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You’re On Your Own

In a post today, Scott at Dangerously Irrelevant manages to hit an assortment of my pet peeves when it comes to staff development for educators.

Yet what does staff development look like in most school districts? Typically it involves three or four one-shot “sit and get” (or “spray and pray”) sessions spread across the year, each on a different topic than the one before, that are attended by most or all educators in the organization. A “one size fits all” model is used, meaning that there is relatively little differentiation between, say, music teachers and math teachers and industrial arts teachers. Sometimes schools spice it up a bit and have a buffet day where educators can pick from multiple choices throughout the day, much like a professional conference.

Rarely is there follow-up. Rarely is there sustained, focused conversation about a specific learning issue over time.

However, he left out one of the worst aspects of professional development for educators: teachers are often penalized for attending.

In our overly-large school district (and I’m sure many others), teachers must get their training on their own time and often using their own money.

Think about how well prepared your kids would be if they had to work all day and then begin their learning at 4 in the afternoon.

And then, unfortunately, in many cases the motivation for attending is a pay increase, not necessarily professional improvement.

Even when training occurs during the school day, preparing for a substitute (and cleaning up after the sub is gone) is often more extra work than the professional development session is worth.

Then there’s the situation where many principals discourage teachers, directly or indirectly, from being out of the classroom, for any reason.

However, my rants and Scott’s discussion are all part of the general negative attitude towards professional development that seems ingrained in American education.

We put a great deal of planning into the learning of our students. We even create individual educational plans (IEP) for special education students and there is a growing trend to do the same for all students.

But we allow the learning of their teachers after college, and sometimes an induction program, to be almost entirely up to chance.

Isn’t it about time every educator had an IEP? A professional growth plan that fits their needs and which is embedded as a normal part of the workday.

Now that would lead to teachers being “highly qualified” faster than anything in NCLB.

educators, professional development, iep

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3 Comments

  1. The district I work in has half days on Friday for the students. The second half of the day is staff meetings and professional development. It’s good to have that time set up for pd, but most of my experiences with it have not been much I would be interested in attending. Like you said in your post though, at least I get the hours for re-certification. It has been better this year than in past years though.

  2. Great points! We’re trying some new staff dev. models this year due to a new schedule, which allows weekly time during the school day.

    Planning to post about it sometime soon….

    But I was laughing reading your post….I’m speaking at a conference in Monterey in November. Our district will only pay $80 a night for a hotel. The rest is out of your pocket, unless you want to stay at the Motel 6 ;)

    I’m working on bringing this to their attention, but your post reminded me how sometimes schools are penny wise and pound foolish.

    In this case, if I take another person with me (to the tune of $800 more dollars at least) they will then pay the $80 towards the second person’s room, saving me money out of pocket.

    I’m not trying to take on my district, just pointing out that sometimes policies aren’t creating the intentions districts want. When you make it difficult to get professional growth training, then it discourages rather than encourages.

    Policies should begin with the end in mind.

  3. Dave

    The demand for a better solution is so great that if there was an easy solution, we’d know it. : )

    I do vote for going to the campuses rather than having staff come to the admin buildings. I get more attendees when I actually go to the schools, and it makes sense on every level: we’re in the teacher’s environment so training and questions can be more applicable, it’s just me driving instead of however many teachers, etc. Still, follow-up has to be by email because it’s hard enough to schedule and visit 30 campuses once per topic.

    I really don’t see taking teachers out of the classroom as a viable solution. And I do agree that it’s very backwards for the education field to have such problems with and aversion to growing staff knowledge and skills (I’m trying to shy away from defined phrases like prof dev and “Continuous Improvement”). What a fun cultural shift we have in front of us! : )

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