Professional Development for Teachers

There's an op-ed in the Seattle Times in support of professional development for teachers by Patricia Wasley, dean and professor of Education at UW and Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of the National Staff Development Council. From the op-ed:

Unfortunately, under the recently adopted Washington state budget, the Legislature appears to have ignored this fact by eliminating all state funding for professional learning. Local districts will have to scale back or eliminate entirely their professional-learning budgets, actions that will harm the quality of teaching and learning.

They contrast the old professional development of in-service days/workshops to the "new" approach of the following:
  • Seattle - specially prepared teacher leaders help their peers implement the new district math curriculum. To improve student performance in science, the district uses up-to-date performance data to identify specific learning needs at every school and provides corresponding team-based professional learning and coaching to address particular areas in need of improvement.
  • In Federal Way, the district supports a school-based coaching model that leverages the expertise of peer teachers. And the White River School District in Buckley operates a professional-learning-community initiative that is seen as a model program by other districts.
A couple of comments from Times' readers:

When times are tough, let's slow the development of our teachers so when times are good again, we will be behind. Worldwide Citizen

I agree that professional development in education is critical. What program(s) should be cut in order to pay for it? Posaune

Us parents have seen no impact, no improvement in the sea of mediocrity that your teacher colleges produce annually nor from the seminars you provide on those "in-service" days that interrupt the school year but provide employment for the purported educators for the educators. You have all summer long to have the teachers come in for some extended quality seminars, an expense which would be tax-deductible by the teachers attending. These one day seminars provide almost no bang for the buck. Brier Guy

I'm somewhere in the middle and I hope any teachers will help us out. For me, there seems to be a lot of professional development days, both at the district and school level. I found it annoying to have both because I had to really watch the calendar and make sure you knew what time and what days my student would be home early.

But no matter how it felt to me or any other parent, teachers, what works? What helps? What makes teachers not attend the workshops? Is there any way to give feedback to the district on what works?


Sahila said…
Professional Development for Teachers:

Please note, I am attempting satire/irony/black humour! And at the core of that, is an acknowledgment that we treat our teachers with disrespect with the emphasis on the 'latest fad' in professional development....
Sahila said…
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Sahila said…
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Sahila said…
Sorry - forgot to make it a live link:

The country’s best teachers… what they think of RTTT and NCLB:
Charlie Mas said…
The authors of the Times column clearly preferred teacher coaches as a professional development method. No matter where you stand on HOW it should be done, the main point is that it SHOULD be done.

All professionals require continuing education. That's just part of being a professional.
MathTeacher42 said…
Here is an example of what would help ME, and what has been the exception in my 5 years of experience.

1. Come in for 2nd period Algebra on Mon., Tues., Wed.
2. See what I'm doing, see what the kids are doing, see what we're doing.
3. At my planning period, in 20 minutes, or LESS:
a. have 1 or more CONCRETE ideas on how to present tomorrow or tweak tomorrow,
b. have CONCRETE ideas on how to assess for understanding tomorrow,
c. help me put the tweaks, presentation and assessment together for the next day.
4. Come in the next day, see what happens in class.
a. during my planning period, in less than 20 minutes, help me go over the lesson and assessments AND have concrete tweaks...

I've had various coaches tell me, off the record, that they've been told to NOT help people directly. (I don't know exactly what they were told, I wasn't there !! )

As a rule of thumb:

The closer the coach / trainer is to a school of ed / downtown crowd, the more abstract and the more theoretical and the more useless the coach / trainer.

The closer the coach / trainer is to having been in my shoes, in terms of teaching kids from a NOT "Leave It To Beaver " world, the more useful the coach / trainer.

Since I've only been doing the job for 5 years, since I feel that I have had hundreds of hours of my life wasted on abstract theoretical baloney, clearly I haven't done the right research. I'm sure that "the research shows" that the abstract theoretical crowd is most effective on their abstract theoretical yardsticks.

I wonder how many of the lofty UW-ites will deign to grace the pages of this lowly blog with their illuminations, ruminations and emanations?

zb said…
I spotted the lament from the education college about the lack of professional development days for workshops as being pretty self-serving.

I've met one teacher who said that attending a convention for gifted children education was a positive experience for her. She came back with some enrichment activities that the kids enjoyed.

I've met lots of teachers who thought workshops were a pain and a waste of time that did not help them in the classroom.

Math teacher seems to cite the kind of information I can imagine as being useful in teaching. It does sound like coaching, by the way, though perhaps not the kind of coaching that's being offered by teachers. I thought that the Gates Foundation was going to try to provide/gather more generally that kind of information as part of their teaching quality study. I'm really keeping my fingers crossed hoping for that kind of information from their study (and not teacher bashing).
TechyMom said…
A related article from Mom's Rising, one of my favorite organizations: Building the Perfect Teacher.
Math Teacher, I think Meg Diaz would be better able to confirm this but I think the reason the coaches can't directly help you is because of the way their job is coded. The district wants them in one code because otherwise, they would be considered Central Administration and they don't want that.
Sahila said…
And what comes after is building a perfect society... or should that come before? Eliminating the societal obstacles that get in the way of us nurturing all children to their fullest potential...

Its not a teacher's job to do that (by his/herself) - its all our jobs...

