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Professional Development


In an interview included in the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook, author Anne Jolly says that professional learning teams among teachers are schools' best bet to connect professional development to student learning and help teachers improve their instruction.

What's your view? Does your school support professional learning teams? Are they effective? In general, what's your opinion of your professional development opportunities as a teacher? What could schools do to make professional development better?


I work with High Priority schools in Tennessee as a consultant, and professional learning teams are quite effective. With the help of the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga,several schools instituted Critical Friends Groups. At CFG meetings, teachers looked at student work, read current articles using discussion protocols, and/or shared current practices and concerns so that the group could lend support. Other schools bring in professional developers that stay in one location for a whole day so that teachers can attend during their planning periods. Most all sessions are highly rated since they are short, direct, and tied to current needs.
In my work, I've found that the most effective p.d. targets current classroom issues brought to light in a new format -- discussions, hands-on strategies, "what-if" talks, and go-to sources such as web sites, articles, new books, etc. We're all hungry for great ideas that work!

I believe that the day a teacher enters the profession of teaching, the learning stage begins too. This rate of learning varies individually, some may be groomed to be effective teachers than the others. The bottom line, the learning process never stops,as long as there is desire to learn and improve oneself still burning inside.Learning derives from the inner passion to discuss. contribute and share knowledge and experience. Never fear to admit one's ignorance cause honesty is the best poiicy.Expand one's horizon of knowledge, and impart them to the kids and allow them to grow intellectually, spiritually, socially, and virtually healthy individuals.

A recommendation for improving professional development is to bring in the actual peer- reviewed research journals and articles and study them in discussion groups. Expecting teachers to deliver research validated curriculum without reading the research itself is ineffective in improving practice, and undermines our profession.

Professional learning teams work well when enough time is given to the teachers' development. I find that while it should be the case, it does not necessarily mean that all teachers are keen to read journals. Sometimes it helps when 'simplified' handouts are given and time is allowed for deliberation and discussion before implementation.

What I have seen work effectively is if the school/department chooses a goal -- say Writing across the curriculum -- and then focuses on that goal all year through faculty meetings rather than just at professional development workshops once or twice a year. This way teachers have the opportunity to experiment throughout the year and discuss their successes and failures and then agree on a format/program that works. Schools and teachers need time to practice and discuss new methods. Why are we any different than our students?

Too often teachers aren't given scaffolding for the proposed researched implementations. Professional development today may suffer from the "shotgun" approach: scatter the audience with "bullets" of knowledge. If anyone is left standing, you can hit them again next month with another concept. Most of the researched changes involve a deep analysis and a comfort level before real change can occur. This takes support for all (instructional coaching after the workshops) and re-teaching for some.

Many teachers who are entering the propfession today are not professionally trained to teach. As a result trouble sets in and they eeasily become discouraged. A sugggestion is to invite older teachers in as volunteers and hold professional development classes. You may even ask veteran teachers to come in and volunteer to be with these new teachers for a day a week to teach them practically the ropes of teaching and getting along with these children. Harsh treatment only help to harden some children. Treat them with love. Learn to understand their backgrounds, then you will understand how to deal with them.

As districts move toward rigid curriculums that have no room for creativity and uniquness, teachers feel less and less invested in stretching professionally. As I travel to different districts I hear the frustration from teachers who always experienced joy and fulfillment using a new motivational techniques to bring learning and excitement to the classroom. These same teachers feel that they will have no voice in what "works" or in the development of the whole student. They feel that NCLB will just continue to control the direction of learning and squelch best practices if they don't relate to testing.

It is imperative that teacher training is relevant and meets the specific needs of the instructors; however, many teacher training programs fail to improve teachers’ skills and knowledge.

In the United States, the number of hours of staff development that teachers receive is very low in comparison to other countries. More than half the teachers in the United States receive less than 1 day of staff development each school year, compared to 10 to 20 hours of staff development per week in other countries (McRobbie, 2000).

A growing problem for universities around the country is the lack of preparation that students receive in some undergraduate education programs. This lack of preparation contributes to the attrition rate of teachers in the field of education. Kent (2005) said the blame is not confined to one institution; many institutions of higher education fail to prepare teachers properly. Most of the staff development and in-service programs that are provided in schools fail to address the needs of teachers fully.

