Stop Forcing Teachers to Develop

Image by JJ Salsa

Can you remember some of the things you were “forced” to do when you were a child? Forced to wear a school uniform. Forced to go to the dentist. Forced to eat vegetables. Being forced to do things sucks. And yet every week we force teachers to attend training in the hope teachers can be forced to develop. They can't.

It doesn't matter if children eat vegetables or go to the dentist willingly or not, the results are the same - clean teeth and a healthy diet. But when it comes to teacher development, choice is vital. As Andy Curtis says, “No one can be made to develop. We develop as professionals if, and only if, we choose to.” So how can academic managers and trainers build in choice into their professional development programs for teachers?

Here are three ways…

1. Choice to participate 

You can lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Similarly, you can lead the teacher to training, but you can't make them develop. Andy Curtis goes as far as saying

 “We [teachers] can fake development, and should do so, if someone tries to force it on us."

If you want to sap the motivation of everyone on your teaching team, forced participation is great.  Otherwise, let your teachers choose if they want to be part of your professional development program or not. Development might be at top of your list of priorities, but that doesn't mean everyone else shares your enthusiasm. Everyone doesn't need to develop all the time.

2. Choice of how to develop 

Training is convenient, visible and easy for senior managers to understand, but it's not necessarily the most effective way of helping teachers get better. Jack Richards and Charles Lockhart say,

“In-service workshops designed to improve teaching skills often have only short-term effects and rarely involve teachers in an ongoing process of examining their teaching.”

 That's not to say in-service workshops are a complete waste of time, but teacher development should neither start nor end here.  “Training” is a hyponym for “professional development”, not a synonym.  Make room on the timetable for teachers to team teach, peer observe, journal and research their own teaching instead of limiting their options to attending training. Help teachers develop the autonomy to understand what options are available to them and which activities will help them develop the most.


3. Choice of what to develop 

Enlightenment and reflection are powerful catalysts for self-change. Being told by your manager that “you need to reduce your teacher talking time” is not.  The focus of teacher development must be a product of the needs of students and the interests of teachers, not the whims of managers. If you're stuck with in-service workshops, let teachers choose the training topics. Foster a culture where teachers can develop their own interests in teaching and are supported in pursuing these.

The burden of preparing future generations to solve global warming, world poverty and inequality rests on the shoulders of teachers. If teachers are responsible enough carry this weight then they're also responsible enough to be decision makers in their own education. 
Please, stop forcing teachers to develop.