Thursday, November 11, 2010

9 Steps To Fixing Professional Development

What’s wrong with PD? (this is the crabby section so just skip over this :-))
            To borrow a phrase from business experts like Seth Godin and Mark Hurst: professional development “is broken.” (for more on things that are broken check out: Professional development (PD) is ineffective and inefficient, Dr. Reeves believes there are a number of reasons that that has occurred.  First of all, PD is designed in the same format as an autopsy.  PD is often designed as “a procedure that is undoubtedly filled with data but rarely improves the health of the patient” (Reeves).  This means that the information and activities that are completed and deemed as PD really have no real translation to students or student achievement.  For instance, the data from the MAP test does not get returned to the school until the following year.  This gap in time makes PD focused on the MAP assessment as effective as an autopsy.  There are no tangible ways to translate that specific data into a usable and vital resource to plan professional development.
            PD is often planned and organized in too short of a time period.  I often overhear administrators say, “What do you want to do with the February professional development day?”  The other replies, “I don’t know, we’ll figure it out in January.”  This lack of focus on the program through a holistic approach leaves the teachers without the ability to make a lasting change in teacher or student performance.  The implementation of PD without an overall idea of where the staff is and where they are going creates an ineffective use of time and resources.
            PD lacks purpose.  There are very little ties from professional development to performance in the classroom.  There may be new ways to do something, new strategies to use, but they are often presented in isolation.  Concepts and skills do not build, loop, or cycle in order for teachers to create lasting change.  Professional development without purpose and ties to student performance has no impact.  
            PD introduces too many new programs.  The law of initiative fatigue states that “when the number of initiatives increases while time, resources, and emotional energy are constant, then with each new initiative—no matter how well conceived or well intentioned—will receive fewer minutes, dollars, and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors” (Reeves).  WOW!  Powerful statement.  If you relate this to juggling, imagine that there is a limit to how many balls a juggler can keep in the air at one time.  Educational initiatives are much like the balls in the air.  How can we as administrators continue to put more balls in the air with each professional development day and just hope teachers get better from it?  The lack of focus on a specific measurable objective yields no overall response.  As leadership continues to add more and more items to the workload of educators, continues to under utilize systems thinking into the overall plan,  this causes each new task to decrease in effectiveness.  Eventually faculty and staff arrive at the point where nothing successful is happening and it is hard to determine why.

Research shows that the “largest effects were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours spread out over 6-12 months.” (Darling-Hammond, 2009)

“If you were to decide in the months ahead to substitute high-impact learning for meetings, assemblies, and workshops, you may decide that you are not giving up very much after all.” (Reeves)

How do we fix it? (YES, All the answers!!!!!)
            First of all, choose a topic.  Reeves states that the topics can include improving teaching, curriculum, assessment or leadership.  He says that it must be something determined through a comprehensive needs assessment.  Then, while implementing this plan, administration must focus on three aspects of PD.  The first is student learning and how the actions of PD reinforce or seek to improve student achievement.  The second is that there must be rigorous measurement of adult decisions.  This means that administrators examine not only what teachers know, but what they do every day in their craft.  Finally, there must be a focus on people and practices.  We, as administrators, must focus our energy on the individual needs of the teacher as a learner and examine his/her practice to see if there are changes being made as a result of PD.
            Reeves states that successful PD has 9 characteristics:
1.    Comprehensive needs assessment – “Plans contain evidence of school leadership decision regarding the use of time, assignment of staff, and allocation of resources that were directly related to student needs.”
2.    Inquiry process – causal relationship is determined between teaching and leadership practices and student results
3.    Prioritization – six or fewer priorities
4.    Specificity – directly related to academic expectations for students, grade levels, skills, and individual students
5.    Measurability – objective statements can be made about progress, or lack thereof, to the achievement of goals
6.    Achievability – goals were established to close gaps in there to five years
7.    Relevance – represented as urgent, critical needs and are clearly aligned with needs analysis process
8.    Timeliness – specific dates, seasons, months, etc. for assessment and data collection
9.    Monitoring – data to be monitored, along with intervals to examine and reporting progress, student results and professional practices are used

How does this impact the superintendent?  "Inspected by number 2."
            The role of the superintendent is to be the leading learner in the district.  The CEO/superintendent cannot forget that his/her role in education is not only to lead the district but to continue to the role of lead learner for the district.  The superintendent should make time to attend professional development, learn what the teachers are learning, and then see the learned skill or concept in action.  Similar to the show Undercover Boss on CBS where CEOs go undercover in their own companies, superintendants should do a quality control on how their district personnel are being challenged, improved, and developed to become better. 
Every once in a while I will buy a shirt and somewhere on it will be a sticker that says “inspected by number 2” (or some other number).  This is equivalent to quality control of the product at hand.  That quality control needs to not only come form the person assigned to that responsibility but also seen first hand by the lead learner: the superintendent.  Focusing on that role and assisting those within the district in not losing sight of developing teachers and all things that impact student learning will pay off when evaluating the effectiveness of the superintendent.  After all, being a successful leader of a district where kids are not learning will make for a very short tenure.
Understanding the law of initiative fatigue is a crucial piece to the success of the district.  Being aware of where the staff is as a whole, what they are learning, why they are learning it, and challenging administrators to protect teachers will focus the staff.  The focus of the superintendent should always be on improving student achievement through creating the direction/vision of the district and what initiatives are needed based on a thorough needs assessment.  Nurturing PD as a crucial piece to the success of the district will allow for a successful tenure as a superintendent.

Seth Godin on things that are "Broken"

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.


  1. Nice post. I spent about 8 years in PD, and I agree with the things you're listing here. One addition- MEANINGFUL and RELEVANT must apply for teachers and staff. I'm a specialist, and I've sat through numerous PD sessions that do not match my area (music). Additionally, I've also sat through sessions that I wrote when I was in PD. We need to differentiate our PD for teachers and staff, just as we need to differentiate instruction for students. :-)

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I don't know how it really is in your culture but in mine (Romania) there is a small problem.
    What happens if professors don't want and don't care about PD? How may of your colleagues really want PD?
    Teaching in Romania has transformed over the years in book reading activity. The teacher comes in the classroom opens their subject's book and tell you line by line the text.
    If you ask something you are bothering them and you are going to be punished for it.
    How can PD be served a dish for someone who doesn't want to eat it.