Professional development for teachers comes in all shapes and sizes --- from individual reading or research to small-group training sessions, all the way up to a big conference somewhere with expert speakers and endless PowerPoint presentations. Nearly all schools will provide PD opportunities as a matter of course, and even though some will see ridiculous on the surface (cue 'How to write effective e-mails) but they are all important for your development and your teaching career.

Why do we argue that you should “actively engage” with all PD opportunities?

Professional development has value far beyond your first impression of the title. The fact is that you can’t know for sure what value you can garner from a PD session until you are there. When we say “actively engage”, we don’t just mean turn up and listen in, but also actively take part and try to positively connect with the content and leader of the session. When you are engaged, you are fully receptive, and it’s only this way that you’ll get the positives out of every session.

Does every PD session really have something positive to be gained?

Let’s take the aforementioned example of “How to write effective emails.” You may think you know how to write emails. You spend a big part of your day writing them; to colleagues, your mentor, department head, head of a year, the headteacher and so on. Having to sit for a half-day session learning about emailing seems very pointless on the surface. How does being engaged help?

When you engage with a session like this, you’ll pick up several small but impacting facts that make you rethink your hostility to the session. On reflection, you may discover that you spend an inordinate amount of cumulative time each week writing emails. The tips the session offers might actually help you cut down on emailing time and work more efficiently. If that’s the only thing you take away, then your active and positive engagement with this PD has been worthwhile. If you go into a PD wanting it to be useless, then you more than likely will find nothing useful. Mindset is crucial.

Besides this, at the very least, a PD session is a way to learn about your colleagues and bond with them. There’s nothing quite like a teambuilding exercise or special seminar to unite and bring teachers together, even if it’s just coming together to say that most of the PD wasn’t very interesting. Those bonds that you forge in the PD can improve your standing and your confidence within your school community.

The real importance of professional development

Thankfully, many PD sessions are both productive and helpful in multiple ways. Below are some of the top advantages you’ll gain by both attending and engaging fully with PD opportunities:

1. New perspectives and knowledge in pedagogy

The world of education and, in particular, pedagogy is shifting and changing with the times. New teaching and assessment methodologies, curriculum structures, class organisation, and more are emerging from the many bright minds in the sector. These bright minds are often leading PD sessions or at least others who have received training in the new information. You can broaden your professional horizons and gain new inspiration for your future work. It’s great to do this as an ECT while your mind is still more receptive to new ideas.

2. The students will benefit

As you gain knowledge and the benefit of greater expertise in your particular field, you too can pass those dividends on to your students. When the students are succeeding more easily, this is good news not just for them but for the entire school community. If the new ideas were enough to inspire you, their use in the classroom might also inspire others.

3. Gain practical technological skills

Some PD involves more practical skills that can translate into future job prospects. If you have aspirations to shift from the art department to the graphic design or design technology department, then you’ll need extra skills. These abilities could include things like using 3D printers or laser cutters or designing objects using CAD. Many times, these are things teachers touched on during their undergraduate years, but a PD would go a long way to reinforcing and updating that information to make you a better instructor yourself.

In conclusion:

Whatever your initial impression of a professional development opportunity, grab it with both hands and get everything you can from it. You may surprise yourself. The only real thing that can happen is that you gain new insights, perspectives and information that make you a better teacher. The worst alternative is that you spend a few hours being bored. If that’s all you have to risk for the many potential rewards, then we say go for it.