Professional development demands making choices, sometimes very hard, sometimes very easy ones. The first choice is deciding to follow the path of growth in the career we decided to pursue in education. As Wallace (1991) mentioned, development has to be done by the teacher, nobody can develop for another person. However, teachers have the choice of welcoming the help, feedback and input from others, as well as accepting training opportunities that are offered and may contribute to their development.
The challenge is to accept accountability for our own professional development. A changing world is a place for changing teachers who need to understand that not only the way their students learn, but also what they learn might be different from the ‘traditional’ classroom and curriculum as the world is in constant evolution. Skills that were once disregarded are now core to learning, such as social skills that involve affective teaching and learning. Having embraced the need to develop, teachers move on to planning what skills or knowledge areas they are going to invest in. That brings a new challenge that links Burch’s stages for learning new skills and Kahneman’s ideas about perceptions.
In Burch’s idea, people go through learning processes that take the professionals from being ‘unconsciously unskilled’ to becoming ‘unconsciously skilled’. In between they become conscious of what they need to develop, choose to learn and change, consciously practice a new competence/ skill until they have eventually mastered it and incorporated it in their active repertoire. The first stage may require support and here is where Kahneman (2011) comes in: ‘we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness’. We are unaware of what we do not know or of what others see so clearly and feedback from peers, trainers or managers becomes crucial to our development to help us reach unexplored areas of our work. Being blind to the obvious can mean that we are so focused on board work that we do not notice learners are not using English while talking to peers.
The fact that we are all blind to something (one of our developmental needs, for instance) is a simple construct and true for all professionals, regardless of hierarchy or level of maturity. Nevertheless, accepting that we may need to look at our flaws or what we lack and carefully address the issues in order to change and improve become greater professionals is a complex or even tough process. Not all professionals are willing to go through the painful road of change and touching sensitive matters; that is why many decide to either reject the feedback given or ignore it – perhaps only until they feel ready to act upon it, perhaps throughout their lives to the detriment of their growth.
In our profession, feedback is (should be) constantly given and received: to and from students, teachers, trainers, superiors. That means that not only the person receiving feedback needs to go through changes and reflection, but also those giving feedback. There may be room to humbly look at their own feedback-giving and to analyse whether it’s going to be effective in manner and content and true/ relevant to the person who will receive it. Feedback-givers, as any other professional, may also be blind. Much as we like to think that we are assertive and honest, it may not be the case and we might be giving our own hidden frustration with our flaws in place of personalised feedback to the recipient.
All in all, feedback is essential to the developing professionals who will be accountable for the changes made to their practice/ behaviour, but may not be able to see some of the needs on their own. We can all choose to collaborate, give and receive feedback so that we all develop and improve the educational environment as a whole. A simple idea, that requires complex or painful steps towards growth.
Burch, N. ‘The Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill’. Gordon Training International, CA – summary available at: http://www.gordontraining.com/free-workplace-articles/learning-a-new-skill-is-easier-said-than-done/# (last accessed on 16th June 2017)
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Wallace, M. J. (1991). Training Foreign Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP.