciting times!  New research on learning theory and cognitive development is emerging much more rapidly than ever before. And with it comes more effective teaching strategies- strategies that align with the latest and greatest research findings.

But I don’t think it will do us much good to focus solely on these new teaching strategies without considering the research behind them.  By understanding the rationale behind the strategy, I am empowered to use this information to develop learning opportunities specifically for my students and their individual needs. I become a more knowledgeable educator overall.

By understanding the Why, I am refining my pedagogical knowledge, allowing me to more effectively:

  • Implement teaching strategies to their fullest intent
  • Adjust instruction to achieve the intended results
  • Create ongoing purposeful learning experiences for my students without being told exactly what to do
  • Persevere when the going gets tough
  • Pursue the ultimate goal- helping each of my students reach his or her fullest potential

In a way, it goes back to the proverbial man needing fish- do we give him a fish, or do we teach him to fish?  It’s easiest to give him a fish, but is this really in his best interest?

Habits of Mind and Habits of Practice

The habits of practice we use most often stem from our habits of mind.  Attempting to change the habits of practice without changing the habits of mind is futile.

We need to change our habits of mind to have a lasting effect on our habits of practice.
What do you think?  Has understanding the why behind the what made you a better teacher?


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What is Professional Development?

Is training focused on understanding how the standards will be tested really professional development?

I guess it depends on what we believe a teacher’s job to be.  If one considers a teacher’s sole purpose to train a child to pass a test, then I guess this would be appropriate professional development.  By understanding how each standard is tested, the teacher can tailor instruction to the test expectations and thus be considered successful as a professional.

But I have a problem with this.  I did not go into the teaching profession to teach kids to pass tests.  I chose this profession to inspire greatness in my students,  to help them realize their fullest potential, to make this world a better place.  It’s insulting to think that my role has been so devalued.  I refuse to consider myself simply a trainer for a bunch of test takers.

In my opinion, true professional development should be focused on inspiring students to be critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and lifelong learners.  These are the skills that enable students to reach their potential, motivate them to continue learning, and allow them to persevere when faced with challenges.  Teach me ways to facilitate proficiency of these skills.  Teach me the latest research on cognitive development.  Teach me how to determine what critical thinking skills students are using well and which ones may need to be strengthened.  Teach me how to design lessons that will engage my students in real world application of skills at a high level of rigor.  But don’t try to convince me that knowing how the standards will be tested, and planning my lessons to match these assessment conditions,  is sufficient for my students to attain critical thinking & problem solving skills that they can apply in the real world. In real life, does it really matter if standard X.Y.Q.1.2.3 is tested at a cognitive complexity level of 4 using a multiple choice format?

Don’t get me wrong.  I do think it is important to know the test item specifications to be a well informed teacher, but please don’t provide training on this information, emphasizing that I should address each benchmark to a certain level of rigor with the justification of “this is how it will be tested,” and then assume that I have received quality professional development that will help me provide a better education for my students.

I guess it all comes down to this: Are teachers supposed to be preparing students for a test, or for life?


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