One factor that affects teacher education is new legislation that has added to the national and state standards and expectations that teachers are mandated to meet. In 2000, Porter, Garet, Desimone, Yoon, and Birman began a longitudinal study for the U.S. Department of Education on a program financed by the federal Eisenhower Professional Development program. Teachers who participated in this program were tracked, and the results of the study showed that professional development that focused on higher order teaching strategies and content area subjects increased teachers’ use of these strategies.

In order for a professional development or teacher training program to be successful, the facilitators must find new and innovative ways to train teachers. Leaders of educational institutions must find effective ways to educate teachers if they are interested in seeing better results in classrooms and retaining teachers in the field of education. Wenglinsky (2002) reported that over the past 40 years, research has shown a connection between teacher quality and student achievement. Effective instructional practices have been found to have the greatest impact on student learning. High-quality professional development for teachers has proven to be beneficial to student learning. Effective professional development must focus on (a) higher order thinking skills, (b) diversity, (c) teaching through hands-on learning, and (d) effective classroom instructional practices (Wenglinsky). Many teachers at the academy struggle to teach students higher order and critical-thinking skills. Many of the teachers who are ineffective in the classroom are those who do not have a strong knowledge of their content area.

Professional development that enhances the quality of teaching that students receive in the classroom is vital to the future of education. Professional development should be the primary issue that educators focus on when discussing changes in education (Kent, 2004). Policy makers, educational leaders, and the public can not avoided the issue of teacher education when discussing reforms.

Kent, A. M. (2004). Improving teacher quality through professional development. Education, 124, 427-436. Retrieved July 11, 2007, from Questia database.

Kent, A. M. (2005). Acknowledging the need facing teacher preparation programs:
Responding to make a difference. Education, 125, 343-346. Retrieved July 11,
2007, from Questia database.

McRobbie, J. (2000). Career-long teacher development: Policies that make sense.
Retrieved June 6, 2007, from www.wested.org/online_pubs/teacher_dev/ TeacherDev.pdf

Porter, A. C., Garet, M. S., Desimone, L., Yoon, S. K., & Birman, B. F. (2000). Does professional development change teaching practice? Retrieved June 2, 2007, from http://www.ed.gov/rschstate/eval/teaching/epdp/report.pdf

Wenglinsky, H. (2002). How schools matter: The link between teacher classroom
practices and student academic performance. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(12), 1-31.

I can only speak from my personal experience of 25 years teaching high school in a large, urban, public school district.

Too often PD planners have a budget, and look for whatever PD package is available in their price range that seems to fit the district agenda. More often than not, consultants, speakers, or presenters are brought in, and a dog and pony show ensues. A small cadre of teachers eagerly takes notes and participates, while the rest of the group sits in the back grading papers, reading magazines, or exchanging snide remarks. The standard assessment survey is passed out at the end of the session, and the PD is given decent overall marks, because the design of the survey makes it easier to be positive than negative.

Effective professional development, the relevant type that truly engages teachers and impacts students, starts with identifying the real needs of teachers long before the actual date of the professional development session. PD planners must first find out what their classroom teachers need to improve student learning.

Start by asking questions. "What do you need to be a better teacher? What will help the students in your classes succeed?"

Administrators are often afraid to ask the hard questions, because they fear the answers.
"We don't want a gripe session." is the typical rationale. Please don't discount the gripes, they will lead you to discovering where the problems are, and only then will you be able find effective solutions to improving student learning.

During my teaching tenure, I have worked under 8 different principals and 10 CEOs. Some were excellent, others mediocre, a few were awful. The excellent ones were all good communicators, and even better listeners.
When both teachers and students feel that our opinions are valued, and our suggestions are not only solicited, but implemented, then the schools excel. Professional development, in order to be relevant, must be determined by the real needs of the folks who are working in the front lines of education - the classroom teachers.

On the other hand, when policy and protocol come from a top-down management strategy, and professional development sessions are designed, or chosen, based upon the current whim of an out-of-touch administration, the effort is usually wasted.

