Four Stages of Professional Development Everyone Experiences…

professional development tipsWhen I first decided to pursue teaching as my career, I became excited at the prospect of having summers off. I can’t say that it was the primary reason that I went into teaching, but it was an added bonus. Now that I am four years in, I know this belief to be far from true. Between curriculum meetings, planning for the following school year, and trainings, summers often become an extension of the school year itself and not just a relaxing, stress-free vacation, as it is often thought to be. Even though there is less intensity (you can sleep in and you don't always have precisely scheduled hours), summers as a teacher are definitely not like the ones that I had pictured.

This summer I was “voluntold” to attend a three-week writing institute. Before the institute started, I experienced a variety of emotions. I was not looking forward to having to get up and be socially presentable before noon or being away from my husband who coaches during the school year, so I rarely see him before May. But then this dismay transformed into excitement. I teach regular and inclusion English II and, for me, writing is the most difficult subject to teach. So I was excited to learn some new strategies and take them back to my classroom in the fall. As the institute progressed, my excitement turned into being overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed turned back into dread, and then dread became acceptance. Like grief, professional development also has stages of emotion.

Stage One: Excitement
Most teachers are excited at the beginning of professional development. Usually at this point, some administrator or fellow teacher has hyped you up about how groundbreaking and influential this training has been to their success as a teacher. I heard countless positive experiences about the institute that I was beginning. So needless to say, I was genuinely excited.

The first day came quickly, and I walked in feeling pretty good. Our instructors went over the requirements and a basic outline of what we were going to do. I have always enjoyed learning, so I couldn’t wait to get started. The majority of my students dislike writing, and it seemed that the instructors held the magic key that would unlock a hidden love for writing in all of my students. I was all ears and ready to take copious notes, so I didn’t miss any part of their magic solution.

Stage Two: Overwhelmed
After we were about ten foldables in, I started to become overwhelmed. I teach high school and rarely have my students made foldables. Was this what I had been missing all of this time? Did I need to get a second job so I could buy fancy colored paper? Our instructors kept dropping name after name of all of these professional books that I had never heard of before. My Amazon cart was climbing into the hundreds as I added each book that they recommended. ‘I guess I’ll be eating ramen noodles for a while,’ I thought to myself as our instructor continued talking about how another book had changed her perspective on writing.

Not only was I second guessing my lack of foldables and my lackluster professional library, I began to second guess all that I had done in my classroom up until this point. The strategies that they were presenting were backed up by what seemed to be irrefutable research. If this was the right way, then boy had I been doing things wrong. Our instructor must have sensed this feeling because they then reiterated to the class that we are the decisive elements in the classroom and that we need to make the best decisions for our students. As the first week was coming to a close, I began to realize that I was already doing some of these best teaching practices and that, while there were a few adjustments that I needed to make, I hadn’t completely screwed up the last few years of teaching.

Stage Three: Dread
As we started the second week, I began to dread my six o’clock alarm. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I was learning, but it was summer for goodness sake. I should be sleeping in because I stayed up all night binge watching Netflix with my husband. The Monday of our second week was my first wedding anniversary, so getting up to go to this institute was especially hard. The first year of our marriage was genuinely tough, and I was looking forward to celebrating our perseverance together.

But 6 a.m. rolled around and I dragged myself out of bed, got ready, climbed into my car, and went on my merry way to the institute. As I walked in, I could tell that I was not the only one who was now in the dread stage. The overall feeling of excitement and enthusiasm was way lower than the previous week. Everyone was cordial and professional but you could tell that their minds were somewhere else.

Stage Four: Acceptance
As our institute was coming to a close, I felt like David facing Goliath. Just like Goliath, teaching writing was a giant obstacle to overcome. But after learning some new strategies, I felt confident that I could fling the stones of my new knowledge and conquer the beast. I accepted that while I had some success teaching writing, I was now armed with a new set of proven and successful strategies to help my students become better writers. Even though the three weeks were intense, they were more than worth it.

While I was in a unique situation because my training was longer than normal, these emotions will always be felt no matter the length of the training. There are always going to be people who are negative from the beginning through the end. My best advice is to avoid those people like the plague. Negativity is contagious and can prevent you from gaining the most from the training.

What you do after the institute is the most important part of your professional development. Many teachers leave ready to make changes. But between the time the training finishes and the start of the next school year, a lot of teachers put their new binder of skills aside. They try to balance the everyday demands of being a teacher and a functioning adult. To avoid losing these skills, make a plan after your training finishes about how these new strategies are going to look in your classroom. Also remember that you have to make decisions that are best for your kids. If you know that some of the information is not going to work for you, don’t stress about it. But don’t let the time you spent go to waste.

Alyssa Wilkins is originally from Illinois, but moved to Texas after my first year of teaching. She graduated from Southern Illinois University but is now a full-fledged Texan.