by Sheryl Chard
This post was originally published on the Bosque School Blog on November 1, 2018.
When talking about the importance of meaningful professional development for educators, I’ve sometimes drawn the parallel that no one would want to go to a doctor who hadn’t learned anything new in the last twenty years. Imagine no MRI to discern the cause of that knee pain that keeps you off the mountain—or your beloved’s heart attack being treated with the suggestion to lie in a dark, quiet room. Worse: imagine the doctors knowing there are protocols out there for treating your particular health issue but telling you they haven’t been given the time or support to learn how to use them.
Immediately, I acknowledge the imperfections of this parallel. Let’s start with the fact that as educators we’re not trying to fix something broken; instead, we’re trying to ignite the extraordinary capacities of young people in all their vibrancy. But while the changes in the education field are not as complex as a new treatment for cancer, they are profound. When I started teaching twenty-five years ago in a small, independent school on the outskirts of D.C., the technology in my classroom was an overhead projector; primary resources were gathered on Saturday mornings spent at the MLK Library in downtown Washington; and the internet could not be accessed on our campus, let alone on a small device in the pocket or backpack of nearly every student. So while similarities to the medical profession may be limited, the truth is that to teach or lead without adding to the skill set we had ten or twenty years ago is—at best—a missed opportunity and—at worst—a failure of our mandate.
Nearly every educator I’ve ever known has been passionate about ongoing learning and growth. Unfortunately, though, not all educators are given the time and opportunity for any kind of meaningful professional development, and this lack of support shows up in the data as one of the primary reasons educators leave the profession. Of the many things that I love about Bosque School, an important one is our school’s commitment to supporting its teachers and leaders to grow, learn, stay current with best practices, try new things, and refine our pedagogies—all with the goal of offering our students a learning experience that allows them to grow into their capacity as thinkers, artists, and citizens.
Professional development at Bosque goes far beyond the outdated one-shot conference model in which educators headed off to conferences, got wonderfully inspired, then tucked away their conference notes with little actual change in their teaching practice, or even sharing knowledge with their colleagues. When Bosque faculty members do attend conferences, we create opportunities for them to share their learning upon return. Just this summer, four Bosque educators participated in the Project-Based Learning World Conference in California, three attended the International Society for Technology in Education Conference in Chicago, one participated in the Cambridge Latin Workshop in Virginia, one the NAIS Leadership Institute in Virginia, and one the Library of Congress Summer Teaching Institute in D.C. Two others shared their expertise through national conference and retreat leadership. As we make our way through the school year, these educators are sharing their conference learning and leadership with colleagues and students, inspiring and informing shifts in how we teach, learn, and lead.
What differentiates Bosque, though, goes beyond meaningful integration of the learning that happens at conferences; what sets it apart is the school’s support for embedded professional learning throughout the year. One example of this is our Professional Learning Groups. These faculty-led groups meet twice a month on Wednesday afternoons to expand our capacity to manifest the school’s academic mission—a clear statement of our philosophy and pedagogy written and adopted over a year ago. This month, we are looking together at student work using specific protocols to help us understand how well a project or assignment supports the learning goals and skills we’ve outlined for our students. And in addition to our weeklong faculty and staff orientation in August, we have three all-school professional development days during the year; the first slated for Friday, November 9, will consist of a Design : Build : Share project that sets the stage and offers the tools for every teacher to refine something from their practice to align more fully with the academic mission. In the afternoon, the entire faculty and staff will convene for a presentation with special guest Dr. Finnie Coleman, who will guide us in our continued growth in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusivity. When designing these professional development days, our goal is to create the energy and impact of a small conference right here on our campus, offering the opportunity to stay current with best practices, deepen pedagogical expertise, and learn from one another.
Like those in the health care profession, we are in the business of caring for the well-being of fellow humans. In our case, we’ve signed on to tend the minds and hearts of our students, and this happens best when we see young people in their “wholeness”—listening carefully to where they are and drawing from an ever-expanding toolkit to guide them in their growth. Just as we seek a combination of experience, current expertise, wisdom, and real care from those we hope will heal us when we’re sick, we hope for the same kinds of expertise and wisdom from those who educate our children. That Bosque understands this and supports its teachers in this way is testament to the institution. That Bosque faculty and staff lean in to new learning is testament to my colleagues here at the school. They hold deep expertise in their subject areas and in the art of teaching, and they show up with content knowledge, pedagogical savvy, and a lot of love and care. They also do right by young people by continuing to refine their practice, add to their expertise, and grow their capacities as educators who can reach and inspire every young person who comes to our school. It’s a large and beautiful mandate. I’m grateful to work alongside educators who work hard to fulfill it every day.