Professional development or are we kidding ourselves?

A recent article in Education Week titled, “Is PD Behind Teacher Improvement? Maybe Not, Analysis Cautions,” questions the effectiveness of professional development in improving teaching practice and suggests it may not be money well spent. Of course money comes up because that seems to be our only metric these days in evaluating whether a practice is worthwhile or not. Oh, and let’s not forget using test scores to also evaluate if something is working or not. I feel a rant coming on but I shall restrain myself and stay on target. Professional development. Does it help you become a better teacher? Is that one day every 3 months or so where you go to workshops, listen to other teachers or administrators or educational experts, worth it’s weight and give you the teacher something, anything that improves your practice?

The article in Ed Week by Stephen Sawchuck (read it here in its entirety if you like) shows that a research group TNTP failed to find a connection between teacher professional development and improved test scores and outlines a number of reasons why this might be the case. Despite districts paying an average of $18,000 annually per teacher on pro d there was no noticeable improvement and would not be unless there was sustained, school-based coaching that took the ideas from a pro d workshop and further developed them in the classroom. Great idea. I totally agree that what you learn in a workshop will not make it thoroughly into your practice unless you continue to think through the ideas and work them into your classroom routines. We all understand how quickly life moves through a school and you end up finding that brilliant October Pro D idea in the pile of papers as you do your Christmas clean up. If we don’t use an idea right away, the chance of us using it at all diminishes greatly. Evaluating Pro D connections based on test scores? Since those kind of tests don’t belong in the Magic Classroom I’m not going to go there now.

What is good Professional Development and what workshops have you found worth your while? That is what we want to know. We do workshops. We love doing workshops. Inspiration from other teacher’s workshops and success from our own workshops gave us the idea to start the Magic Classroom. So what makes a good Pro D experience for you?

I look at a Pro D workshop from three angles:

  1. Classroom Practice: Is there something I can use right away in my classroom? For me, this is not the most important reason why I am at the workshop. While I enjoy getting new ideas and activities I can use, if I am always looking for the next lesson plan, I’ll be chasing that perpetually and never really hone in on why I’m doing what I’m doing.
  2. Theories and the latest from the academic minds: I love sitting in lectures. I’m just a nerd that way. I am one of the 10% of people who do well with lectures and I find the latest theories on brain research or adolescent hormonal induced behaviours to be fascinating. That is why I try and go to at least one academic lecture during Pro D if one is offered. It keeps my brain fresh and invigorated.
  3. Inspiration: This is the most important part of Pro D in my mind. I want to be inspired and it is inspiring to see other teachers and educators who are passionate about their work. Inspiration is the energy that drives us forward to continue with this job that can bring such wonderful highs and crushing lows. I hope my workshops inspire and I look to be inspired by other teachers.

So I invite all who read this to add a comment below. What makes for good professional development? What kind of workshops inspire you to try something new, to change something old, to step out and take a risk in your classroom? We look forward to hearing for you.

Meet the Author

I am living the dream as a Middle School magician in Langley, BC. I am co-creator of The Magic Classroom and a team leader and presenter in School District #35. I'm excited to be speaking at AMLE 2015 in Columbus, Ohio in October and at Ignite 35 in Langley in September.

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