Breakthroughs: The Power of Self-Guided Professional Development

Jossie Perry is a National Board Certified teacher in Social Studies-History and a 2022 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow. She teaches contemporary world studies and AP human geography at Rising Sun High School in Cecil County.

When we give our students choice in how they learn, we see more engagement and more ownership of their learning. The same is true for teachers when it comes to professional development. Who hasn’t sat through PD that lacks a connection to our students’ needs and our practice? While there will always be required professional development, there is much power in self-selected and self-guided professional development.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future calls for better, more relevant PD to improve teachers’ practice and student learning. When I select PD, I look for programs that offer high-quality learning opportunities to fill in my own knowledge gaps. I seek experiences to take me beyond the classroom and help me better tell the story of our interconnected world.

In 2016, I was awarded a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship which included an online course in global learning and a 10-day field experience in the Philippines. My time in the Philippines was an invaluable learning experience and instrumental in changing the narrative of less developed countries for my students. I use my photos and experiences to dispel stereotypes about these countries and provide more context to the challenges they face.

Whether it’s a photo of the Lamborghini dealership in Manila to illustrate uneven development, or a story about being hit in the head by a falling branch in a Philippine jungle to illustrate the challenge of accessing healthcare, the world comes alive and feels more accessible to my students.

When students see current events unfolding, they often don’t think about the historical roots of those events. To help my students discover the unbreakable connection between the past and the present, I completed a fellowship with the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which included a week-long intensive study. As a result, when we discuss genocide, I take my students back to the Nuremberg trials and we analyze the concepts of justice and accountability for the atrocities. Then we explore the motivating factors of the international community in choosing to get involved or not in stopping current atrocities.

Most recently, I was awarded a 2022 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship. This includes a year of professional learning focused on educating and empowering students for global citizenship and culminates with a fi eld study in South Africa in 2022. As my students learn the many stories of the world around them, they expand how they view the world and their place in it. They may become quickly overwhelmed at the enormity of many challenges facing us and feel helpless. Through this fellowship, I hope to gain skills and strategies to help my students recognize their potential and empower them to be changemakers on the issues that matter most to them.

With already overflowing plates, the idea of doing more professional development beyond what’s required is not always popular, but the payoff in the classroom makes it all worth it. When I complete a self-selected PD, I can’t wait to share it with my students and create more engaging learning opportunities using new content and strategies. I use my PD experiences to spark student curiosity and encourage continued learning beyond the classroom. By sharing my experiences, I model a commitment to lifelong learning. I inspire my students to continue exploring their world in whatever way they can and to do what they can to make the world a better place.

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