In every organization (governments, police departments, businesses, hospitals, courts, etc.), there exists the importance of determining the type of training its employees need because employees must be effective in their field. Therefore special training, determined by that organization, is conducted according to available resources and the experts in that organization to aid in the accomplishment of organizational objectives. This is known as staff development. Yet, when the conversation of staff development for teachers is presented, there seems to be an assumption that teachers do not need to teach teachers; so much so that the North Carolina General Assembly is proposing cutting a number of staff development for teachers.
The belief is that staff development for teachers does not have an impact on student learning. What must be entered into this debate are facts that illustrate the importance of staff development for teachers. First and foremost is that which teachers are expected to know and do has increased in subject-matter knowledge, pedagogical skills, understanding cultural and psychological factors that affect student learning. So in order to meet these demands, teachers must engage in specific training and will need time to share lessons and ideas with other teachers via workshops and seminars.
This rings true when we observe one of the best educational systems in this world: Finland. In Finland’s Ministry of Education: A National Strategy and Guidelines 2006-2014 for Education for Sustainable Development, the following paragraph explains one of the many goals of that nation’s educational system.
“A person with a university degree will have the basic know-how and skills needed in the professional world and to work as an expert ... They can also keep themselves up-to-date with the innovations and research conducted in their own field – and this according to the principle of sustainable development.”
North Carolina is in a better position than most states to accomplish this same goal in that we have two organizations: North Carolina Teacher Academy and North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching that provides the opportunity for teachers to teach teachers. Of course a number of writers claim that staff development does not have an impact on student learning. Most of these writers base their conclusions on two factors: standardized test scores and assumptions about what students are learning in the classroom. These same writers would agree that standardized testing (especially norm-referenced) does not gage learning effectively and that it is illogical to conclude that students are not learning unless you are actually in the classroom witnessing what takes place.
Another argument is that staff development costs too much. It is difficult to substantiate this argument because little information exists nationwide on how many states and schools districts spend on staff development. We can confirm, in a 1996 report titled: What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future, that one to three percent of most school district’s resources are allocated for staff development and that by the standards of other professions and of teacher development in other countries, the United States school districts invest relatively little in professional development.
Another argument is that the money allocated by the state is not being used wisely. This assertion comes from a number of individuals who believe that teachers should not be afforded certain amenities such as meals, stipends, accommodations, etc. while participating in staff development. What is not being considered is that such amenities play a small part in the overall value of staff development for teachers.
I am thankful for having the opportunity to participate in seven workshops offered by North Carolina Teacher Academy and four seminars offered by the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. Both organizations focus on offering teachers “time” for working with other colleagues on changes that are taking place in our state, working on the development of curriculum or assessments measures, and activities that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction requires for each teacher: Provide career teachers with opportunities to study advanced topics in the sciences, arts, and humanities and to engage in informed discourse, assisted by able mentors and outstanding leaders from all walks of life: and offer opportunities for teachers to engage in scholarly pursuits through a center dedicated exclusively to the advancement of teaching as an art and as a profession.