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The Power of Job-Embedded Professional Development

Updated: Jun 5

My colleagues collaborate and find ideas for lessons on a daily basis. I imagine our office of seventeen teachers is like a newsroom for a cable news network, with people making copies, giving each other documents and notes, and going online to find the latest poem, podcast, or essay. We mostly work independently, but then look to each other when we want something new.

Every day, students come to our classes ready to answer questions and also learn something new. In a typical class, I’ll first present a topic with some questions and then ask more questions after reading some passages out loud. Often, I’ll allow students to collaborate or work independently, and then finally present their findings to the class. Teachers lead the discussion, but the students, not the teacher, ultimately generate meaning from what they read and what they heard.

Why can’t professional development work the same way? Schools should give teachers the opportunity to extend the conversations they have with their colleagues beyond the walls of their school. Fortunately, it is now very easy to have these conversations online. Our colleagues are now no longer just the people we see in person every day. They can be anyone in our field of work.

There are many real-world examples of a collaborative or bottom-up approach to management. The writers of The Office would often share personal experiences that ended up in the script. The aluminum company Alcoa described in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, also used a bottom-up approach. The owner put his phone number on the lockers of all the factory workers so that he could learn how to maximize efficiency.

Creativity sometimes comes from conversations with people outside our field of study, but sometimes from people trying to tackle the same exact issues and problems as us. Imagine the best architects in the world discussing how to build the ideal house, or mayors from biggest American cities discussing how to keep cities safe and clean. Teachers, like many workers, have a valuable and often untapped knowledge of what works best.

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