PD-Changing Or Not?

In an online post, Barnett Berry, reported that states and districts spend about $18 billion annually on professional development and that the funds are spent in highly fragmented ways, typically driven by the preferences of local administrators (often at the district level) who make most of the decisions about how and what teachers are to learn. (Déjà vu in American education: The woeful state of professional development )

How much is professional development changing in your schools?

Berry states that we know what PD should be:

“Effective professional development is aligned with school goals and assessments, sustained over time and job-embedded, focused on core content and active learning, and fueled by serious collaboration and coaching.”

 So what kind of progress are you finding? What barriers do you meet as you work to make professional development transformative and systemic?

Berry identifies five causes to PD being, by-in-large, unchanged. I’ve added my thoughts and comments following each.

#1 Professional Learning Communities in the U.S, unlike those in top performing nations, are driven by data and spreadsheets, as opposed to being driven by inquiry and led by teachers.

 My observations suggest that most elementary PLCs spend too much time looking at too much data. It is rare for them to have time to identify a need from the data they’ve studied, identify necessary student behaviors and experiences needed to gain the desired achievement, plan for teaching behaviors to gain those student behaviors, and then conduct the change and measure the impact. This process is what would lead to teacher learning that changes future practice. Narrowing the focus is a necessity for most elementary PLCs.

At the secondary level my observations identify that actual student work is too often missing from the PLC setting. Examining the results of common assessments regarding grades or even item analysis provides a starting point, but I believe misses the learning that results from examining the actual “work” the student produced. Looking at the student work raises teacher inquiry.

#2 Most formal evaluation tools devalue the spread of teaching expertise—and teachers have little opportunity to test out, refine, and expand on the feedback they receive.

 I believe we need increased opportunities for teachers to be discussing with supervisors and colleagues their latest learning and their current questions that are driving their desire to learn. I have recently conducted about a hundred classroom observations with groups of principals and coaches who then discussed the observations. As we walked away from one such observation I was asked how often I “see what I want” in teaching and learning? I was able to share that I have moved beyond evaluation to a coaching focus that is always considering what is the “next step “ that would advance teaching and learning.

#3 When teachers are elevated as instructional coaches, they are taken out of the classroom and are soon viewed by colleagues as quasi-administrators, not as peers.

 In too many cases instructional coaches are assigned with little clarity and training for their roles. Even more often principals have been provided no guidance in understanding their role in designing the school culture that utilizes the coach to impact student achievement. It is very rare that teachers are provided with guidance on how to make the most effective use of the coaches ’availability.

#4 Very little of what counts as professional development in the U.S. builds on the importance of reciprocal mentoring between teacher and coach in collective efforts to improve instructional practice.

I use the diagram below to illustrate that teaching is about studying learning and student work (observing and thinking) which leads to creating learning opportunities and then experimenting as students begin engaging. Observation and thinking continue leading to new creations and experiments. My coach is inside my circle increasing my observation, thinking, creating, and experimenting.

#5 Many administrators do not know enough about how to utilize teachers to lead their own learning—and, under pressure to garner short-term test gains, they tamp down the role of classroom experts in transforming professional development.

I am a strong supporter of strategies that increasingly give teachers the responsibility for driving their own professional growth. That means administrators need to be communicating that continuous teacher learning is an expectation.

Some questions administrators might use:

What do you think your students need you to learn?

What are you learning in your PLC work?

How are you using the instructional coach to increase your learning?

What are you doing in your classroom that you haven’t done before? What are you finding?

How do you see professional development changing? How do you see it needing to change?

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