Is it Training or Professional Development? What you call it matters

As a teacher, and specifically as a teacher of language arts, and additionally as a teacher of language learners, and even more particularly as a teacher of teachers who are teaching language learners…I can get a little in the weeds about word choice.

It’s time and energy consuming, but I don’t apologize for it. To my mind it’s completely worth it, critical even, to be thoughtful and reflective about the words we use and to choose them carefully. Without going too broad about the importance of thoughtful language and healthy communication to the well-being and survival of humankind, I’ll just say: our word choice can reveal a lot about our mindset, our values, our assumptions, our culture, and these revelations can have a strong influence on our internal understandings of ourselves and the perceptions others have of us.

So I’ve been thinking about this word: Training.

I hear this word a lot in my world of teaching teachers. It’s not a bad word, but it does sometimes make me cringe.

I think training is a fine and appropriate word in the context of, say, dealing with cow licks, or house-breaking a puppy, or learning how to use a fire extinguisher. In these instances, training is what we need: Let’s apply force (anyone remember Dippity-Do?) to achieve a smooth hairstyle. Let’s employ strict boundaries, repetition, and external rewards so our new pet doesn’t leave puddles or piles on the floor. Let’s memorize and follow the correct protocol to use a safety tool so we are ready in a moment of emergency.

But let’s not let these approaches define the pedagogy we use to support pre-service and in-service teachers in continued learning. Sure, there may be some tools or protocols for teachers for which training is appropriate, but by and large, training is NOT what we teachers need. We need great professional development.

Great professional development should model and mirror great classroom practices. It should be flexible and responsive to the learning community, not take a one-size-fits-all approach. It should embrace multiple points of view as assets, not promote one perspective as the single correct perspective. It should help teachers build stronger foundations and deeper rationale for their instructional decisions, not tell them what decisions to make. It should trust, support and cultivate teachers’ strengths, passions and skills in crafting curricula, not provide scripts to follow. It should provide tools (templates and checklists and such) to support and scaffold* teachers’ practice, not to regulate it. It should offer inspiration, a platform for innovation, a space for reflection, a place for deep and ongoing learning.

We say we want our kids** to be reflective, creative, collaborative, critical thinkers, to take initiative and to exercise their agency. And if we truly want these things for our students we have to want these things for their teachers too. And if we really want these things for our teachers, we need to give them the right support.

If we use the word training as synonymous to professional development, we risk accepting the Pavlovian, behaviorist, automaton-ish*** connotations that come with that word. We may start to believe that PD should feel like training and we may then fail to demand great PD for ourselves. When we use training to refer to all PD opportunities, I think we need to ask: What does this reveal about the messages we may have internalized about our own growth as professional educators? And what impact are those messages converted to beliefs having on our pedagogical practices?

My fear is that if we name our adult learning with this term, training, we may perceive and believe that it should be an act of training. And if we accept this paradigm for our own learning, we will accept it in our work with our students. The danger of course is that then we will be training our kids, instead of teaching them.

Here are some LOVELY TANGENTS (& maybe future blog posts?)

*Scaffolds. Scaffolds are learning supports that are put in place while they are needed and removed when they are no longer relevant. Everyone needs scaffolds at some times for some things. Kids need scaffolds. Adults need scaffolds…

**Our kids. We need to mean ALL OUR KIDS. Not just some kids. And by extension we need to mean it for ALL the teachers, not just some teachers. We need to be bravely and brutally honest about our school system and the inequities is perpetuates–for example, the way it promotes creativity and agency for some, but not all–and then we need to disrupt and dismantle…

***Automaton-ish. Sometimes I make up words. Creative license. Language is fluid and evolving…

PD & Training

1 Comment

  1. So true – the difference is clear and the language matters. “Discourse can change the course.” Love your stuff, maestrao! ☀️☀️Bright sunshine in my day☀️☀️


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