Does Professional Development Work?
This year for the first time I’ve been on the planning side of professional development (PD) events. As I plan and attend events, I see PD with new eyes. I wonder to what extent professional development is effective, and what types of PD work best. We all accept that a knowing-doing gap exists between what we learn is the best practice and what we are able to implement, but how much PD is useful? I’m interested in what you think. What works for you? What's effective? Is it easy to put in-service training into action? Keep reading and voice your opinions.
Depending on how long you've taught, you may have attended anywhere from two to a hundred professional development events. Yet according to Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, in-service training is the least effective of all forms of teacher preparation.
Below are six formats for professional development. Tell me what you think about the value of these PD formats and rate them from one to five stars, based on their knowing-doing gaps.
One star = I didn’t learn anything I can put into practice.
Five stars = There was a lot I'll implement and apply to my practice.
1. Big Conference — A big conference may be a statewide technology conference or a regional International Reading Association conference. At a one-day conference, there are typically one or two inspirational keynote speakers and two to four short workshops. Teachers are nourished and inspired by the ideas at big conferences. How do big conferences add to your knowledge? How do you implement what you learn at a big conference?
Geoffrey Canada at last year's ASCD conference.
2. Book Study Group — The leader of a book group may be a building administrator, teacher leader, or independent consultant. A book group leader is likely an engaging instructor who has a loyal following and a positive way with teachers. A series of meetings may occur before, during, or after school. Do you connect what you read and discuss to your teaching practice? Is there follow-through? Who holds teachers accountable? What about teachers who don’t attend regularly?
3. Webinar — Recently we had two after-school Webinars for teachers. I was surprised by the negative feedback. I thought teachers would understand the limitations of this medium and take that into account when considering a Webinar’s degree of engagement and involvement. The pacing of one of the Webinars was slow and transitions were ragged, but the content was solid.
How do Webinars and online learning work for you?
4. Grade Level Meeting — Our school district covers 250 square miles of woods and fields. Schools are very small (with fewer than 100 students), and teachers don’t have grade level colleagues. So twice a year, in fall and spring, we come together for day-long grade level meetings. Because meetings are infrequent, I wonder how they work for teachers as professional development. While teachers talk specifics, what are the outcomes when they return to their small, rural schools? How would this work for you?
5. Mini-Conference/Workshop — An after-school, one-hour workshop on a specific topic like teaching writing or social skills is a common PD format. These are usually single events. Are they helpful? Do you learn practical things you can implement immediately? Are school-based workshops more effective than district-based ones?
6. Colleague Classroom Observation — I hope I saved one of the best professional development formats for last. Observing colleagues’ classes may have lasting effects on our day-to-day practice. There’s something about watching live teaching that prompts us to think and make connections to our own work. What do you think about the value of classroom observations? What makes observations meaningful?
There are other PD formats I haven’t covered this week, like graduate level courses, coaching sessions, weekly team meetings, and teacher evaluations. I’m interested to hear from you. Please post your thoughts. Let’s discuss the kinds of professional development that work for you!