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How Do You Define Professional Development?


Live From NSDC, St. Louis-- I attended an interesting session this morning on "How Professional Development Fits Into Federal Policy," led by NSDC Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh and NSDC Federal Policy Advisor Rene Islas.

The upshot was that NSDC is putting a lot of effort--through congressional lobbying, grassroots support, and field outreach--into getting a new definition of professional development into the reauthorization of NCLB. Islas noted that the PD definition itself--Sec. 9109 (34), if you're keeping score at home--is a little noticed part of NCLB but has a huge impact on other parts of law (e.g., Title I, teacher quality) where teacher support is referenced. NSDC clearly believes it could be major change-driver in schools.

The definition of PD in the current NCLB ostensibly restricts the use of one-shot workshops, but Islas acknowledged that it "is not having the impact that we think it should." NSDC's re-write of the definition thus goes considerably further, stipulating (among other things) that PD should: foster collective responsibility among educators for student performance; be team-based and facilitated by school-based leaders; take place several times per week in a "continuous cycle of improvement"; define clear teacher-learning goals based on data analysis; and inform ongoing improvements in student learning.

There was a general sense around the room that professional development of this type was not happening at very many schools around the country, and that there would be a number of implementation barriers (including teacher and administrator attitudes) that would need to be worked through even if it did become law.

Nevertheless NSDC's proposal has met with some success already. Hirsh and Islas noted that it is now supported by both the NEA and the AFT and that versions of it have been included in legislation proposed in both houses of Congress. (The latter part of the session was devoted to instructing attendees on how they could press their representatives in Congress to support for the legislation.)

At the same time, Islas noted that NSDC was wary of the possible impact of a recent shift taking place in the policy conversations on teaching. He said there has been an increasing emphasis in Washington and elsewhere on teacher evaluation and measuring teacher effectiveness, with professional development seen merely "as a remediation tool [for underperforming teachers] as opposed to a necessary ingredient to effective schools." That's not at all what NSDC had in mind. ...

--Anthony Rebora


How will they ever enforce this?

It would be a matter of providing incentives (i.e. grants, etc.) to encourage the type of Professional Development programs outlined in any legislation -- as opposed to "enforcement".

This is an encouraging development. The team approach to professional developement works well in other fields. It fosters cooperation and co-curricular thinking. It also puts PD on a local, within the school district, or even building itself, level.

Given that there is a push to tie teacher pay/performance to student achievement, it is going to be critical that schools begin to ask the question...does this PD have an impact on academic achievement, and if so, how much? The PD that should be used to build capacity in teachers to improve achievement absolutely should be tied to academic achievement. Working together in teams on student performance goals based on data is the best way to address the goals!

PD several times per week? Gasp! Are teachers to have no life at all outside of their jobs?
OK, that was my first reaction. But seriously,I agree that it's a pointless waste of time and staff to continue the traditional one-off PD just so admin. can check off that they've done it. But if "several times per week" means one inservice followed by in class modeling, if needed, and documented and supervised in-class practice of skills learned, then it makes a whole lot of sense. The best supervisors are peers rather than administrators. Administrators are too threatening. Also, the new skills need to be pedagogically sound and make sense to teachers, or the whole thing becomes a silly charade.
In my 35 years as a full time teacher, I received this kind of PD only once. And, yes, it permanently changed my classroom practices for the next quarter century and made me a way more effective teacher.

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Recent Comments

  • Susan Morrison: PD several times per week? Gasp! Are teachers to read more
  • Sandra: Given that there is a push to tie teacher pay/performance read more
  • Bob Frangione: This is an encouraging development. The team approach to professional read more
  • Susan: It would be a matter of providing incentives (i.e. grants, read more
  • Denny: How will they ever enforce this? read more




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