Why Most Professional Development Stinks—and How You Can Make It Better

Why Most Professional Development Stinks—and How You Can Make It Better


At the end of summer vacation, the agenda or itinerary for pre-planning week arrives in the mail, and the feelings take over like the charge of a rushing flood with the thought of “PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.” It happens to the best and worst of us as we ponder what we’d rather be doing in our course teams or classrooms than taking useless PD. Ironically, this summer strummed a different type of emotion within me… I realized that for once, I wanted more--I wanted more from my PD.

Professional development sessions should not be met with frowned eyebrows and a scrunched up face, but instead with a growth mindset and opportunity to improve teaching and learning--yet or even better, as my colleague Dorian stated, PD should make you “fall in love all over again.”

How Administrators Can Improve Their Deliverance of Professional Development

Building administrators and leaders are often following county-level or district-wide mandates when serving up PD to their faculty. These things just have to get done. No contest there! The downside to achieving these goals is that the ensuing sessions often resemble someone standing in front of the group and talking “at” the audience, while we all we just “sit and get”. This torture is usually coupled with endless scrolling PowerPoint slides and a manila folder, which might as well have the stamped words “You’ve Been Trained” handed to you.

Ironically, time arrests that folder, and places it away in a cold, lonely drawer within a file cabinet. It’s always with good intentions that we get back to what we learned, but time usually jangles the keys in our face and laughs hysterically until the mention of that topic resurfaces or the school year draws to an end.

While engaging in a discussion with colleagues through a chat on Walkie Talkie app Voxer, I picked up several pieces of advice on how administrators can better the PD they offer. To kick us off, Aziz Abdur-Raoof (@ziz87 from MD), shared this photo which sums up best what administrators do not want to happen.

With that image in mind, here are some suggestions for how administrators can engage and understand more what teachers are looking for.

  1. Offer teachers some choice throughout the year in things they want to learn about. This is the personalized learning that sparks the flame and makes you want to go deeper without being told to do so. Isn’t this the same thing we want for the students in our class? This can be achieved by collecting ideas on a Google Form or creating a Choice Board where teachers can share their interests. For more largescale changes to the actual event, follow an EdCamp-ish type model, where participants pick their poison.
  2. Observe, in order to differentiate, then decide what the group needs. Just as in writing, know your audience. How do they best learn? Where do they shine? How can you establish buy-in versus push-back? Matthew Mayer from Illinois challenges administrators to do just that here, in this Voxer file.
  3. Be clear and transparent about why something can’t be done. Teachers may often give suggestions as to what they’d like to learn, or at least what they think is meaningful. Tell them the broader lense that you are looking through that may benefit the whole group, or perhaps why this moment may not be the most appropriate for their particular desire.

How Teachers Fit Into the Equation

The buck doesn’t stop with school leaders and administrators--teachers should go deeper with their learning and ownership over PD. When the excitement sparks from within, then we can teach our students better and apply our knowledge. For example, my #satchat buddy, @TG_Neil distinguishes professional development from personalized learning (in her opinion) here in this Voxer file.

Teachers, here are some suggestions for how you can own your PD.

  1. Familiarize yourselves with the local school’s improvement plan and how that helps the district overall. This may not always be what we want personally, but may be what the school needs as a whole towards a common goal. There is always a challenge in education that could be solved with our simple ideas as suggested in Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez’s book, Hacking Education.
  2. Proactively seek out opportunities to share, lead, and earn PLU credits and stipends on your passion areas. I usually don’t wait for an opportunity to fall in my lap, but instead I try to create them by running a parent literacy night, leading a teacher group, or suggesting and teaching an intervention class for students with disabilities. I am honing my craft and leading in areas that I am passionate about. Find your passion, seek it out more in depth, and impact those around you positively
  3. Attend conferences and join professional organizations. ISTE, Miami Device, EdCamps, and those put on by Staff Development for Educators (SDE) and Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) are all opportunities to learn deeper and meet like-minded people or those with a different viewpoint. Subscribe to publications like National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) for articles and latest research.
  4. Get connected and establish global connections through Twitter (#gwinchat, #SoFLEd, #EduMatch, #satchat), FB Groups (PoC in EdTech and Hack Learning), Instagram and other Social Media outlets (i.e.Pinterest). Though technology can be a game changer, it is not the only tool out there that you can use to change the game. Remember to find value from the people within your building that offer tons of knowledge and are rich in experience and connect with them first. Remember that you are a “forever learner,” and keep a growth mindset. Learning new things can often be uncomfortable until you try and begin to experience success.

Professional development is what your leaders say you have to do, and that may make you feel like your hands are tied behind your back. However, you hold the greater responsibility to personalize your learning each day, and oftentimes for free. The major cost to you is your time, and perhaps a few moments away from those you truly love.

In the end, for any educator, grow your network to include like-minded individuals (and perhaps even those with a varied point of view) that may be within your building, outside your district, and perhaps even across the country. The perk in this is that you can and will exchange ideas (even simple ones), share resources to improve your practice, and grow through learning in both your professional career and personal passions.

Valerie Lewis is an educator, and can be reached on Twitter at @iamvlewis.

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Georgia). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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