If PD Isn’t a Boring Workshop, Then What Is It?
February 27, 2018
Professional Development, or PD as it’s known in education speak, can be defined several different ways. Usually, the definition includes references to strategies for providing educators with the knowledge and skills necessary to help students succeed in gaining a well-rounded education. The strategies for delivering information to educators almost always emphasize single-day, stand-alone workshops, but also frequently include collaboration, team structures, and a focus on data and outcomes. (Learning Forward)
While several models of PD delivery exist, the one-day “sit and get” presentation or workshop remains the most common and, for many teachers, the most dreaded. Research indicates that many teachers not only dislike boring workshops, they do not believe that sitting through one will improve their own performance or that of their students. But if PD is not a boring, ineffective workshop, then what is it? Or, more hopefully….what can it be?
New, Alternative, and Hopeful Models of PD for Today’s Educator
It isn’t enough for educators to criticize the status quo. We have to look not only at what isn’t working but also at what could work or will work. Deciding what to consider should be based on research and facts, not impressions or feelings. In reviewing models of PD for educators, we found several possibilities with a high probability for success. School administrators, teachers and other educators should get to know these other options and consider them as alternatives or supplements to the ineffective and frequently unengaging one-day stand-alone workshop. Here are a few that show promise, when used both individually and as part of a comprehensive approach to PD with several components.
Observation and Coaching
Observation and coaching often work well and teachers tend to like them…with two conditions: (1) They don’t want the same person evaluating them and coaching them. This is seen as a conflict and limits teacher buy-in. (2) Teachers do not want to lose all of their planning or prep time to coaching. Finding the time for instructional time for the coaching is a concern for both teachers and administrators who may lack resources to provide extra time for coaching. One solution for this problem is online coaching that teacher or coaches can participate in from anywhere. Coaching through live chat rooms, audio conferencing, and video conferencing are all great options and can supplement other options like coursework, workshops, and presentations.
Traditional Semester-Long Courses
There are advantages and disadvantages to courses that last the entire semester, some of which can be provided by a district professional rather than a university or educational service center. By definition, these courses take a long time and may not be flexible enough to address immediate issues and needs. Time is always an issue for educators and sustaining participation over a long period of time is problematic for educators with competing demands for their time. Shorter term, more flexible learning opportunities like those offered for micro-credentials are a great way to offer a course with high quality content but more realistic and practical options to coursework.
Book studies have been very popular in recent years. Teachers or administrators select and then read and discuss a professional book. Hopefully, specific goals and objectives are identified before beginning to read and study the book. However, there is little or no research related to the effectiveness of book studies in changing teacher or student performance. Book studies probably do not impede progress but there is no solid evidence that they change teacher behavior or student achievement.
Action research involves first asking how current practice can be improved and then selecting an approach that might work. The classroom is the research site. Administrators can use action research to investigate promising practices related to leadership and teachers and coaches might investigate which techniques have a positive impact on specific groups of students. (Alberta Teachers Association). Action research shows great promise, but it seems more likely that less experienced educators would need support and guidance when attempting action research. The micro-credential experience can provide that support and guidance when action research questions are included in the content and requirements.
Mentoring and New Teacher Induction Programs
Mentoring is a well established practice familiar to most educators. In solid mentoring programs, school districts support teachers in developing new skills and solving problems. Several states have begun to use micro-credentials as a the vehicle for providing essential content related to curriculum, assessment, and instruction, as well as the personal connections common in mentoring. This is both cost effective and practical, since many school districts have limited financial resources and their educators have limited time.
Team Data Analysis and Planning
The move toward the use of data to drive instruction has been occurring for the past several years. As educators increase collaboration with their peers, they typically use a structured data review process to make decisions about which approaches are working and which student groups are most impacted specific those approaches. When this occurs systematically and effectively, educators can then translate this into effective team planning. Data analysis and data-based planning show great promise and many schools and districts have shared positive results. One limitation is that teacher and administrator turnover result in a never-ending stream of educators in need of basic PD so that they have the needed knowledge basis. Micro-credentials can provide this basic, essential information.
We hope that this information has provided useful background and some realistic, practical options to traditional PD. As school districts and educators work to improve PD, consideration of all options and the inclusion of new technology based approaches into comprehensive programs can move PD from boring and ineffective to interesting and powerful!
Contact PD Anywhere for more information about getting started with competency-based online learning. It is cost effective, practical, and easy to access, while building essential knowledge and skills for educators.
Learning Forward: Definition of Professional Development. Retrieved from the Internet on January 12, 2018.
Alberta Teachers Association: PD Activities for Professional Growth. Retrieved from the Internet on January 10, 2018.