Why should you consider professional development?

Most educators devote 100% of their time and energy to their students. Some even dip into their personal funds to provide something extra for the classroom. This is admirable, no doubt! But, investing some time and money in yourself through professional development opportunities will make you more valuable to your students, school and community. Even more importantly, you will benefit from the experience by gaining new ideas, networking with peers and recharging your batteries.

Research confirms that the single most important factor contributing to a student’s success in school is the quality of teaching. Professional development is the strategy schools and school districts use to ensure that educators continue to strengthen their practice throughout their careers. Music educators, like all other educators, confront new challenges each year, including changes in subject content, new instructional methods, advances in technology, changed laws and procedures and evolving student learning needs. Educators who do not experience effective professional development are less able to improve their skills, and student learning suffers.

What kinds of professional development opportunities are available for music educators?

When people use the term “professional development,” they usually mean a formal event such as a conference, seminar, or workshop; collaborative learning among members of a work team; or a course at a college or university. However, professional development can also occur in informal contexts such as discussions among work colleagues, independent reading and research, observations of a colleague’s work or other learning from a peer.

There is loads of content that is readily available through online courses and webinars. However, you will want to ensure that web-based programs are specific to your objectives and, if possible, choose one that allows for interaction with the instructor and other educators. It has been proven that learning as a member of a group where participants are able to share expertise, experience and insights with one another exceeds the value of individual learning.

There are also seminars and conferences on both local and national levels. If you are in or near a large metropolitan area, you will be able to find plenty of offerings locally. Otherwise, you may need to consider traveling to another city to attend an event. For example, every December in Chicago, music educators from all over the world gather at the Midwest Clinic to network and learn from peers and is a huge event for professional development. In fact, the mission of the Midwest Clinic is: ““The Midwest Clinic strengthens international instrumental music education through extensive professional development opportunities, inspirational experiences and cultivation of rewarding professional relationships.”

Another organization you can find professional development opportunities through is The National Association for Music Education, www.nafme.org. It’s the largest and best known organization for music educators and offers a wide range of resources for learning and expanding your knowledge.

Funding professional development

School systems typically use a combination of local, state and federal funds for professional development. They may also seek funding from local, state or national foundations. Most school districts and schools designate funding for professional development in their local budgets and some school systems and states even require that a certain percentage of their budget be allocated to professional development. If you don’t know, find out about your school’s policies and funding opportunities.

It is possible that you will need to pursue funding for a professional development opportunity on your own, including travel expenses if you’ll be attending an event out of town. One great national organization dedicated to supporting educators is www.donorschoose.org. DonorsChoose was started by a history teacher in 2000 and has funded well over a million projects. You will need to create a project plan describing your professional development request and how it will benefit your students, but you will be supported throughout the process by staff that is largely comprised of former teachers.

Professional development will make you a better educator

While it is in the nature of teachers to want to spend all of their time and energy on their students, it’s important to recharge your batteries, network and learn from peers and keep up with the latest in school music trends and technologies. Pursuing professional development opportunities will make you a better teacher, and your students and your colleagues will benefit from the knowledge and techniques you gain. Don’t feel guilty about filling your knowledge cup – it’s the only way you can share it with others!