Almost ten years ago, as the Director of Studies at a medium-sized language institute in South Korea, I coordinated a regular series of professional development workshops with a staff of about twenty across two campuses. After a couple of sessions I can vividly remember the reaction of one of the local Korean teachers. She talked about how tremendously useful and relevant the workshops were for her, how lucky she felt to be getting this professional development right here in her workplace, how much better they were than the big fancy conference events, and how frustrated she felt about having spent six months and thousands of dollars to travel to Canada to get an ESL qualification that was "absolutely useless compared to what we do here in these workshops."
What this teacher was realising was the huge potential of local, in-house professional development.
I realised it too, via a number of in-house teacher development programs I facilitated but also when I began to organise small-scale conferences and symposiums featuring predominantly local 'at the chalk face' experts. Based on experience, I eventually came up with a sort of balance rule about professional development, which I called the 80/20 rule.
That is, for the best overall professional development results, 80% of it needs to come from the local context and 20% from outside experts.
The 80% part there isn't just about keeping things contextually relevant. In every single teaching team or organisation I have worked with there have been numerous deep wells of talent and experience. It's mind-blowing how little of that talent and experience is truly drawn on in many companies. In fact, the bigger the company the more numerous and deeper these wells tend to be, but as companies wax they almost always seem to fall for bigger splashes of cash on more remote experts based on a misplaced belief in paper qualifications and CVs that mention something about being a 'conference presenter' or 'motivator' or something like that.
Don't get me wrong. There are some outstanding speakers and experts out there that can bring a lot to a PD program. But there are many ways to 'access' expert knowledge now (beyond scheduled at-the-podium appearances) and drawing almost exclusively on outside experts, fanfares and stage lights at the expense of your local talent is just plain wasteful.
With an organisation-wide Professional Development Day coming up next week, I was really happy to see a line up which applies something very close to the 80/20 rule. This is in stark contrast to the PD Day I attended this time last year, which was big on big names (well, they weren't actually THAT big, but I'm constantly astounded by how fishbowlish and rather self-inflated the Australian education sector appears to be on this front) but had very little local talent featured.
Given I was pretty vocal in my opinions about this via a variety of channels, when my boss sat me down and 'asked' me if I was willing to offer a session at the upcoming PD Day, I'd pretty much backed myself into a corner, hadn't I? :-)
But in all seriousness, I'm really happy to see so many local colleagues leading workshop sessions this time around. It recognises the talent at the next desk, or in the office down the hall, or across the campus. It means greater chances of practical contextualization. The people involved aren't here today (this hour) and gone tomorrow or until the next big event; they're a short walk or quick telephone call away. They haven't decided to present or facilitate based on a sales pitch and an 'appearance fee.'
It's called being collegial, and it's a meaningful, motivating and highly practical investment by the organisation in its own development.