Professional Development

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The need for professional development is growing. This is especially due to pressures on educators to change. However, still weighing heavily on educators is the continuation of the present reward structure (i.e. salary promotion and tenure), which favors research activities over educational practice and over developing and implementing innovative instructional methods and techniques. This hinders educational reform.

Public dissatisfaction with academics is causing educators to re-examine their curriculum to put more emphasis on effective teaching. Also, greater interest by business and industry, along with forced assessment and accreditation procedures, and promises for more federal and state funding, are driving forces in helping educators become better prepared for change. For example:

· President Bush’s budget provides funding for some specific programs aimed at improving information technology in education. The budget provides $200 million to develop the President’s Math and Science Partnership initiative. This is intended to encourage math and science education by creating working partnerships between K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning.

· Teachers and students work with professionals in order to benefit from real world experience. Bayer Corporation, which has a major business in health care and life science, chemicals and imaging technologies, has won numerous awards for its countrywide initiative, where more than 1,000 volunteer employees are located in 24 locations to increase science literacy.

· To increase teachers’ technical literacy, volunteers from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), Florida West Coast Section, worked with 40 science and math teachers in two Florida counties. They reviewed techniques and incorporated engineering principles to applying, designing and constructing a product. The IEEE Educational Board’s Web site (www.ieee.org/organizations/eab/proceedings) has many useful tips on working with schools.

· Schools with business relationships have increased access to new technology, provided greater opportunities for professional development and reduced dropout rates.

· The Smart Tools Academy, a group of Seattle-area industry and civic leaders, founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, offers an intensive, four-day residential technology program with hands-on training and a laptop computer to take home to their school or district.

· Sherman Oaks Community Charter School in San Jose, CA is very concerned with professional development. Teachers are equal partners in running the school and are given 90 minutes per day for planning, collaboration and study.

· The Journal of Engineering Education, January 2001 lists recommendations for involving faculty. These recommendations are applicable to any subject area.

Recommendations for Involving Faculty
Changes Training Reward
Design · Paid industry internships
· Workshops in group skills and collaborative learning
· Change promotion and tenure structure to reward teaching design · Fund course development
Effective Teaching · Attend education conferences
· Mentoring
· Incorporate comprehensive assessment of teaching and student learning
· Change promotion and tenure
Computer Technology · Workshops
· Collaborate with computer support services
· Provide access to up-to-date computers and software programs
Broad-Based Curricula · Conferences and workshops
· Paid industry internships
· Industry partners as “guest instructors”
· Change promotion and tenure structure to reward design and implementation of interdisciplinary curricula
Accreditation · Assessment training workshops · Acknowledge faculty who incorporate accreditation criteria in courses

Regardless of the method used, moral and financial support is imperative for ongoing professional development. This includes public recognition, acknowledgement in front of a group of co-workers, words of praise and, of course, time and resources to learn new technologies, to develop or fund courseware, and to collaborate with other staff members.

In a recent monograph “How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back into Discussions of Teacher Quality,” published by Educational Testing Service, the author, Harold Wenglinsky, states that effective professional development d'es make a difference in student achievement. The more extended the professional development, the more it encourages effective classroom practices. According to the study, the most common areas for professional development are curriculum and performance standards (81% of teachers), educational technology (78%), new teaching methods (77%) and in-depth learning on the subject area (73%). The study also finds that teachers who receive assistance with developing higher order thinking skills put teaching methods into practice, resulting in more effective training and learning.

Faculty should be encouraged to adopt changes in educational practices. The most effective approach seems to be changing the reward structure and providing opportunities to learn about significant, successful practices through workshops, conferences or industry internships. Confronted with pressure for change and a renewed interest in assessment and evaluation, administration and faculty need to recognize that the increased emphasis on effective teaching and professional development shall continue.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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