When is “professional development” truly “development”?  What aspect of a professional should it develop?  In evaluating the worth of professional development, what outcomes indicate that it hit the mark?

Most of us have experienced professional development that developed only an active desire to flee the room.  The classic picture of professional development consists of rows of seats, a podium, and a presentation.  We can do better, and for Cisco Networking Academy instructors, we are doing better.

doodled-desksSix years ago, the Maryland State Department of Education identified Towson University as the Affiliate University supporting educational programs within the IT Career Cluster.  One of the primary responsibilities of that designation was the creation of appropriate professional development designed to support and grow those programs by nurturing a community of skilled instructors.

Employers in the IT industry have identified three elements basic to employee success:  communication, collaboration, and certification.  These “three Cs” need to be the focus of IT instruction, from high school Career Technology Education through college Computer Science.  No amount of technical knowledge will make up for an individual’s inability to provide appropriate credentials, work with others, or express ideas with clarity.  Thus, professional development provided to instructors needs to reflect these elements in both form and function.

Here at the Cisco Networking Academy Support & Training Center, our summer Instructor Institute works to meet these goals.  “Boot Camps” support instructor certification in the key industry sectors of hardware and software, networking, and security.  IT programs at the secondary level use industry certification achievement as a primary tool measuring student success; an instructor who has earned that certification is better prepared and able to help students achieve that goal.

Modeling communication and collaboration through professional development changes the delivery method as well as participant expectations.  Using a blended model of monitored remote and in-person experiences allows instructors to concentrate on development of engaging instruction while working with their peers.  Participants in most of our courses complete a guided overview of the technical concepts on their own prior to attending the in-person portion of the course.  They are tasked with arriving with questions; they are active participants in their own education, rather than passive attendees.

Instructors registering for Jason Kahler’s professional development offerings at the Center for Applied Technology South will work alongside several of his students.  These students are high achievers possessing multiple industry certifications, some of them already working in internships within the IT industry while still in high school.  They help instructors see course delivery from the student viewpoint, and they often introduce instructors to new concepts, such as integration of social media.  Jason also manages an instructor collaboration EdModo site, where participants share the ideas they have taken back to their classrooms.   The connections fostered by these interactions led to an “Academy Exchange” event where students from Baltimore City’s Carver High School Cisco Academy spent the day at CAT South, working and learning with Academy students.  CAT South students plan to visit Carver next school year.

Quality professional development is not training—it is rewiring.  Worthwhile professional development provides a valuable outcome, such as certification, and engages participants in developing relevant skills, such as collaboration and communication.  When it hits the mark, professional development actually adds value to the profession!