In the many years I have been in education, I have experienced all kinds of professional development – often being done to me rather than for or with me, sometimes at the level of the elementary students I taught. Many of the most meaningful experiences were the opportunities I had to engage in deep conversations about content and teaching practice with other professionals, both within and outside of art education.
Two other factors have also guided the way I have thought about and have approached professional development. When I started in the district visual arts coordinator position 13 years ago, art education had moved toward a more content and personal meaning-making focus. As our art department began to make this curriculum shift, we needed to become a community of learners engaged in ongoing conversations about effective teaching practices and student learning. Following are some of the strategies we have used to accomplish this.
• Treat the curriculum as a living document and review and revise frequently based on teacher feedback and new needs or understandings.
• Provide opportunities for teachers to work vertically across grade levels as well as with their grade-level or course peers.
• Build a safe learning community where teachers are not afraid to ask questions or seek help.
• Ensure frequent structured opportunities for teachers to collaborate and share expertise.
• Look at student work to assess professional learning needs.
• Ask teachers what their professional learning needs are.
• Set up conversations about effective practice by asking questions, focusing on a goal or collaborating on an instructional resource.
• In addition to regularly scheduled professional learning times, offer other opportunities for teachers to self-select.
• Focus on student work.
• Tap teacher expertise.
• Balance the discussions about curriculum and teaching practice with studio sessions and discussions by outside artists.
• Provide professional learning opportunities which are at the level of the adult learner and then make sure there are collaborative opportunities to identify classroom practice.
• Design professional development activities which assist teachers in translating district level initiatives into effective art instructional practices.
• Provide special support for struggling teachers, beginning teachers and those new to the district.
• Offer peer mentoring and observation opportunities.
As we have worked together over the years, the routine of looking at student work and teaching practice for areas that we need to explore further and then addressing them has become a part of our department’s culture.
Senior Coordinator for Art, Norfolk Public Schools, VA