Restoring the feel-good factor

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Teachers' personal needs must be addressed if they are to get the most out of professional training, writes Michael Waters.

More than almost anything else, teachers need to be given the opportunity to dev-elop themselves on a personal level. Everyone would benefit, from the teachers themselves to the schools and pupils.

The term "personal development" should not be confused with "professional development", though within organisations the two are often linked. Whereas professional development is primarily about role development - enhancing technical skills and knowledge to help teachers to do their job more effectively - personal development, by contrast, is about developing the whole person. It is what occurs when teachers are construed first and foremost as people who are much more than the roles they play.

What often passes for personal development is, in reality, professional development that addresses, or purports to address, the particular needs and interests of individual teachers. But going on an art course because it looks interesting, or getting some management development training to become a better head of department, are still essentially professional development experiences. They may meet individual needs but they are fundamentally about the role of the teacher rather than about the whole teacher.

True personal development isn't just development by me and for me; in some significant sense it is also about me. And the me is always bigger than the professional me.

Personal development is much in vogue in the corporate world. Many companies encourage employees to keep personal development portfolios and to engage in personal development planning. At best, this represents an honest admission by the companies concerned that they cannot guarantee jobs for life, and that employees need, therefore, to take greater responsibility for remaining employable - by acquiring new skills, for example. At worst, it represents a cynical attempt to make individuals believe that the company is interested in them as people rather than just as employees. And it achieves this by using the term "personal development" to mean individual development in line with the company's own agenda for development - a neat linguistic sleight of hand.

In the education sector, "personal development" is also most frequently used to mean development intended to address individual professional needs rather than the needs of people who teach. As an example, consider the blurb for the National Association of Head Teachers' Headlamp self-assessment workshops which offers help to "determine your personal development needs". There is nothing devious about the use of "personal development" here, but the new heads who undertake one of these workshops are unlikely to find out much about their truly personal needs, except, perhaps, where they relate directly to the job-related needs being assessed.

Real personal development, however, can support and underpin professional development. Indeed, I believe that without appropriate personal development, professional development is incomplete and ineffectual - particularly in terms of its sustainability. Much in-service training deals with knowledge and skills; it focuses on the things teachers need to know and to do to be effective. Significant attention to the deeper levels of personal beliefs, values and self-identity are, however, much less common. And yet, if these are out of line with the changes teachers are expected to make, then the pros-pects for lasting change are slim.

The personal development required for professional development purposes is what enables teachers to make the best use of any professional training or the skills acquired from it. Teachers may also need to have reached a certain level of personal development before they are fully able to discharge more challenging responsibilities such as inspiring pupils and colleagues.

Inspiring others is not an isolated skill that teachers can just be taught to perform. It presupposes a great deal about the people who are doing the inspiring - about, for example, their beliefs and levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy. In other words, teachers might need to develop themselves as people before they can become "inspiring" professionals.

Teaching is a profession in which personal identity can easily become bound up, if not confused, with professional identity. To live, breathe and eat teaching is unhealthy, and teachers themselves benefit from experiences that remind them that they are people before they are teachers.

Personal development is also a way of addressing low teacher morale. We urgently need ways to restore the feel-good factor among teachers by building up their inner resources. The result could, and should, be growing levels of personal power and self-esteem.

No two teachers have identical sets of development needs, but there is a sufficient amount of things in common to make personal development for teachers as part of a school's in-service training programme both viable and valuable. A programme that reaches the parts that most education in-service training doesn't reach is long overdue.

Dr Michael Waters leads on personal development for Kent Curriculum Services Agency (tel: 01474 568750) and is author of The Element Dictionary of Personal Development, published in 1996 by Element

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