The balancing act – professional development in the 21st-century
September 19, 2018
By Dr Nicolas Matthee

Balance is a fundamental characteristic of every system and, for that matter, every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Education, and specifically an educator’s professional development is no different. Professional development is only useful if it enhances teaching and learning in the actual classroom. To reach this goal, there is a delicate balance between theory and practice that must be maintained; otherwise teaching and learning is either filled with gimmicks that have no substance or at such a high level that no learning can take place.

In this month’s blog, we discuss the theoretical side of professional development and how this can serve as a method to ‘re-tool’ your teaching and therefore enhance the learning taking place in your classroom. In Jane Hunter’s 2015 book, Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms, she makes a convincing argument for the need of theory in the process of having the best tools for teaching in the 21st-century context. She identifies the following areas where theoretical professional development is crucial:

  • Construction of learning – With the modern advances in neuroscience and psychology we now know significantly more about the brain and how it works. This has dramatic implications for the construction of learning and how our students learn.
  • Purposeful teaching and focused planning – The better we understand the capabilities of our students and how their learning journeys are constructed, the better we can plan and therefore teach.
  • Enriched subject matter – Teaching subject matter effectively is crucial to 21st-century teaching. Knowing and understanding the technologies and supporting resources for enriching subject matter is extremely important.
  • Promotion of reflective learning – The position of students as passive in the learning process is now firmly a relic of the past. In understanding the value of project-based learning and other 21st-century teaching developments, students are engaged to actively reflect on their own learning.
  • Growth mindset – With the rapid development of society, education cannot remain static. A growth mindset is a crucial tool in the 21st-century educator’s toolkit.
  • Authentic student engagement – Superficial attempts at student engagement is a waste of time in an already congested educational timetable. With relevant foundational knowledge on the 21st-century student and their educational context, students can potentially be engaged in authentic and transformative educational experiences.

To illustrate but one of the dangers of a lack of theoretical knowledge in an educational context we need only look at the neuromyth of learning styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic styles of learning). Based on recent research on professional development in the South African educational context, 73% of educators that participated expressed that learning styles were an important factor in their teaching. It has however been proven time and again that the learning styles theory is simply not accurate. This video of Professor Dan Willingham explains the fundamental difficulty with the theory and many other academic articles support this position.

The theoretical side of professional development is a fundamental part of delivering balanced and relevant teaching. If you would like to learn more about the latest research on pedagogies, educational philosophy and the 21st-century educational context, consider enrolling for the ITSI professional development courses.

With an overview of the importance of the theoretical dimension of professional development we look forward to exploring the practical side in next month’s post.