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Professional Development in International Ed: Does It Enhance Student Learning?

By Proserpina Dhlamini-Fisher
Professional Development in International Ed:  Does It Enhance Student Learning?

I have been working in international education for more than two decades, and I am starting to wonder if our intentions as school leaders are clear when it comes to the rationale behind professional development (PD). I have visited and worked in many international schools over the years, and I ask myself if all share a common understanding of PD aimed at international educators and administrators.
Let me backtrack for a moment. PD opportunities have expanded exponentially in the last few decades. Today, over the course of a typical interview, educators and administrators will likely ask about the school’s policy on PD.
All this is wonderful, of course, the assumption being that the buzz in 21st-century international education has educators and school administrators focused on being “current and relevant” with respect to student needs both in and out of the classroom. But I ask myself: is this true?
We are all well aware of the endless educational jargon, thrown around without a care, to the point that some of us have to ask ourselves if those speaking actually have any true understanding of classroom realities and teacher and student needs.
As part of the schools’ strategic plans, respected educational organizations such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Council of International Schools (CIS) expect to see a provision in the budget for PD, which is appreciated by many. Our more advanced schools even have a designated person or group of people (director of teaching and learning, curriculum directors, coaches, etc.) whose role it is to identify the PD needs within the school environment.
All schools function differently, of course, and some schools link teacher PD with goals and objectives set according to both the school’s strategic plan and mission and, more importantly, the developmental needs of the teachers, preferably as identified by the teachers after self-reflection on their practice. This is becoming more and more of a norm, which is wonderful.
What I find increasingly in schools is a disconnect between all of these factors. Why, you ask? I believe that educator PD is the best thing for all learners, and that it continues to develop international educational institutions. It should force us to reflect on our practice, make necessary relevant and thoughtful changes, and be constantly in tune with our students’ needs. I know there are thousands of international educators who are, like myself, either Generation X or Baby Boomers who went to a different type of teacher college or university from those commonly selected by the Millennials. Our students today are all Generation Z, which means their world is vastly different from the one in which we started teaching. Educational research and developments in the past 10 years alone have also shifted, forcing educators to change their methods and approaches and make learning more meaningful, relevant, and accessible to all learners in our schools.
Have I stated the obvious? Yes, you say. So I end my reflections with a few questions for all of us, before we next identify our future teacher PD needs.
Do we:
• Ask students how they are learning and are taught, how they learn best and what they think might help them enjoy learning more?
• Ask teachers to consider the school’s mission and strategic plan, and what they need to do to meet these expectations? Help teachers self-reflect and identify areas in need of development?
• Celebrate the good, sound practices in our schools before introducing new ones?
• Respectfully engage in relevant and life-changing discussions on teaching and learning?
• Keep our focus on student needs and learning when we make school-wide changes to new pedagogic programs and curricula?
• Last but not least, do our strategic plans Identify the PD needs, put resources in place to help Implement the outcomes, and do we Investigate to determine what the PD experiences actually look like in the classroom?
Why do I ask this question at the end? Simply because I am not yet convinced that the PD offered in international schools truly changes pedagogical practice in the way that it is intended to do, due to lack of follow-up. This oversight usually happens because today’s school administrators are involved in much more than just teaching and learning.
Maybe if we focused more on creating “real learning communities” teachers would feel safer to discuss their successes and areas of development and be more open to having colleagues visit to share ideas and learn from one another.
In the introduction of the book Theory of Knowledge by Pearson Baccalaureate, the authors write this message to students: “We teach. We make a difference. You learn. You can make the difference happen.” Can we all say this is true of our pedagogical practice?

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11/18/2017 - Antoine
Great -and very relevant- article from a wonderful educator!
11/17/2017 - RuthS
You make some very relevant points in this article, Proserpina.
I particularly like your reference to schools where PD is linked to goals and objectives aligned with the school's mission. This approach does take careful planning and oversight, something that many administrators are too busy to accomplish with their overwhelming workloads.
Hopefully, as international schools face more competition, school leaders will make these links more of a priority.



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