Recently I was asked if I had ever come across teachers who did not want to engage in professional development. My answer was a resounding "YES!" The truth is, when I was teaching full time, I was that teacher. I dreaded mandatory professional development. I usually considered PD to be a complete waste of time… time that could be used to grade papers, plan for lessons, or research methods to engage my students. In addition, professional development was typically delivered during faculty meetings and I absolutely hated faculty meetings! I loathed the fact that I had to listen to an administrator drone on about a new initiative or mandatory directive. I was even somewhat defiant when it came to PD that I found to be worthless.
The problem wasn’t the fact that the professional development was worthless. The PD may have been great… but I wasn’t interested. Let me pause to say that I was an amazingly hard-working teacher. I went above and beyond the call of duty, and I did my own personal “professional development.” I researched ways to better engage and instruct my students. I read blogs and followed scholastic’s top teachers. I owned dozens of professional books that I used to learn about reading and writing workshops, classroom management, math methods and more. I spent hours online searching for resources and studying how to better incorporate technology in the classroom. Why did I work on my own but disregard required professional development? The answer is multifaceted, and I believe it reflects similar problems we face in today’s classrooms…. drive.
If you haven’t read Drive by Daniel Pink, I highly recommend that you do. While it is geared toward business, I find it to be highly relevant to education. In his book, Pink argues that we are all innately driven to direct our own lives (autonomy), to improve and get better at things that matter (mastery), and to do something positive or serve something larger than ourselves (purpose). I think these three elements are vital when motivating teachers and has a lot to do with lack of engagement in professional development.
Why wasn’t I interested in the professional development that was required of me? Simple, I wasn’t given any choice… who, what, when, where, and why were all decided for me. There was no consideration of my learning style/preference nor opportunity for self-direction. I was expected to work in the same fashion, on the same topic and at the same pace as everyone else. I believe that by providing more autonomy, we might find teachers to be more driven. Pink points out that autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude. Researchers have even found a link between autonomy and overall well-being.
Teachers might be more driven to participate in professional development if they are given more flexibility. Allow teachers to decide what, when, where, with whom, how and to complete tasks. What topics do they want to learn more about? Do they study online, in person, reading books, attending lectures, etc.? I know, this might seem like a crazy idea. Most educators I know tend to be control freaks. (I surely am.) Pink states, “it requires resisting the temptation to control people — and instead doing everything we can to reawaken their deep-seated sense of autonomy.”
It is important to note that encouraging autonomy doesn’t mean discouraging accountability. There will be times in which flexibility is not an option. Specific professional development will be mandatory, but the hope is that by providing teachers with more autonomy they will want to be accountable. Leaders might also allow teachers creative free time in which they are able to practice and apply their own interests to the required professional development topics.
Mastery is defined as the desire to get better and better at something that matters. This element seems incredibly critical when discussing professional development. After all, isn’t the purpose of professional development to develop mastery? Pink explains that mastery can only be achieved through engagement. He also points out “in our offices and classrooms we have way to much compliance and way too little engagement.” It’s true. When I was teaching didn’t see value in the required professional development. It didn’t matter to me… therefore I wasn’t engaged.
Pink explains that mastery begins when the challenges we face are matched with our abilities and we become lost in what we are doing. Personally, I only become lost in what I am doing when truly enjoying it, and I did not truly enjoy obligatory professional development. What if leaders step back and stop trying to spoon-feed teachers, opening up opportunities for teachers to develop their own ideas, opinions, and techniques? What if we not only ask what is that teachers need to master, but what do they want to master and what will it take to get there? To foster an environment where mastery is possible, clearly defined goals and immediate feedback are key factors that must be established.
According to Pink, there are three rules in which mastery abides by:
Most educators enter their profession to make a difference in the lives of their others. Teachers are like personal trainers. We coach and encourage students to be the best they can be, helping them through tough work while making them do the heavy lifting to achieve results. So a teacher’s purpose depends not only on his or her own success but the success of the student. Unfortunately it is easy for teachers to become consumed by activities and lose sight of the greater purpose. In addition to preparing students for a test, grading endless piles of papers, and fulfilling mandates that include meetings, paperwork, and after-school events, professional development becomes one more activity in a teacher’s already full schedule. It is important that leaders encourage teachers and provide ample positive feedback so that they continue to feel successful.
It is also important to cultivate an environment where teachers feel valued and a sense of belonging... I mean, who doesn’t want to be valued? Teachers must understand the purpose and see the value of required professional development. Teachers must have a set of objectives and take responsibility for their own learning. Leaders should ask teachers to play an active role in the professional development and to contribute in some way. This will give teachers a sense of worth, significance and satisfaction.
Teachers have the drive to learn, to create, and to better the world. This drive must not be stifled. To maximize teacher enjoyment and productivity, we need to transform our thinking to include autonomy, mastery and purpose. In my next blog entry (and upcoming webinar) I will address ways in which technology and professional learning communities can enhance teacher engagement in professional development based on Pink’s theories.