“Teacher preparation” is a simple phrase, but a complex idea that begs many questions. What does it mean to “prepare” a teacher? How do you ready someone for a profession that requires constant adaptation? Is “preparation” something that can be completed, or is it lifelong?
“Professional Development,” as a phrase, is in the same camp. Many professions require their practitioners to complete continuing education to keep their skills updated and knowledge easily accessible. Many people dread these sorts of refreshers or find them to be mostly a bureaucratic exercise involving dry, in-person presentations (well, not so much anymore) or lengthly recorded lectures on topics of little use to every day practice.
Some schools have large budgets for professional development whereas some have virtually none. Some districts have specialized teams who organize materials and events while others give these responsibilities to the teachers themselves. All of these factors lead to inequitable access, substantial variation in quality, and a gap between what classroom teachers need and what they are receiving.
When we set out to create SHARE, we started by talking to as many people as we could to understand where the major, persistent issues in professional development are. We didn’t want to dive in with a presumptuous solution without listening to people who are living the problem every day. Our education began when a colleague from NYU gently encouraged us to stop calling it “professional development” and start calling it “professional learning.” Development comes across as condescending, assuming the participants are “underdeveloped.” That misses the point. Professional learning, on the other hand, starts with the assumption that the sort of preparation at the heart of our exploration is ongoing.
All teachers go through some sort of credentialing process before they begin their careers, and sometimes professional learning can be a part of that process, but generally it continues year after year, often tied to additional responsibilities, increased salaries, or licensure renewal. Some teachers are personally motivated to seek out learning opportunities while others have enough on their plates already.
What became clear quickly is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to professional learning. Because the expectations, requirements, and structures differ so markedly across the country, anything that we built in support of teachers would need to be practical, simple, easy-to-access, and cover topics that are motivated by the needs of teachers rather than trends in research. One thing that we heard louder than just about any message was the risk of teacher burnout and the need for a renewed focus on building teacher resilience.
This and many more conversations with frustrated (but still optimistic) teachers and administrators led us to create the Source for Help, Advancement, and Renewal for Educators: SHARE. The goal of the platform is to provide a catalyst for conversation and growth amidst the sometimes confusing realm of professional learning.
We started with a mobile-first design, which means the platform should be as easy to use on a smart phone as it is on a computer because learning should happen anywhere.
Next, we focused on our inaugural course series, Moving Beyond Trauma, which explores the roots of trauma, then provides a guide for recognizing it, responding in the classroom and community, and protecting teachers’ energy to avoid compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress.
Finally, we are creating a collection of courses under the title, Building Strength and Healing Together, which will follow the lives of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and members of the community as they work through challenges collectively. Along the way, SHARE provides ideas and resources to help educators deal with similar issues in their own lives.
We recognize that outlets like Facebook and Teachers Pay Teachers exist to provide educators with opportunities to connect and to sell resources to one another. Our goal is different. We bring together designers, administrators, teachers, and subject matter experts to create courses intended to address essential topics like trauma in the community and building resilience. It’s our hope that conversations that arise from these courses will not remain constrained to online discussion forums because most of the challenges our educational communities face can only be solved when people come together locally and speak in a common language.
We at SHARE are committed to listening to educators to understand the changing needs of the profession and to providing an intentional alternative to the professional development they find unhelpful. We partner with administrators to understand their realities and help them provide genuinely helpful continuous learning that empowers people to heal and grow together.