A Professional Development Paradox


Ann Marie Stanley, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester


Haley L. Moore, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester



Researchers and providers of music teacher professional development (PD) have struggled to create PD congruent with this tenet of andragogy: Adults learn best when their learning environment is self-directed (Zaped, Parylo, & Bengtson, 2013). But the notion of “self-directed PD” is problematic; researchers and providers may rightly wonder whether activities planned and organized by others can truly allow teachers to direct their own learning?


Perhaps the ideal PD would be wholly self-initiated: an appealing idea for many music teachers. Members of the PD-ET ASPA investigated this topic for a presentation on self-directed teacher learning— “Renewed, reinvigorated, recharged: The voices of experienced teachers on their self-initiated professional development”—at the 2014 NAfME Research Conference. However, locating and planning one’s own PD can be burdensome. Teachers are usually subject to district rules governing PD, district-mandated PD is rarely characterized as self-directed, and often may not even be musical (Author, 2011).


Complicating the issue is that many PD providers and districts view improvement in teachers’ “reflective practice” (Schon, 1983) as a crucial goal of professional development, and as comprising an important component of teacher evaluations (Danielson, 2013). But we suggest it is tremendously difficult to plan and implement PD experiences based on reflective practice, as achieving growth in one’s own reflective practice is a highly individual endeavor: not easily instigated by outsiders.


Nevertheless, we challenged ourselves to design a series of PD opportunities for local music teachers, student teachers, and music education graduate students that would allow participants to feel they could (a) direct their own learning, and (b) achieve growth in their reflective practice habits. We oriented our sessions around Core Reflection— a powerful, holistic approach to teacher learning based on individual introspection and change (Korthagen, Kim, & Greene, 2013). In our PD we gave our participants space and time to engage in restorative, uplifting, self- reflective teacher learning exercises within a supportive, fun environment. We acknowledge these sessions were designed and offered by us, so cannot be considered 100% self-initiated by the teachers. However we found simply offering this opportunity to learn CR was viewed by our participants as “a welcome gift to busy teachers.” They appreciated the transformative possibilities in CR techniques. Teachers also appreciated our willingness to organize productive, enjoyable PD events centered on their needs.


In this session, we will describe the basic components of Core Reflection, emphasizing its crux: to help teachers examine, nurture, and improve the relationship between one’s own essence as a teacher—one’s innermost core qualities—and the outside world of schools, administrators, colleagues, students, and politics. We will lead attendees through examples of exercises people in our workshops found helpful, and provide CR resources and handouts. We will detail how we tried to strike an effective balance between our participants’ need for self- direction, and our learning goals for our participants. We will conclude with an audience discussion of ways PD providers might support the critical need of music teachers for self-directed learning, while still offering powerful, structured opportunities to achieve growth in reflective practice.




Author (2011). Professional development within collaborative teacher study groups: Pitfalls and promises. Arts Education Policy Review. 112 (2), 71-78.

Danielson, C. (2013). The framework for teaching: Evaluation instrument. Princeton: The Danielson Group.

Derges-Kastner, J, Hartz, B., Robbins, J., & Author, (2014). “Renewed, reinvigorated, recharged: The voices of experienced teachers on their self-initiated professional development.” Paper presented at the National Association for Music Education Music Research and Teacher Education Conference, St. Louis: April 11, 2014.

Korthagen, F.A.J., Kim, Y. M. , & Greene, W.L. (2012). Teaching and learning from within: A core reflection approach to quality and inspiration in education. New York: Routledge.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.