Professional Development: How Sweet It Is

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

I am a professional development junkie. I love it. It's like a pan of homemade Rice Krispie treats for me…I don't get to have it often enough and oh! That deliciously rice flavor. When it's done well, I can't wait for more because of its sweetness and a wonderful, lingering aftertaste, the effect of which will winnow its way into my classroom for use with my precious babies.

But when it's bad, it's soooo bad and can taste most foul.

In many instances, districts, school management companies, and private school leadership opt to hire a presenter whose message meets a very specific and targeted need. If teachers choose to be honest with themselves, they will realize that the officials responsible for retaining presenters do so based on a response to data, identified needs of the personnel, and/or to teach the teachers how to use a new curricular component.

These pre-planned development sessions are often of great benefit to the teaching team, but what about what if teachers were offered the opportunity to create their own plan for professional development?

That seems like a progressive idea…

In my home state of Arkansas, teachers are obligated to have 45 hours of professional development. My district requires an additional 15. Of those hours, 24 must be obtained during the summer months. For the benefit of students and teachers, our district hosts 18 hours immediately following summer dismissal. It is up to me now to find more great professional development.

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…And so, my search begins. My first stop is to the This site features a wide variety of courses covering many aspects of the teacher's practice from classroom management to teaching reading strategies. Courses are around $130 (and up). Check them out for yourself:

Another search takes me to the Arkansas Department of Education website where I find 45 hours of free p.d. with topics ranging from Special Education I.E.P. information to Language Arts to history to parent involvement. Have a look see: Once each course is completed, you will receive a handy dandy certificate of completion, with the amount of time noted on it, for you to print off for your records.

If you're looking for ways to beef up the integration of technology into your lessons, Intel has a series of free sessions just for you!

The Center for Learning offers not only interesting professional development classes and a certificate of completion, but they take it one step further by providing you a document to reflect on your learning and an anecdotal noting of how well you're applying what you've learned:

So, what did I learn at p.d. this week? I was reminded of the science behind Reading instruction, such as phonological awareness being the knowledge of word structure, whereas phonemic awareness is the knowledge of the smallest pieces of the word-the syllables/sounds. I was reminded of the need to keep our babies reading material at their level but reminded of the benefit of pushing them to read a level above, too. Leaving with a wealth of riches for use in my special education classroom next school year reminds of just how tantalizingly sweet professional development can be.

Mary McLaughlin