I believe that there are three key issues in professional development and have begun to see a shift in each of these areas. These key issues are moving away from one-off workshops, facilitating environments for greater collaboration and pursuing ways to communicate the impact this learning has on student learning.
Early in my career, professional development resembled that of a one-off workshop. These workshops were often presentations from outside providers or individuals from the district office. While the information was always important and somewhat useful, it often lacked context and therefore applicability for many. Bolt (2012) says “Problematically, face-to-face professional development has often been delivered as one-off workshops off site, whereas best practice models recommend embedded learning tailored to meet individual needs in the workplace (Bolt 2003, 2009; Guskey 2000; Lloyd et al. 2005; Zepeda 2012).” Despite evidence that embedded learning serves as a more effective model, we continue to go down a path that focuses on PD that is one-size-fits all and is often not tied to a teacher’s practice in the classroom (Spelman and Rohlwing, 2013). The shift however has begun to see opportunities for teachers to engage in their own learning within their own context on a more regular basis, through the emergence of PLC’s and the introduction of a mentoring program.
Both of these initiatives share a commonality and that is the opportunity for teachers to collaborate with one another. Showers and Joyce (1996) explain that teachers who “planned together and pooled their experiences practiced new skills and strategies more frequently and applied them more appropriately than did their counterparts who worked alone to expand their repertoires.” The opportunity to collaborate has been widely seen in my school as a positive thing, Bolt (2012) discusses how “collaboration with others in communities led to participants’ engagement with professional development as a process rather than as an event” (p. 288). While staff are generally more positive and engaged, I still feel this shift leaves many of the same questions unanswered, namely, how can we effectively assess and/or communicate transference of professional learning to the classroom?
The effectiveness of professional development is something that I have never really thought about. I know that I have come out of days saying that was amazing and I was energized, but I have never truly, deliberately reflected on what difference this learning has made on my students. Accountability and assessment can be loaded words with teachers as they are closely linked with evaluation, but Zepeda (2012), correctly states that “No doubt, all schools and systems experience the press for accountability.” The question I have moving forward is how can we share our learning safely, safely meaning open and free of criticism. How can we demonstrate our learning and the impact it is having on our students? I do believe that blogging can provide a powerful outlet, but also wonder if more private reflections could be just as powerful? Curious to read and hear our some of you demonstrate the impact of professional learning on students.
Bolt, S. (2012). Professional development: Then and now: International conference on cognition and exploratory learning in Digital Age, 287-290.
Guskey, T. R. (2002). Professional development and teacher change. Teachers and Teaching, 8(3), 381-391.
Zepeda, S.J. (2012). Professional development. What works. Larchmont. NY. USA: Eye on Education, Inc.