A Call to Action
What is professional development?
Professional development is the process of enhancing your personal growth and job skills and improving your job performance to contribute to outstanding educational results for students.
Professional development, long recognized as important for teachers and administrators, is coming into its own and gaining fast momentum for support professionals.
In 1998, NEA members overwhelmingly passed a resolution (D-15) signifying the importance of professional development for ESP members.
Iona Holloway, a veteran paraeducator in Louisiana, was a strong supporter. "To me, professional development is all about respecting oneself," she says. "It's about wanting to be the best you can be and bringing that to your chosen profession."
Barbara Morris, President of the Colonial Paraprofessional Association in Delaware, agrees. "No matter what job you're in and no matter what you do, you are a professional first," she says. "It's about how you see yourself and how you approach your job that matters, and professional development is a huge part of that."
In fact across America, ESP leaders everywhere are implementing hands-on, high-quality career development. Why? To improve their job performance, create a deeper and more satisfying connection with their jobs, succeed in their chosen fields, take charge of their futures, and get the skills necessary to move ahead.
In 1997, teachers participating in The Teacher Network's National Teacher Policy Institute (NTPI) concluded after a year of study and collaboration that effective professional development programs promote "an environment that values and nurtures learning and achievement for both teachers and students."
They further suggested that making professional development an integral and embedded part of the normal working school day gives teachers the time for inquiry, reflection and mentoring that is necessary for long-term change in practice.
Today, that learning can and should be applied to support professionals.
Though this notion is now gaining steam in the educational community, it will require a push from ESP members to actually make it happen. According to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the typical school district allocates only about one percent of its budget for improving the abilities of its staff.
"There is no doubt that creating a 'learning organization' raises expectations for all staff and student performance," says Karen Mahurin, former President of the National Council of ESP. "But more times than not, we have to help a school or a district realize this by getting them to rethink their approach to professional staff development."
Iona Holloway says ESP members she meets with across the country tell story after story about negligible professional development opportunities.
"Too often, professional development activities for support personnel are imposed by the central office with little regard for the individual needs and goals of the staff, with programs of questionable quality and with little consideration for the learning style of adults," she says. "But by rallying together and supporting the need for quality staff development, we can, and will, help change that."
Audrey Haskell, a school secretary in North Dakota's Grand Forks Public Schools, says it is vital that ESPs make professional development a part of their careers. "Every ESP on staff should be treated with respect and the knowledge that they are a valued member of our schools," she says. "And by committing to professional development, we will be treated as professionals, gaining the respect and recognition we deserve for the valuable roles we play in the education chain."
This Professional Development Area Can Help
The Professional Development area of the NEA ESP Web site attempts to lay a foundation to help ESP members across the country organize around professional development. It gives real examples of how members created and implemented ideas to advance their professions, improve their working conditions, and contribute to student achievement. This area was designed to help you:
- Put Your Ideas Into Action: The goal of this area is to help local associations move from thinking about change to doing it. We provide tools to lead professional development change in your own school or district.
- Debunk the Myth that You Need to be an "Expert": Most success stories illustrate grassroots action from members who were concerned about their professions and the success of their schools -- their successes were not derived from professional development "experts." Most learned about the power of professional development by conducting local research and tapping the resources available to them through their Association membership.
- Make Professional Development a Part of Your Everyday Life: By becoming an active learner and recognizing how to identify opportunities to take advantage of professional development, you can better integrate it into your life to become better at your job and better in your life.
The NEA believes that professional development should be required throughout the career of educational support professionals. Professional development programs should provide equal opportunities for these employees to gain and improve the knowledge and skills important to their position and job performance.
Professional development programs should assume that appropriate education employees have a decisive voice at every stage of planning, implementation, and evaluation
Go to "An Organizer's Checklist"