Using the Web to Document PD Results
There is no shortage of web sites out there, but one could argue that for the narrow field of professional development, a few more could be very useful. The following are two purely imaginary web sites, but they illustrate unmet needs that the Internet is uniquely positioned to address.
www.pdgoodandbad.com - Teachers and administrators are consumers of countless hours of professional development. Through their personal, direct experiences, each year they accrue knowledge about the varieties of professional learning, including its many incarnations, substance, and results.
Yet most of these educators have no voice. Their knowledge lies dormant, untapped and unused. Because excellent professional development is largely undocumented and unreported, educators can neither be inspired by it nor replicate it. Because there is no venue to report and record cases of bad professional development, it grinds on, leaving frustrated and despairing educators in its wake, no more effective because of the time and effort they invested in it. States, school systems, and schools continue to allocate limited resources for professional learning good and bad without benefiting from the candid, critical feedback of educators who participate in it. This hypothetical web site would function primarily as a moderated repository of educators' reactions to and assessments of individual professional development experiences.
www.pdresults.com - This site would establish and help educators implement practical protocols at all levels to report positive teacher and student effects of professional development. The protocols would be developed specifically to encourage the web site's use by non-researchers and over-burdened teachers and administrators. Submissions congruent with the protocols would merit prominent placement on the web site, but both formal and informal reports would be welcome. The web site would publish and publicize an annual "Impact Award" for the most credible and compelling accounts of professional learning's positive effects on educators' practice.
Accounts of professional development results could be as simple as an educator's self-report of how his/her practice became more effective because of professional learning. More sophisticated submissions by school system administrators, state departments of education, and colleges of education would describe substantive, observable improvements in the performance of front-line practitioners and their students.
Is there a "market" for these sites? There are more than three million K-12 teachers and administrators in this country, and each of them engage in some form of professional development each year. Yet, no organization solicits and reports how they experience their learning, good or bad, or its results. So long as professional development is largely a private ecstasy or agony, it will remain a below-the-radar enterprise, powerless to either have greater impact or improve.
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Learning Forward