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10 Asset-Based Approaches to Professional Development

by Laura Baecher |

I have been teaching for over 15 years now and I have rarely come across professional development programs in my country that make the teachers’ assets visible…Professional learning [should] follow the same learning rules that apply to our learners. Teachers are lifelong learners. Therefore, to help them continue developing professionally, professional development training organizers should build on teachers’ assets. (Hadizatou Amou Ali, Niger)

In their work with students, teachers globally are working to shift from deficit-based to more equity-focused, asset-based approaches, and they deserve the same treatment in the professional development (PD) they participate in.  How can those who design and lead PD for teachers create asset-based programming to draw on teachers’ strengths, experiences, talents, and knowledge?  This month’s TESOL Professional Development Blog is coauthored by Julie Kasper, Director of Teacher Learning and Leadership at the Center for Professional Learning at Childhood Education International, and her colleagues in Lebanon, Niger, and Kenya who weigh in on how they have experienced and envision asset-based teacher PD.

Asset-based views of learners set the conditions for a variety of pedagogical approaches by celebrating students’ differences as invaluable riches, setting the stage for culturally inclusive, responsive, and sustaining pedagogies (California State Education Department).

“Asset-based teaching seeks to unlock students’ potential by focusing on their talents. Also known as strengths-based teaching, this approach contrasts with the more common deficit-based style of teaching which highlights students’ inadequacies.” (Association of College & Research Libraries, 2018)

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

What does an asset-based view mean for teacher learners?  Not surprisingly, practices like asset-based pedagogy must first be experienced by teachers in order to implement them.  Additionally, no matter the focus of a PD session, teachers will be able to engage more fully if PD leaders approach them with an asset-based lens.

In adjusting PD to a more asset-based lens, it might be helpful to start with what asset-based PD does NOT look like:

  • Planning PD without ever asking teachers about their prior knowledge or interest in the topic
  • Assuming teachers are “empty vessels needing to be filled” with the PD leader’s wisdom
  • Beginning PD sessions without teachers being able to get to know each other’s backgrounds and experiences
  • Silencing teacher contributions that challenge the presenter’s ideas
  • Setting unrealistic growth expectations for teachers when there are limited support and resources
  • Creating punitive structures that place the blame on teachers for wider school challenges

Kasper designs large-scale PD projects with a holistic approach in her role at Childhood Education International.  There, she starts with an understanding that just as students have many strengths, talents, and interests they bring to the classroom, teachers also bring assets into PD learning environments that should be recognized and built upon.

In a current course on Asset-Based Pedagogies—which is one of their free and open educational resources—Kasper recently invited feedback on participants’ experiences with asset-based PD.  In their online forum, she posed the following questions, which could readily be used to open a conversation with your own staff:

  • In what ways are teachers’ assets surfaced (or made visible) within professional development programs in your country, school, or organization?
  • How are your assets acknowledged and built upon within professional development trainings you have attended? If they have not been, why do you think that is and what do you think was lost (for you and for the organization or individual leading the professional development)?
  • What are the assets, strengths, or talents of the teachers around you? How could we build upon those assets in our courses and workshops?
  • Why does an asset-based approach matter for professional development?

Hadizatou Amou Ali (Niger), Joy Odour (Kenya), Alisa Vereshchagin (USA), Yanal Moussa, Jihan Sondos, Jehad Khisania, Farah Farroukh, and Sara Kassab (Lebanon) enthusiastically reflected on these questions and generated a number of recommendations and examples of how PD can be more asset-based:

  1. Invite teachers to present at PD sessions.
  2. Publish teachers’ work in newsletters and websites.
  3. Create space for teachers to tell their personal stories.
  4. Set up opportunities for peer observation or being guest-speakers in each other’s classes.
  5. Support teacher leaders for grade-level or curricular work.
  6. Reverse roles and have administrators, supervisors or inspectors be the students and teachers be the leaders of the PD session.
  7. Ask teachers for their real materials to use as the materials for the PD.
  8. Design a PD that allows teachers to show off their students’ achievements and display their achievements through video or via student presentations as part of the PD session.
  9. Open up time in the PD for teachers to share talents, interests, skills, and abilities beyond their educational roles.
  10. Offer choice-based PD rather than having all teachers participate in the same PD.

As teachers see one another’s strengths, a sense of camaraderie and the value of teamwork can build capacity and humanize the PD experience.

In the comments, please share how you view asset-based approaches for PD in yourself or your staff.

About the author

Laura Baecher

Dr. Laura Baecher is professor of TESOL at Hunter College, City University of New York. Her research interests and publications relate to teacher education, including educational technology in teacher learning, observation and coaching for English language teaching, and professional development in TESOL. Her recent books are Using Video to Support Teacher Reflection and Development in ELT and Reflecting on Problems of Practice in TESOL. She has served as chair of TESOL International Association’s Teacher Education Interest Section, an English language specialist for the U.S. Department of State, and president of the New York State TESOL affiliate.

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