And so the question becomes - what is each one of us doing to bring us all one step closer to that place where all children start from a place of equity and empowerment?
TechyMom said…
Did you read the article, Sahila? I thought you might be particularly interested in the "Whole Child Reform" approach.
Sahila said…
yes, TechyMom.... I meant to acknowledge you and it in my post but got distracted... my post was a follow up to the article, which I did indeed like/agree with... thanks for putting it out there...
reader said…
Wouldn't it be a lot better if the PD/coach idea was about building teamwork? If teachers need some oversight, and collaboration... wouldn't it be best to get that right inside their own building? If teams of teachers were observing and sharing, couldn't that be systematically built into a schools schedule. EG. Teachers observe one another, and develop strategies that work with a group of kids. Teaching is so isolated that it would probably be more engaging for the teacher too. Both the observer and the observed could learn from each other. The whole coach thing is so ridiculous, and punitive.
Sahila said…
I agree with reader both on this issue and the math one he/she wrote on another thread...

for myself, I learn the most and get the most enthusiasm when I collaborate/brainstorm with others... it is hard to work in a vacuum with no peer feedback... and coaches are a tier above, part of the hierarchy and its like having your boss looking over your shoulder all the time...

I know as a writer/editor I simply cannot write with someone looking over my shoulder... leave me alone to produce what I need to do and then critique it, offer observations about what worked and how I could have done better...

And I always respond better (less defensively and am more open) to peer evaluation than I am to criticism from my boss, who may or may not have spent any time in the trenches recently....

Why cant we give teachers the same respect and courtesy?
Bird said…
Hey MathTeacher42,

Does anyone in your school or the district ever ask you what you want or need for professional development? Or is it all handed down to you without your input?

Just wondering.
TechyMom said…
Glad you liked it, Sahila. Sorry, I read your comment as a criticism.
MathTeacher42 said…
Bird -

I haven't had much coach stuff since my first 2 years - you get more coach stuff when you're in your first 2 years, and, I haven't taught those Algebra 1 kind of classes for the last 2 years, and those classes are where the coach effort goes.

My other PD has been determined by ... a zillion rules I haven't had time to figure out.

My PD and my coaching stuff and my classes to get my cert have all kind of blended together.

There has been building PD, but that might go away ...? maybe ? if ? Deform Arne Race To The Tinklebell ??

My vague comments about the coaches - I've had lots of random water cooler / elevator conversations with lots of coaches over the years - I just like to talk to people about what they do, how they got there, why they do A instead of B or C,D,E instead of D,E,F - 90% ++ of the people I've worked with have been trying hard and have meant well. When you're given popsicle sticks and they want oak cabinets - well ... you get popsicle stick cabinets.

In a 1984 memory hole kind of way, it would make "sense" if coaches don't do 1 thing or another cuz of some accounting fiction - whatever.

I wrote today's comment off the top of my head, it has been rumbling around for a few years in different guises.

Charlie Mas said…
To what extent is it reasonable to expect the school principal, as the teachers' supervisor and as the instructional leader in the building, to do the work that Math Teacher described?

And if it isn't what the principal does, then should it be? And if it should be, how can we free up the principals so they are able to do it?
spedvocate said…
For coaching to be effective, there would have to be a lot of it... more than would ever be possible. For example, let's look at the new "Integrated Comprehensive Services" program for special education. There's 2 coaches, one with no special education experience other than certification. Another, taught kindergarten. And that's supposed to be useful to train general educators in the trenches? Even if they were great, how often will they show up? Coaching requires more than power point slides.
MathTeacher42 said…
oh boy ... this is why teacher's don't comment much ;)

I've only worked at 2 schools, and I student taught at a middle school.

In my not humble opinion, the job of Principal is way to crazy to function as a coach.

(so, for people who want to take my words out of context, I am inferring NOTHING about my principals.)

When the random stuff that happens randomly with kids happens, and it probably happens way more than what any 1 of us is aware of, the admins are in the same boat as classroom teachers - you have stuff do deal with then and there, PERIOD.

Maybe Charlie's idea would work at a place like Northfield Mount Hermon, where I was a high school junior boarding student in '77 - that place had not too much in common with the world we're in these days.

Meg said…
I don't know much about coding, but off-hand, since coaches are certificated and therefore part of the SEA, I would guess that a coach not being able to give direct feedback may have something to do with the contract or union.

Regardless of whether a particular professional development method (coaching, time for group collaboration, dart games at the local bar to discuss spatial evaluation) is successful, given that this is a public district, it makes little sense to me that the professional development budget (and the line items for the different efforts in it) is not clearly delineated. It should be.
Teachermom said…
Every useful professional development experience I have had was on my own time and dime, and not associated with the district.

I am also appalled at the lack of internal professional development within the schools. In other states where I have taught, staff shared their expertise with each other, or reported back from a class they attended. Then it was presented in such a way as to actually apply our schools' unique characteristics and needs.
Clair John said…
I completely agree with you on the points you have highlighted here about the professional development for teachers. It is essential for teachers to take professional development courses in order to groom their personalities.
Hélène said…
Generic PD has been overwhelmingly frustrating for me and most of my colleagues. Not a lot of content, a lot of navel-gazing, etc. I'd much rather have time to reflect on what I'm doing and talk to colleagues informally. Luckily, we're short on funding, so not a lot of outside consultants are being brought in.

I've been lucky to have access to some excellent, targeted workshops through UW or NSF funding. Granted, I'm in a niche field (computer science), but it's frustrating that none of the PD I do 'counts!' I've been in classes and conferences non-stop since school ended but of course there are no clock hours are recognition associated because they're not blessed by the state. The incentives for really seeking ways to improve are minimal.
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