The Center for Teaching at The Westminster Schools is sponsoring some pilot projects to create professional learning communities. We have a Faculty Cohort group of ten teachers, five from Westminster and five from Drew Charter School that are working together. They meet twice a month. The primary goal of the Cohort is to create a mutually beneficial learning environment focused on best practices in teaching. Information exchange, collaboration on action research projects, and shared experiences with professional development are some of the initiatives that have developed. The relationships among Cohort faculty are designed to exchange professional resources and inform classroom practice. So far we have experienced a great deal of success with this model, an ongoing part of the Center for Teaching.

In addition, The Westminster Schools is piloting a PLC around technology in the Middle School. Five faculty and administrators meet four times a week and develop curricular ideas for science, math and economics classes. They have focused their attention on using Texas Instruments graphing calculators throughout their curriculum. Each teacher receives a one-course reduction to provide time to be in the PLC.

In another 2007 study performed by McKinsey & Company entitled, How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, the authors state that “despite massive increases in spending and ambitious attempts at reform, the performance of many school systems has barely improved in decades.” However, when you analyze the school systems that are performing at the highest level three things seem to matter most: “(1) getting the right people to become teachers; (2) developing them into effective instructors; and (3) ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.” It is clear from this study that creating excellent schools is directly dependent on our ability to provide high-quality teaching at every level. It is the single variable that correlates to excellence. Therefore, I think it is critical for schools to put significant thought and resources to the professional development of their faculty.

Most resources will typically go into the individual growth model (sabbaticals, conferences, workshops). While these are important, I think it is questionable whether they have significant impact on teaching/learning in the classroom. Some resources go into the group-directed growth model where a school brings in a speaker or expert in a given area to work with the faculty. These can be good ways to cover all faculty on mission-centered topics. Finally, the collaborative type of professional development that happens with PLCs is one of the most powerful ways to impact teaching/learning in the classroom. For that reason, I think it has the most potential.

I was a professor in a university teacher ed program before I stepped into the public school classroom. As such I had ample opportunity to glean ideas from colleagues, peers, and teachers from around the country.

When I came into my current assignment (an inner-city/urban high school in a major metropolitan area) I thought of offering university-level courses to the staff as a way to encourage participation in professional development. This was strongly supported by our building administration but, when presented to the district PD folk was not encouraged. We did it anyway and over 50% of the teaching and administrative staff participated for the first two years.

By the end of that two years, however, the district had reorganized PD and the building staff to the point that PD was impossible to do at the building level. It seems that the district thought we were spending too much at the building level (even though I taught the courses at no salary whatsoever).

We established Critical Friends Groups and Professional Learning Communities/Teams years before the district administration thought of them but we're now forced to do things the way the district demands so our efforts must conform to a downtown mentality of those who've not been in a classroom in years.

We're not teaching the same students those downtown administrators taught 20 years ago. We are not working with the strong family groups those downtown administrators worked with 20 years ago. We are, however, working in buildings those downtown administrators haven't bothered to take care of in those 20 years. We are also investing both our lives and our personal safety trying to reach students whose own safety is affected by the numerous gangs threatening their communities. Downtown administration, for all their rhetoric, doesn't care about anything more than the $$$$.

Our students, our teachers, our buildings, are no more than expenses that get in the way of how downtown wants to do things. Professional development is way down the list of what they are willing to support.

Professional development at the building level, sponsored and advocated for the staff who will most benefit is usually on target. Professional development run by the downtown folk who haven't taught in years and who don't know our students or our needs is usually a big waste. Of course, you can't tell them that.

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Recent Comments

  • Gary M / Teacher, Consultant : Columbus, OH: I was a professor in a university teacher ed program read more
  • Robert Ryshke, Executive Director of the Center for Teaching at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta: The Center for Teaching at The Westminster Schools is sponsoring read more
  • MB Matthews/Dept Chair: I can only speak from my personal experience of 25 read more
  • Dr Tamara Anderson /Founder/CEO of Anderson Academy of Mathematics and Science (A private middle/hig: It is imperative that teacher training is relevant and read more
  • Ms. H/Retired Teacher University Supervisor: As districts move toward rigid curriculums that have no room read more




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