Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Where and How Do You Spend Your Professional Learning Dollars?

My colleagues and I were invited to present at NCTM's INNOV8 Conference in St. Louis. Once we added up the airfare, lodging, and conference fee, the total came to about $5,000. That's a lot of professional learning dollars for three teachers over three days. Yet, there are many good reasons why this would be a worthwhile professional development event.

First, our team has been developing our shared model. As part of that we use the Response to Intervention (RTI) model as part of our math program. Overall, I believe, we use RTI well and have helped many of our struggling learners gain skill, knowledge, and concept. By presenting our work, we will solidify and develop what we do which will, in turn, help us to continue to develop our shared model.

The conference also has some great presenters and speakers so we'll learn a lot about how to teach struggling learners.

The challenge is that the system will approve attendance and the conference fees, but they may not have the money for air fare and lodging. In the past, when this has happened, I've used air miles or my own money. At this time that's not an option I want to use, and also I think that option would be very difficult for my young colleagues who are either raising young families or just getting started in life. Plus a professional learning event like this, while worthwhile, doesn't result in more credits or a greater salary, yet the vibrant learning at a national conference can impact a whole school system if the educators who attend are willing to come back and share and apply what they've learned.

This issue brings to mind an even bigger question, what kinds of funds are devoted to professional learning and how are those funds shared amongst teachers?

In our system, there are system-wide dollars, grants, and union contract dollars devoted to professional learning. In all cases, proposals or permission forms must be completed, and there are those in charge of approving or disproving funding.

As for myself, I have received funds for courses and professional learning events, and I've also earned free admission to many of those events by presenting, hosting student teachers, or volunteering. Being active in social media has provided me with many opportunities to attend a number of national and local events free-of-cost or low cost.

From leadership's point of view, I'm sure there are many decisions to make with regard to who and what gets funded and who and what does not. I'm sure there is a selection criteria that's connected to system-wide goals and priorities. I think that it's best to have those priorities laid out as explicitly as possible so people understand. For example, I may not have made the time to apply for this conference presentation if I knew we would not receive the funding. I just thought if we were accepted, we would be funded, but that may not be the case.

Summer is a good time to chart the professional learning year ahead. What can you afford? What can you receive funding for? What will translate into profitable teaching and learning, and how will you utilize that learning to support students.

I was disappointed tonight when I heard that we may not be able to go to this conference as it's a conference that demonstrates good potential for teaching and learning young children. However, I recognize that there are limitations on dollars in school, and everyone can't get or have all that they want.  Onward.