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THINKING ABOUT STAFF DEVELOPMENT

9/12/99

 

    The recently concluded negotiations between the the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers and our Board of Education focused heavily on the employer's demand that teachers participate in staff development activities beyond their normal school day.  In making this demand, they were following many districts throughout the nation in attempting to improve the quality. Like their counterparts in the more enlightened sectors of the business world, education leaders increasingly talk about investing in the improvement of their staffs with on the job training.  I suppose that is a laudable goal.  But what will that training entail? 

    Beyond question, our district did not have a plan.  In our discussions, they were never able to provide any answer to what they envisioned for staff development beyond various groups of teachers coming together and presenters from outside the district providing programs.  A scramble will now begin to determine what to do with the eighteen hours per year that teachers are now obligated  to provide for staff development activities.  If we look to what is happening elsewhere, we can probably glimpse what we may expect. 

    Unless we begin to think seriously about how we might contribute to the intellectual growth growth of our teaching staff, we will like too many other school districts waste huge sums of money on the educationist idea or program du jour.  The education world is literally crawling with entrepreneurial types selling the latest snake oil remedies for the ills of our schools to superintendents and boards of education who are pressured by and anxiety laden public demanding immediate action for some statistically insignificant drop in some test score.  

    What if we thought about staff development differently.  What if we resisted the temptation to buy the latest program to boost social studies scores or the latest reading scam to defy common sense and instead thought about staff development from the perspective  providing time, place and resources for cultivating the continuing intellectual growth of the staff throughout their careers.  While that would rule out most contemporary education programs, such an approach to staff development  would include, for the first time in my experience, programs in music and fine art, speakers with something important to say about world affairs, stimulating books or the latest scientific advances.  What if we began to believe that teachers who are always learning more about their world are more interesting and better teachers who are less prone to "burn out" from the mindless tedium of the way schools operate today.  Maybe we will, but I don't blame anyone with doubts.    

   

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