Monday, April 11, 2011

Changing HOW or changing WHO? A question for 21st century professional development

selfimage I know how to do a few things.  Among these are paint a room, change a light bulb, unclog a sink, hit a baseball, and sew a button.  That does not make me a painter, plumber, electrician, slugger, or tailor.  I have, along the way, developed a few skills that come in handy once in a while, but on the whole, they do not define me or have a significant part in creating my own self-image.  The essence of my being is not attached to any of them.  They are not the cultivators of my ethos.

I am an educator.  My identity is attached to a different set of skills, beliefs, and characteristics.

So, what does that have to do with educational leadership?  I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the nature of professional development and the need to re-examine “PD” given the needs of the 21st century school and student.  The teachers will need to deliver on those needs and the development of teachers must align itself with these challenges.  One such challenge, I find, is addressing the difference between changing HOW teachers approach their craft and changing WHO teachers are in the 21st century school.  This is a critical question to answer and the manner in which educational leaders choose to view this issue can potentially make an impact on how well our teachers serve our schools and students.

Changing “HOW”

To me, HOW is answered by focusing PD on new methods of instruction that fit the 21st century needs.  How to be more collaborative, how to be more globally aware, how to be more sustainable, how to instruct for diverse learners, how to employ more multi-media into the lesson, how to become producers of knowledge rather than just consumers, etc.

These are skills learned and accessible.  Professional development for the HOW is about introducing, supporting, and refining new methods.  

Changing “WHO”

Changing WHO is a totally different question.  It speaks of self-image.  It implies a change in definition.  Changing WHO addresses the ethos of an educator.  Answering this question can be quite personal and emotional.

There are those who claim that we cannot really change WHO we are.  I do not necessarily agree with that, but I do agree that to do so requires a serious commitment to learning and an open mind to the possibilities.  This is not to say that everything must change or even should change.  There are a number of beliefs, characteristics, qualities, etc, of great teachers that must remain in place in order for any teacher to be effective.  What does change is the way we sometimes view change as an outside-in process based on in-service and conference seminars to an inside-out method of PD that involves self-motivation and self-direction.


Both HOW and WHO use the same letters.  For educational leaders, an approach that aligns both HOW and WHO together to create a dynamic and engaging climate of professional self-actualization is likely to deliver outstanding results.  For some, the HOW will move the WHO.  For others, adjusting WHO is the key to developing the HOW.

Leaders WHO understand and appreciate that teachers are individuals with specific (and sometimes unique) needs are in the best position to know HOW to address those needs.  

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