My education hero is Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed literally changed my life and turned my ideas and aspirations as a teacher on their head. When you engage with Freire you see the world differently. One thing he speaks of is praxis as the interplay between theory and practice. This is important because what we do as teachers is practice, not just ideas. Our practice must be guided by meaningful theory.
When we approach professional development (PD) in education, I believe we need to do it through the praxis lens. In other words, how do we engage deeply in theory but leave with practice that we can employ with our students or staff? Training that consists of ideas alone but lacks practice, falls short and leaves us wanting more.
I have been teaching for over 20 years and I have sat in on many PD’s. I consciously enter every session with an open mind and eye for takeaways, or that practice, that will make me more effective. Some experiences encouraged me to grow in new ways as an educator. Others found me counting down the minutes. Regardless of the experience, I always try to find that practice I can take with me.
Over the years I have developed one major frustration with educational PD. Even if I find a take away from the session, it often requires so much work to make it a part of my practice that eventually the ideas (along with the handouts with my notes) end up on the bookshelf to collect dust. The reason for this is not the quality of the PD or the value of the theory and practice — it’s time! As educators, it seems, we never have enough time.
Throughout my first five years of teaching I designed Organized Binder. Then, suddenly, I was the person up front leading professional developments for large groups of teachers I did not know. I often joke with attendees that in all my years visiting schools I’ve never met a teacher looking for “something else” to do around campus. We simply never seem to have enough time.
Why would we ever pay for PD that forces teachers to spend a significant amount of time and energy afterward to make the theory a meaningful part of our practice?
When it is my turn to lead a session I work hard to make the PD engaging and relevant to my audience. But what has equal importance for me is how I empower teachers to take what they learned (theory) and employ it (practice) the very next day with their students, with as little extra work as possible. I am proud of the PD I’ve designed. After one hour with educators they leave with strategies they can employ the next day that will make them more effective practitioners and their students more successful.
If we approach our professional development through the praxis lens then the theory we engage in will more likely have a significant influence on our practice with students.