Teachers love learning. Teachers love to find new and different ways to help their students.

How sad it is to have to sit through a class only to find it’s irrelevant to what you teach or who you teach. Teachers find it to be a waste of their time and precious educational funding. I have experienced it both as a teacher and a school board member. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Professional development is an investment in the staff and the students. It must be meaningful and tailored to the needs of the individual educator. Providing a menu of options allows teachers to find classes, conferences or workshops that truly help them to improve their skills, increase their knowledge and find solutions to issues they’re dealing with in the classroom.

While professional development can be expensive, there are ways to reduce cost and still provide meaningful opportunities. Sending an individual to a workshop and having that person return and teach others is one way of reducing costs, as long as the individual is able to convey the information accurately.

Online opportunities may be less costly but are often less engaging. Teachers dutifully sit for hours counting the minutes until they’re done. Their minds wander to other pressing tasks and they feel disrespected. Allowing teachers some leeway and choice in the required activity gives them buy-in and provides some training they truly need. Colleges and universities offer weekend workshops or classes for teachers at a reduced rate. We’re fortunate to have numerous universities within driving distance.

Often a school system finds a new way of presenting material, a new way to reach children—a new way of doing something. The administration spends a lot of money training administrators, then training teachers, and expecting everyone to be on board, when they have not consulted the staff to see if the program actually addresses a real need.

Often times, the administration jumps on board just as other schools are finding that the program really doesn’t work or only works for a handful of students. The system has invested money in the new program and doesn’t want to lose face so they continue the program. The staff knows it isn’t effective and becomes frustrated and disillusioned. The staff realizes that the administration is truly disconnected from what’s actually happening in the classroom. Teachers start a job search. They move on—or stay and become more frustrated. While it’s difficult to admit that something doesn’t work, it is unconscionable to continue to use a program that increases teacher work load and shows little benefit for students.

Administrators need professional development, too. Often it involves learning about new educational policies or laws. Administrators regularly sit in meetings rather than receiving valuable hands-on experience. Yes, they have to deal with serious discipline issues and disgruntled parents, but way too often they lose touch with the reality of the classroom.

I believe professional development for administrators from the superintendent to assistant principals should involve getting back in the classroom. One day isn’t enough. They need to face the issues and challenges that teachers deal with every day in order to truly understand what policies and procedures need to be in place. Administrators should have to follow the schedule, do the duties, grade student work and deal with mercurial student dynamics as a regular classroom teacher.

When administrators are in touch with the needs of their teachers, they’re able to build a team. They can support and guide their staff through the daily challenges of teaching.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County

School Board member.

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