Professional Development: More Than Just a Checkbox on a Form | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I believe that most states require teachers to have a certain amount of professional development (PD) each year. I also believe that most states do not directly pay for this to happen, leaving the funding of any PD up to individual districts. At that point it comes down to budgetary priorities. Some schools have the means, but many others do not. Nevertheless, every school must check off a box on some form somewhere indicating that some degree of PD has been delivered. And so was born the idea of the full-day workshop at least once a year. The impact on the budget is minimal, all of the teachers receive a day of PD to carry them through the rest of the year, and most importantly, the box on the form can be checked. Does this sound familiar?

Day-to-Day Costs

This process doesn't hold true for every school. There are many that have highly paid consultants come in to train their staff. Another common practice is having vendors include training on products at the time of purchase. These are limited meetings with little or no follow-up. In order to use any technology product effectively, teachers need to be trained and mentored in its use. I always point to the fact that too many teachers discovered interactive whiteboards in their classrooms without the training to use them. And without that element of PD, a very, very expensive piece of technology was relegated to being a very, very expensive video projector.

Another form of PD that administrators employ for the purpose of checking off the PD box on the form are professional conferences. Of course, the problem here that a vast majority of teachers are never approved for national or statewide conferences. These events are expensive propositions involving transportation and housing -- plus the expense of a substitute teacher. Additionally, teachers often feel that they shouldn't be away from their students for a prolonged period of time. On the other hand, conferences are usually in a budget line for some administrators. I'm not quite sure of the requirements for administrators to obtain continuing PD -- although I would support it.

Considering all of the drawbacks to supplying PD to teachers, it's really up to individual teachers to obtain -- and in most cases offer proof of -- their own personal development, since their required hours of PD usually exceed what their districts provide. In order for that PD checkbox on the form to be filled, however, documentation needs to be provided. Consequently, most PD for most teachers in America is probably do-it-yourself (DIY) PD.

The Proof-of-Concept Model

Maybe it is time to reconsider, or better still re-evaluate, our system of educating educators. Many teachers are finding their PD through connectedness. Many are finding mentors online to exchange ideas, locate sources and collaborate on projects. All of this connectedness is advancing professional development every day, but it cannot be quantified or validated by whatever proofs are necessary to check off the PD box on that form. Maybe we need to go to a proof-of-concept model.

Maybe it would be more beneficial if teachers, after their DIY PD, could point to evidence of successful PD in their lessons. A real-world application of learned PD is far better than a piece of paper verifying seat time in a workshop. It's actually a living portfolio of accomplishment, showing real results of what PD is theoretically designed for. It also turns PD from theoretical to authentic learning. In so doing, this would obtain the intended result by putting all sorts of PD into play. Teachers could point to a combination of online and face-to-face meetings that enabled them to accomplish a certain task with their class, and verify it by having an administrator observe the results. Additionally, teachers might gain more PD credit for modeling their newfound methods to their colleagues, having the school build and benefit on a single teacher's DIY PD. All of that would be worth a big fat check in the PD box on the form.

Of course, we need to consider failure as well. What if the DIY PD does not yield an effective improvement? This would be evident to the administrator observing the lesson. It would be up to that administrator to not just point out the flaws, but to counsel the teacher on improvements. The idea of learning from a mistake is a valuable concept. This turns an observation from a judgmental assessment into a learning experience.

Accomplishing this method of PD will require more time, but the alternative is the status quo. PD must be more than just a checked-off box on a form. If we are to better educate our students, we will need to better educate their educators.

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Missy Bartlett's picture
Missy Bartlett
Theology teacher from Louisville,KY

I very much agree with the comment that one-time technology PDs are not helpful. As for DIY, I think that's a great idea. In my school PDs are usually scheduled at the end of the day, when everyone is really tired. DIYs could be more appropriately scheduled.

Mike Rulon's picture
Mike Rulon
Consultant, Instructional Coach, Turn-around Facilitator

This article is right on. The last places I have worked we set up a series of elements that insured that PD moved from theory to practice.
First we developed PLC"s that used a continuous improvement cycle to ensure that teachers had a place to collaborate on their thinking and share implementation. Secondly demonstration classrooms were created by coaching teachers who wished to stay ahead in their learning and open their doors to colleagues. Lastly we created A set of observations to assure that teachers were able to implement the strategies at a high-level and receive feedback on improvement

Susan Bell's picture
Susan Bell
Teacher, Principal, Consultant

Yes, we need to re-evaluate PD. In my school we worked on PD at every monthly Faculty meeting through a variety of ways so it didn't become boring or just sit-n-get. We used our PD funds to purchase an Institutional membership to ASCD so each staff member had their own copy. Our leadership team chose one article to read each month and sent out an email to staff ahead of time so everyone came prepared to discuss what they read. Sometimes we randomly grouped staff members or let them work in their teams or let them choose who they wanted to meet with. This took only 15 minutes at the beginning of each Faculty meeting including time to share common thoughts with the whole group.
We also used our gym if we needed to do more "active" learning i.e. Snowball activity or short presentations from several staff who had just returned from a conference.
Technology made great strides because we didn't try to "train" everyone at the same pace. We had break-out sessions the staff could sign up for depending on their levels. We also paid our Tech teacher an extra stipend to provide individual help after school. (Those who felt lost in a general session appreciated the one-on-one guidance.)

ChenowethRuss's picture

Ms. Bell, it sounds as if you are doing technology PD the right way. The one shot PD over the summer or after school has questionable effectiveness to say the least.
Unfortunately, in larger districts the resources (human and otherwise) are often stretched so thin it can be difficult to follow up on PD and make sure that everyone has it. Therein lies the personal responsibility and motivation of those attending
PD. Are they there to learn and apply or to simply meet their hours requirement.

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