4 Ways Teachers can Build on Professional Development During the Summer

Enter summer: A time for some teachers to decompress and to work on professional development. Michael Maher, North Carolina State University’s assistant dean for professional education and curriculum development, knows just how important having those extra resources can be.

Michael Maher picture

Michael Maher

Maher went to school in a poor New Jersey school district. The teachers there, he said, didn’t have the resources to offer advance-placement courses. But they found ways to get him and others the educational opportunities they needed.

That helped Maher become the first member of his family to go to college and propelled him into a career as an educator, both as a science teacher and today as a university leader.

Despite the importance of education and its ability to change lives, Maher feels that far too little time and money are spent on personalized professional development for teachers.

“I think what we see a lot now is highly proscribed professional development because budgets are limited,” Maher said. “A school system will implement the same professional development for all its teachers. We expect teachers to differentiate for their students but then we give them a single type of professional development. What works for third-year teachers isn’t going to work for a 26-year veteran. There are just different needs there.”

Maher sees teachers creating their own professional-development paths, tapping into the special offerings at the university including an edcamp and a MOOC (massive open online course) on core math requirements.

Using summer down time for self-directed professional development can help teachers close the gap between what they’d like to know and what their districts offer.

Here are Maher’s top four ways to get more out of the summer:

1. Decompress

“Well, first I think it is important for teachers to take a little time in the summer and decompress from the year,” Maher said. “I painted houses in the summer. I worked at baseball camps. I was still working but not working as a science teacher. It is good to have some time for yourself and step away.”

2. Reflect

Ask yourself, “what do I know that I do well, and where do I need support?” Maher advises. “Every year teachers are involved in professional-development training in schools. Once you’ve identified those areas that you want to improve in, start taking steps to improve.”

3. Build

“I think that one of the things that is really valuable is developing a personal learning network,” Maher said. “This is one of the great uses of Twitter. You are able to connect with people as a resource, as a mentor, as a place to go to learn.”

4. Go Back to School

“Find a MOOC or an edcamp. I think MOOCs can be extremely valuable for teachers. They are self-directed and teachers can do it on their own time. Often what we see is teachers having to pay for professional development out of their own pocket. Finding things that are free can make a big difference,” Maher said.”

Professional development never stops, Maher knows. And it makes good teachers, great ones. That’s better for everyone.

“There’s this idea that anyone who can do something can teach something, but that’s not true. Someone with a degree in accounting can’t suddenly teach math. It is something you have to train for, to prepare for,” Maher said. “And, the better prepared teachers are, the better teachers they are.”

Want to know more? Follower Maher at @MJ_Maher on Twitter. He’s always part of a conversation there.