a colleague passed along a short article from learning forward titled Four Guiding Questions for Professional Learning. i was struck by how such a short article could elicit so many reactions from me. as the name suggests, it provides a few questions to consider when looking at the implementation and effectiveness of standard pd. for expediency sake, i’m going with a bulleted list:
- When educators are forced to take this “doing everything correctly but nothing effectively” approach, student achievement suffers – a little insulted by this. as a teacher i feel like this is an indictment of the approach teachers take to managing all that is set upon their shoulders. i suppose it’s possible that there is an emphasis on being correct, i would hope that being ‘effective’ or doing right by their students remains the center of the target. i don’t mind describing teacher responsibilities as being vast and there is a current emphasis on doing things the right way, i don’t like that that article presents this mindset at the beginning. it was clear the lens by which this article was going to take.
- This works best when educators use data from the students they teach, rather than when the school system prescribes one-size-fits-all professional development based on a study of system-wide data – as part of the first guiding question, the article presents the ineffectiveness of top-down initiatives, which ties directly to the first point. if pd is conceived from system wide data and handed down, then it’s no wonder that teachers feel like they just want to jump through the hoops. i really don’t understand how pd can be organized the other way, even though it is MUCH more educationally sound. how can pd, a centralized organization, create work if the needs of teachers are going to be so wide ranging? perhaps this is the question that is going to define the work the centralized pd is going to do in the future.
- teachers and principals are usually passive participants – see above point. when the pd is limited and narrow in scope teachers may not find anything to address the needs they have identified for the students in their classroom. what do they do? pick a session and try their best to make connections? will the pd model be changing to be elastic enough to manage all the needs? what does that mean for vetting courses? will central pd be willing to give up the control in some instances and empower the experts on the campus?
- few school systems systematically document whether and how professional development increases what both educators and students ‘know and can do’ – i haven’t a clue how this is going to be done and i know this is paramount in measuring effectiveness of pd. i may be in the minority, but i think there are too many degrees of separation to measure pd that teachers take to teacher practice in the classroom to student achievement. if a teacher indicated pd they participated in had changed their practice and they felt it impacted the success of their student then i would absolutely believe them but it seems like there are just too many ingredients in that soup to truly pick out which one is being tasted. what if the pd wasn’t a specific practice but a book study that led a teacher to investigate specific practices on their own, eventually implementing successfully in their classroom?
these questions don’t make pd implementation and development any easier and they certainly don’t provide any answers but i think the article does a good job of bringing forward issues that need to be wrestled with. for me, it highlights some of the frustrations.