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State Support Team, Region 16

More Bang for Your Buck - Stop Wasting Time and Money on Ineffective District Professional Development

Heather Wolfe - 3/25/2019 3:04:00 PM

Think back to your last in-district professional development (PD).  Chances are it was a one-and-done, sit-and-git, can't-get-back-those-hours of your career as an educator.  As a teacher, I've attended too many of these "professional development" opportunities over the years and have little to show from participating in them.  As a curriculum coordinator, I tried, with not much success, to provide teacher PD that made a difference in their instruction. It was hit and miss.  I didn't go about it in any cohesive manner.

Since then, I've done a lot of research on how to provide professional development that will be implemented and will make an instructional difference.  Actually, I would rather call it professional learning.  For me, PD is the one-day training that is more compliance driven, like the lock-out tag-out and blood born pathogen training done at the onset of each year.  Professional learning is a training series followed up by small group technical assistance and then one-on-one coaching.  I'd like to think that administrators would want to know how to stop "throwing away" money on ineffective professional development and would be excited to know how to implement professional learning so that they can see the impact it has on the district educational system.  Here goes!

The best place to start is at the beginning.  What is the district plan - is it meaningful?  What is being implemented - PBIS, a series of reading programs, a multi-tiered system of support, inclusive practices?  If this is all in order and communicated to teachers, have steps been taken to get educator buy-in?  I really dislike that term.  It sounds as though administrators have to convince educators to implement something that would have a positive effect on instruction.  Convince?  I'd rather not.  If an administrator has to convince, the district either has the wrong educators or the wrong initiative.  

Once the initiative has been examined in relation to the district needs and district plan and the educators understand the "why," it's time to plan for professional development.  Planning starts with understanding needs once again.  Where are the teachers in their understanding of the initiative and how to implement it?  Also, get an expert in for the first year of PD at the least.  Teachers need to know that they are being trained by the best, that the district is so serious about supporting teachers with the initiative implementation that it will seek out experts to provide a series of training, to provide technical assistance time with small groups to answer questions, and to provide one-on-one coaching opportunities for teachers who struggle with implementation. 

Additionally, teachers need team time to discuss implementation.  The ideal time is during PLCs/TBTs.  Unfortunately, many districts use TBT time for RtI and IAT, never focusing on teacher development.  If the administration fears a cold-turkey approach to rebooting TBTs, there are ways to transition teams from focusing on students to focusing on teacher development of the initiative.  Begin by asking teachers to list 3 to 5 components of the initiative that every administrator should see in every classroom every day.  Then have each team choose one of the five for deeper learning at their team meetings once or twice a month.  Administrators can offer frameworks, such as peer teaching, vertical team study, and lesson design.  Want to learn more about these and other frameworks, read this book. At the end of each quarter, have teams share out what they learned and how it improved their implementation of the initiative.

These are just a few of my favorite ideas on how districts can stop wasting time and money on ineffective PD and can focus on implementing an initiative with fidelity so that it can make a difference in teacher instruction.  I've read somewhere that implementing an initiative without fidelity might lead to positive change after about 12 years of implementing, but implementing with fidelity shortens that timespan to three to five years. 

Also, think about the classroom of your childhood and compare it with the classrooms of today.  Now, think of the telephone you used as a child and compare it with the telephone you use today.  If we keep doing what we've always done, we're going to keep getting what we've always gotten.  Let's change the way we teach so that we can meet our student's needs instead of meeting our educators' needs when it comes to fearing of change.  It's not about the adults, it's about the children.