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Where Real PD Comes From: Self-Reflection

Jessica Shyu

They say love for oneself is the best kind of love of all. And so it's with great pride that I share that my best professional development over the past seven years has been what I've done for myself personally.

Don't get me wrong—I love PD. It isn't just my job, it's my lifestyle. My Friday night happy hours used to be spent debating how to balance skill-building with knowledge-sharing. I hauled my five-pound All Kinds of Minds notebook all the way to rural China. I used to have a thing for Doug Lemov.

But at the end of the day, when I think about the times I've learned and grown the most, it wasn't from an expert teacher trainer, prescribed resources, or even the perfect balance of skill and knowledge.

It usually happened when sitting in my pajamas in bed, on my laptop after a few really crappy weeks in the classroom. It often took a glass or two of wine for me to get honest with myself about all the stress-inducing questions, such as: What do I want for my kids? Where are they now? Why is this happening? What am I doing to cause it? What's keeping me from changing? What do I need specifically now?

Usually, that specific help could be found in nothing fancier than that teacher across the hall, on the Internet, or in one of the million teacher books lying around my apartment. I might have been surrounded by resource-laden Teach For America workshops, trainings led by experts, and individualized observations and feedback from my program director, but until I had initiated my personal reflections on what was needed for me and my students, those experiences weren't moving me forward.

Of course, knowing how to self-reflect takes professional development in itself. But it's just not usually the kind of development that takes place on a Friday afternoon when everyone is forced to pore over mountains of testing data and fill out a next steps template.

Self-reflection is a personal process (duh). It's almost too warm and fuzzy to mandate, but I think it can be encouraged or fostered. As head of teacher training for Teach For China, one of my strategies for the coming year includes small, in-person support groups of teachers and trainers meeting throughout the year to reflect on their experiences and development, setting up their own PD plans, and holding each other accountable. Actual skill-building learning experiences will be based on what people say they need most.

The point is to give teachers some space to figure out what they need. If some teachers reflect better with Excel and templates, that's great. But if others require a meditative hike to ponder what the heck is going wrong and right, that's wonderful as well.

Jessica Shyu is Vice President of Regional Affairs and Training & Support with Teach For China, a part of the Teach For All global network. Prior to joining Teach For China, Jessica was a special education teacher and staff member with Teach For America.

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