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Spouting Off about Professional Development: Don't Revist PD–Revision PD!

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I'm spouting off here...clear the path!

I’m spouting off here…clear the path!

If you are on this page, you may notice that I tweet–see the link to your right? I use Twitter (@doctordea) to keep up on educational trends and cutting edge thinking. I participate in some chats–a group of tweeters who have a particular interest meet at a regular weekly or monthly time and share their ideas via Twitter–and sometimes I just lurk (that means I read the tweets as they fly by but don’t share my 2¢). A cool thing about chats is their archive; a responsible person in the chat group captures all of the tweets and saves them in a place like Storify then notifies all the chatters of the link through a mass tweet. This makes available the entire chat for those who were indisposed or those who got were distracted by tweeting with someone else or watching The Voice on TV and therefore missed some tweets of others. Ensures as a member of the chat group, you indeed have “rest of the story.”

But to my point. In several recent twitter chats (#edchat and #mdedchat, and even #mschat), the topic of professional development has taken center stage. For those of us active in educator Twitter PLCs, Twitter is one form of professional development. But Twitter can’t do it all–144 characters! And based on the vast number of links some Tweeters post, I highly doubt that they are following up on their own reading suggestions. However, since becoming part of the Twitter community I have been experimenting with my professional development delivery, now making time for the #educamp PD paradigm and incorporating other Twitter-like features in the PD. Digresson.

Fact is, most teachers are not building professional learning communities on Twitter and many are not building professional learning communities outside of what the school or district offers. So, the Twitter chat discussions of the last week have been more centered on conventional PD and its conventional presentation with which many professions are familiar. These are valuable discussions. PD is an important topic in any line of work, but especially now in education during an era of mass educational shift–dare I say, upheaval: The Danielson Model–Common Core State Standards–Positive Behavioral Interventions–NCLB Waivers–ESEA Reauthorization [sic]. Yet professional development and facilitators of PD often get a bad wrap. I once had a superintendent friend (?) tell me that NCLB stood for “no consultant left behind!” And though I understand his emotional exasperation, he provided little or no PD for the staff and they continued to be a less than successful school with morale problems to boot. The teachers wanted help.

Does this Tweet describe your school's PD?

Does this Tweet describe your school’s PD?

As one who has spent most of my professional life in the classroom, comments like his or the one by Reed Gillespie (at right) do not come as an affront. Like every teacher, I have suffered through overpriced PD delivered as a sit and get training deserves such criticism. As a matter of fact, I sat through plenty of these…in the 1990s. But I have also experienced high quality, ongoing professional development that made a difference–before the era of BYOD! Two of the most significant PD providers in my educational history were Roger Taylor and Talents Unlimited, a program that has probably undergone several reifications since my inculcation twenty years ago.

Perhaps it was for this very reason that as I began to lead PD in my building and around the state (related to a Carl Perkins grant we had received), I reflected on my feelings as a teacher forced to sit through condescending presentations and time-wasting deliveries of statutory requirements. In designing my workshops and seminars, I put great effort in appealing to the diversity that comprises the school. I would like to say they were and continue to be intellectually interactive spiced with technology and reality. But here is part of the reality. Although I’m working to meet the needs of the audience (intellectually and affectively), there are some teachers who refuse to even give the PD topic a try. They can see no worth in the PD because they are going to close their door and do what they want to do regardless or the PD doesn’t serve their needs or they are retiring next month or the school has already released them from their contract or they just had a bad day. You know the circumstances.

Tweet PD Todd WhitakerIn my experience, Todd Whitaker’s tweet (at left) could be retrofitted to include not only the “ongoing” success of PD, but first baby steps toward “ongoing.” The biggest determinant of whether PD is going to be successful is the principal. The, instructional leader in the building. It’s easy to pass off failed PD on teachers, but the fact is, I presented many workshops where the principal is nowhere to be found and yet, some of these workshops are on topics that affect teacher evaluation. Is the principal absent because sh/e knows all there is to know about the topic? Nadda. Anecdotally, I would add that these PD efforts are likely to be the very ones that are met with less success because those who are motivated to follow through belong to the percentage of teachers who are teacher leaders. Now, I’m not saying these efforts fail. I have seen schools be successful in the implementation but that is because they used high doses of PD. I can’t say the principals in those cases were the instructional leaders: frankly, I was because I was in those buildings multiple days each week demonstrating, coaching, presenting, modeling, co-teaching, and building relationships. And I’m not complaining. But I was not evaluating, nor should I have been. But the impression the principal had of teachers’ performances and the reality of the quality of that performance may have been on near opposite ends of the spectrum. Just sayin’.

Tweet PD Exchange Dunford, Hutchinson, BlochPaul Dunford made an interesting comment that can be supported by the research of Linda Darling-Hammond, et al who released a 2009 highlighting correlation between number of PD contact hours and implementation. They found teachers who receiving professional development of roughly 49 contact hours spread over six to 12 months were able to boost their students’ achievement scores an average of 21 percentage points. Sporadic or low dose PD (5 to 14 hours total) correlated to no statistically significant effects on student achievement. And, teachers who received 80 or more hours of PD we more likely to implement teaching strategies and methods than the teachers who participated in sporadic or low dose PD. This report, and others, suggest that it is both number of contact hours and duration of PD support (whether it is ongoing in nature) that impact level of implementation. A second study, published in Reading Today, indicates 49 – 100 hours of PD is needed to impact student achievement (p. 29).

Tweet PD Baron, Caposey, Whitaker RTP.J. Caposey and Todd Whitaker have it right here (to the left). Professional development is a process and not a one time “sit and get.” On any PD day, there are the “gifted” in the group who were probably doing much of what the PD suggested before the facilitator even arrived (who may be the principal; note I did not say presenter or leader) and those people will take the proverbial ball and run with it. Then there are those who want to do something but need coaching to start. And there are those who want to do something but are aligned with Mr/s. Ido A.S. IPlease and allow that relationship to undermine their potential. These are most likely insecure teachers who in the absence of a positive relationship with the instructional leaders have found a surrogate leader in the Mr/s. Ido A.S. IPlease.

In today’s tight budgets, schools do not hire external facilitators because there is money is sitting around waiting to be spent. Schools hire external facilitators because teachers and/or administration may have a sense of what needs to be done, but the demands of their full-time job leave no time to become expert in changing standards, effective classroom management approaches, and/or mandated evaluation procedures much less support high quality implementation among a diverse staff.

High quality professional development facilitators (note the italics) make these areas of educational concern their full-time work not because they sought an easy way out of the classroom but because they have a passion and the wherewithal to support schools….and if they don’t: get rid of them. Professional development facilitators should customize their work for the needs of the school, the district, the teachers and administration. Without that ability I question their role in professional development. Presenters, trainers, and professional development facilitators are not one in the same. I have made presentations to groups on subjects I know little about (not my favorite task); I have trained kids, dogs, and even my husband (but he has trained me too!); but professional development demands a depth of knowledge and rich experience that takes the complex and renders that valuable to fellow professionals. This is the job I love.

References: Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R.C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad. Palo Alto, CA: School Redesign Network at Stanford University.

Long, R. (2011). Professional Development and Education Policy: Understanding the Current Disconnect. Reading Today, 29(3), 29 – 30.

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