Today was our faculty/staff development day at work. Or as my daughter put it, teacher punishment day. That seems to be the common consensus on a lot of campuses, college and secondary schools alike. I’ve had friends who teach in a variety of settings complain about their own development days. It seems ironic that educators dislike these days so much. Yet the idea of professional development isn’t the problem, it’s the issue that’s at the core of all student complaints: how am I ever going to use this information? Why do I need to know this? This isn’t in my area of interest, so why must I suffer through it?? Now, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I adhere to the philosophy of a well-rounded education. I think the more areas you’re introduced to, the broader your view becomes and the more curiosity has a place to roam. It’s also easier to see the connections between ideas and theories and disciplines. Yet, as we get older, it becomes trickier. During a day such as today, the “development” topics often seem irrelevant or overdone or pushed upon us and, therefore, condescending in some weird way. Since we’re forced to attend, we feel at the mercy of administration and their agenda (although there is supposed to be input from various committee members from across campus). And maybe there’s some truth in that. It is a way for administration to disseminate information to or gather feedback from hundreds of captive employees at once, without suffering the pains of sending out unread emails or flyers or phone calls, hoping for responses. Throw in economic restrictions on bringing in celebrity speakers, and on some level, I understand why the topics aren’t always engaging or exciting. Yet, I do believe that even in the workplace, there is still benefit to knowing how departments work both within their own particular confines and within the (in my case) campus as a whole. What our marketing, recruitment and admissions areas do drives enrollment, enrollment drives classes, and what and how faculty teach and interact with students keeps the process going, which makes all of our jobs possible.
Of course, I’m interested in people and communication and how things interact, so I have a natural curiosity about workplace dynamics. That being said, I also believe development days should foster growth in our own particular work as well. I wish some of our breakout sessions would involve conversations about our own personal areas of interest. Visiting scholars, perhaps. Faculty and staff from other colleges coming in for content discussions that could be joint-development days for multiple schools. Business leaders who could discuss the attributes they look for in the students we hope to graduate. Something that is inspiring and energizing as we enter another academic year. Therefore, I have to admit that today I was just as guilty as others of being a bit underzealous about being “developed.”
But there are some things for which I’m grateful. Our new president is easy to listen to and, I believe, is working hard for the college and all the employees. We have new programs that should be exciting and beneficial to our community. We have not only a Faculty of the Year award, but now also an Employee of the Year award, and the first recipient today was a guy who really deserved it. Having all employees together means being able to socialize with colleagues with whom it’s normally difficult. Our college still provides lunch (a box lunch consisting of sandwich and chips) but at least it’s from a good vendor. And it includes a cookie. I learned some new technology in one of my sessions. I got more information on a local business I was only vaguely aware of. Finally, putting together a day of activities for hundreds of reluctant people can’t be easy, yet the day always flows well and is organized. I am truly thankful for those who do it and the time and effort they put into it.