The Essence of Worthwhile PD

By Alex Davidson
October 25, 2013
Untitled Document

How does one determine a worthwhile professional experience? Is it the new information or skills learned? Insights and ‘aha!” moments that transform teaching approaches? Networking and connections made? Perhaps a worthwhile professional experience is best determined by expanded understanding of the learner?

However the worth is determined, teachers know when they have experienced solid professional development and they celebrate it. Consider a few of the celebratory comments made by Canadian teachers following a demanding professional experience that ended (or perhaps just got started) at the end of the summer 2013:

  • I feel truly enriched and lucky to have had this experience!
  • I feel truly connected to humanity, I have a better understanding of our small and beautiful planet and I am becoming more and more passionate about our teaching profession.
  • This is a wonder program and I appreciate all I experienced.
  • The program is very well organized and well run by committed people, who have a common belief in the power of education.

Then consider this sample of comments made by teachers in 12 different countries who experienced the same program:

  • I loved the workshops and can’t wait to try some of the methods when I go back to school!
  • The practices advocated have significantly challenged my own teaching methods in positive ways.
  • Exceptional, powerful, effective and impressive!
  • The strategies I have learned will definitely make my teaching and learning more effective for my students.

The professional development they are all referring to is “Project Overseas”, a key part of CTF’s International Development Cooperation program. The first set of comments come from Canadian teachers who, with the support of their provincial/territorial teacher organization, volunteered to give their time and expertise to collaboratively plan and deliver teacher in-service alongside colleagues in 12 countries throughout Africa and the Caribbean during July and August. The second set of comments comes from teachers in those countries who attended in-service workshops supported by Project Overseas (commonly known as “PO”).

PO has evolved during its 51-year history and is now embedded into the professional services of each of the national teacher organizations that participate. This means that, while there are commonalities in quality and process, PO is unique in each setting as it works to attain goals that meet specific needs identified by the national teacher organization.

For example, the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) is addressing specific needs in the Bulera Region, which lags behind the rest of the country in literacy acquisition. The project there works with tutors from the local teachers’ college in the provision of an in-service for teachers from rural schools. As well as helping teachers acquire methods and develop resources, it also helps school heads and teachers develop whole-school and individual action plans to bring about change. During the year, the college tutors provide support and mentoring to teachers and schools as they implement their plans.

A similar program is underway in Ghana as well as a second program that assists in the implementation of the Ghana National Association of Teachers’ new Youth Policy which addresses the needs of teachers new to the profession. In Sierra Leone, PO is a Peace Education program which helps to transform schools and improve teaching methods, resulting in less violence and much greater community support for schools.

In the Caribbean, a number of national teacher organizations are putting PO to work as a means of teacher in-service for differentiated instruction and “Special Education”. These are multi-year projects that assist schools in becoming more inclusive of all students.

In all cases, PO brings Canadian and overseas partners together, working toward sustainable educational change. It provides services that would not otherwise be available to teachers and enhances the status of teachers and teaching profession. It often works with civil society partners and government in order to establish a strong foundation for sustainability. Most of all, PO results in students learning more.

But what is that determiner that makes this professional experience so worthwhile? At CTF, we believe that teacher-led professional development is essential to real and positive change in the classroom. Project Overseas’ basic format of “teachers teaching teachers” results in professional development experiences where those providing the in-service intuitively know the needs, joys, challenges and victories of participants – because they are all teachers. The two-way format benefits all: Canadian and overseas participants alike, as the line between learner and teacher blurs and cultural differences are transcended through shared professional understanding.

Alex Davidson is a Program Officer in the CTF International and Social Justice Program.

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