In sales, much like teaching, they throw you to the wolves! Sure, like new teachers, you get a little training before you stand in front of an actual customer but not nearly enough to make you feel comfortable! It's almost a rite of passage for new salespeople to slog through multiple presentations before finally getting that first sale. They would say, "Hang in there! It'll get better in no time." (Sound familiar teachers?) So early on I recognized that sales seemed much easier to some salespeople than others. I would watch the great salesmen at work, try to sit in when they were doing their thing and I would try to emulate them. In sales, we even had professional development. You want to know the difference between PD in sales as compared to teaching? In sales, we paid attention because our livelihoods depended on getting better. I wasn't paid if I didn't produce and there was no fall back, no salary plus commission. Professional development was mana from heaven in sales because it energized you, you could immediately try a new sales pitch or close on the sales floor. In sales, very few whined about professional development.
I was thinking the other day about a sales training I attended that really applies to my career as a teacher. The presenter was a famous sales trainer named Brian Tracy. I owned all of his sales tapes and would listen to them on the way into work. In the live training, he was explaining how important it was to have deep knowledge of our own products and the competition's. Then he set up the following analogy. He said we should imagine we've been diagnosed with a grave illness that is curable in the hands of a knowledgable doctor. Then imagine you're in the doctor's private office for a consultation, but there are only a few medical books from the 1960's on the shelf behind the desk. You ask him, "Doc, why do you only have a few medical journals from the 60's and nothing more?" And the doctor responds, "I went to medical school in the 60's and nothings really changed since then so what's the point of buying new medical books?" What would you do next? You'd flee that doctors office is what you'd do! Now think about that in terms of teaching! Imagine a teacher with five, ten or fifteen years experience that's doing exactly the same thing they've been doing since day one. It's easy to imagine because we see it all the time. The issue is that we shouldn't see it all the time. There is real value in professional development because, just like in sales, it will energize us as educators. It will make us want to create the best learning environments for our students so that we can help them succeed.
There is real value in professional development for teachers! Educators should treat professional development the way sales people treat sales training, like our livelihoods depend on it. Dave Burgess, in his book Teach Like a Pirate writes, "Mediocrity is incapable of motivating. You just can't be on fire about mediocrity. How could anyone be fired up about creating a lukewarm classroom environment...Teaching is a tough job filled with unbelievable hardships, hurdles, and headaches...Unless you find something big to care about, you won't make it." He's saying that without something to work for we won't make it as teachers. Listen, when I was in commissioned sales, I was motivated by one thing, money. Plane and simple, I was selling with the commission in mind. The more I sold, the bigger my paychecks were. But we don't have that in teaching, so there has to be something else and that's where professional development comes in. Professional development can give you the spark to change things up so that you're students are truly engaged in your subject.
The beautiful thing is that you can find professional development anywhere. It's literally at your fingertips! You can read great books like Dave Burgess's Teach like a Pirate or Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy amongst a hundred other incredible books about teaching. Great teachers are blogging these days. Find a blogger who's sharing ideas in your subject and get ideas from them. Create a Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter, Facebook or some other social media outlet. Given that I'm a world language teacher in West Virginia, my PLN consists of #langchat, a national group of world language teachers and #wvedchat, a group of WV educators. These groups share real world, real time strategies that I can apply immediately in my classroom. You can also join your state association for your subject. All subjects have an association and they all have conferences and trainings. You don't have to wait for your school or district to give you professional development, it's literally at your fingertips.
The human spirit wasn't meant to be sedentary, it was meant to grow! The human spirit was meant to achieve. Invest in professional development and wake your spirit up if it's been still for too long! Grow as a teacher and make a real impact on your students. Get passionate about what you do because the world needs the better you, the energized you. That's the real value of professional development.