Monday, May 7, 2012

Professional Development Debate

I sometimes run into a debate about professional development for teachers that takes the form of content vs. pedagogy.  As with any debate, the lines are usually too sharply drawn and the arguments pro and con typically too simplistic.  Should schools spend time and money on helping teachers learn more about and stay up to date with content in their field?  The latest in genetics for biology teachers. Cutting edge social science for the social studies department.  Review and analysis of the latest and greatest in literature for those entrusted with teaching our students to read and write. Or would resources be better spent on teachers learning to deliver content they already know in ever more effective, more creative, and more 21st century modes?  I have known teachers who know everything there is to know about a particular field and are not that great at communicating what they know to young people.  I have also met creative, student-centered teachers who seem to barely grasp what they are teaching. With increasingly limited resources, how should schools spend their PD resources?

Clearly outstanding teaching involves both: compelling up to date content combined with effective teaching strategies. However, I do believe that the ground has shifted. Once content was king and pedagogy played a subservient role.  Good teachers could get away with engaging lectures, checking for understanding with Q &A, and ultimately testing to assess whether content had been mastered. But now that the latest content is generally accessible to anyone with an internet connection, do teachers really need to be the master's of content?

If the answer to that question is "no," PD priority should be given to pedagogy.  In other words, schools should spend what  available resources they have in time and money teaching all teachers a contemporary framework for learning--sound and, let's say, multi-media methods for educating (not just instructing) students.  Teachers should be in the vanguard of social networking, not breathlessly behind.  Schools should be on the cutting edge of mobile computing, app development, and cloud use not banning smart phones. PD time should be devoted to technologies that help teachers with podcasting, screen casting, video editing, etc. not to reviewing (yet again) test-prep strategies. Once content was everything, now it's everywhere. Have we taken that difference seriously in our classrooms?

There really is no debate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To improve is to change... change is to go out of our comfort zone to become better.
Wether Professional Development pursues to develop pedagogy skills, human relationships, curricula, or current learning in a specific field or content area... I believe "all" is important and we must find balance and see the whole to acknowledge growth as paramount.