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The Best Teachers Keep Learning!

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By ROLI S

Why do educators need professional development? Didn’t they learn what they need to know in college when they were acquiring their education degrees? This is the question that I have heard many times during my education career. Even when I was working as a teacher in schools about twenty years ago, I felt that I knew everything that is needed to teach children in the classroom. I knew my English grammar rules, I knew my geography basics and I had also studied a few education and teaching-learning theories. When I studied for my education degree, then also I had taken a few practical teaching classes and learnt to develop audio visual aids to enhance the learning experience of young learners. I had also learnt classroom management and pedagogy theories during my degree course. Basically, when I studied for my education degree twenty-five years ago, I gained sufficient knowledge about teaching, learning and child psychology. Education degrees are generally given keeping the above-mentioned syllabus in mind throughout the world even today.Thus, the question: Why do educators need continuous professional development? My experience in the education field has prompted me today to bat for the cause of professional development of teachers. College and university degrees cannot provide the extensive range of learning experiences necessary for graduates to become effective public-school teachers. Once teachers graduate, meet their certification requirements and are employed, they learn through experience. As in all professions, new teachers and principals take years to gain the skills they need to be effective in their roles. Even experienced teachers confront great challenges each year, including changes in subject content, new instructional methods, advances in technology, changed laws and procedures, and student learning needs. Teachers who do not experience effective professional development do not improve their skills, and student learning suffers. According to me, a teacher can never know enough about how a student learns, what impedes the student’s learning, and how the teacher’s instruction can increase the student’s learning. Professional development is the only means for teachers to gain such knowledge. Whether students are high, low or average achievers, they will learn more if their teachers regularly engage in high-quality professional development. School leaders too improve with study, reflection, practice, and hard work.Their learning supports not only teachers’ learning, but of students as well. When leaders know how to engage teachers, support staff, and students in effective learning, the school becomes the centre of learning for all adults and students. These days people argue why online courses can’t be useful in teachers’ professional development? Why do teachers have to take out time from their busy schedule to attend professional development programmes? I say that online courses are good for learning content and they have absorbing video demonstrations of effective teaching or leadership. Some online professional development also provides interactive, real-time discussion among participants and an expert. However, there are limitations to online professional development: It may not relate to the specific learning challenges of a teacher’s students. The immersive and experiential learning is missing in these courses. During an online course a teacher learns in isolation rather than as a member of a team where participants learn from colleagues’ expertise, experience, and insights. Teachers’ collective growth has a greater impact on student learning across the school than individual learning does, and no one will know during an online professional development course whether or how well a teacher applies his or her learning to benefit students. The high performing countries keep professional development and training as the topmost priority, and they conduct in-house training every month in addition to regular classroom observations and feedback from peers and seniors. Unfortunately, professional development and research and development cells are missing from even the many well- established schools in India. Even if there are such workshops, they are numbered to say ten or more sessions per year, leaving teachers unequipped to manage the rapidly changing milieu of education. I must admit that, at the end of the day, a teacher is just a human being who herself has studied in the same dysfunctional system which means most of her teaching practices stems from the belief and experiences acquired during her school days. To change or even transform her belief system requires redesigning of professional development modules to a cutting edge quality. Teachers lack the skills to manage diversity in class when RTE is bringing students from different strata of society to the schools. Sessions like joyful learning and student-centric learning sounds hollow to teachers who have to deal with social diversity, different levels of students and, most importantly, children who belong to the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which means children who have low self- esteem as they are hungry for love and a sense of belonging. In general, there is no specific training for inclusive classrooms as most training programmes focus on generic skills. Hence, there is a complete mismatch between the problems faced by teachers inside the classroom and training programmes designed by administrators who have very little idea of the challenges of inclusive classes. I have advocated and spoken very highly of the need for professional development for teachers and why shouldn’t I? When doctors, engineers, lawyers, business managers, et al, are involved in continual upgradation of their skills through professional development, why not teachers? After all, they are dealing with the young minds of our children, something which is so fragile and dynamic! So, I have to say that the best teachers keep learning! (Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)