PD Mistakes to Avoid in the New School Year
By Alvin Crawford
This summer at the NEA Representative Assembly in Denver, we met a lot of teachers—representing the 3 million educators nationwide. We asked them, “How many hours of professional development does it take to change your practice?” Staying true to the rampant culture of testing we live in, we offered multiple-choice answers:
a. 1 hour
b. 8 hours
c. 50 hours
Among the responses: “If it’s good PD, one hour.” Or, “I’m guessing eight hours.”
Quite a few of the more experienced teachers nodded and said, “Of course, 50 hours.” They’re right; according to the research it takes 50 hours of PD to change practice. And, according to Teaching the Teachers from the Center for Public Education, it takes, on average, “twenty…separate instances of practice for a teacher to master a new skill, and this number may increase if a skill is exceptionally complex.”
College- and career-ready standards, like the Common Core, are challenging the status quo in the U.S. We hear the frustration of parents who struggle to help their second graders with math homework. We hear from teachers about the lack of training they’ve received on implementing these standards. Now more than ever, professional development is critical to achieve a transformation in teaching and learning.
How do we make the seismic shift needed for change when teachers feel the intense pressure in this era of accountability and testing?
To start, there are a few PD mistakes we can avoid going into this school year:
- Reconsider the One- to Two-Day Workshop: These workshops are easy to plan and great for filling seats during in-service days, but PD experts suggest they have little to no impact on teacher practice. Think about ways to engage teachers in more active, collegial learning that goes deeper than traditional butts-in-seats practice.
Solution: Think about approaches like lesson study or intensive PD initiatives supported by ongoing coaching.
- Reset Your PD Approach and Go Deep: As referenced in Elizabeth Green’s New York Times Magazine article “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?,” we have a habit of not prioritizing PD time. Research says it takes 50 hours or more on a specific content or pedagogy to change teacher practice, so we actually need to plan to respect and value time for ongoing PD. This is critical if we are to see students succeed.
Solution: Allocate time each week for ongoing professional learning for your teachers. Get creative with how you do it—lesson study meets virtual community of practice meets online courses; 1:1 coaching over extended periods of time.
- Scale Your Initiatives for Impact: Districts struggle with scaling professional development for big initiatives. If you do only face-to-face PD, think about how long it will take to establish a common language and understanding for all the teachers in your district. This poses a challenge for ensuring every child is getting the same quality of education.
Solution: Consider online and blended PD and virtual communities of practice to scale PD district-wide. If other industries can do it, so can we.
- Create Real PLCs: If you have professional learning communities in your district—congratulations! This is a major step toward a change in practice. Unfortunately, many districts don’t, or they have a PLC in name only. Train your principals and coaches how to lead PLCs and get started immediately. It’s important that teachers engage in ongoing, collaborative professional learning that creates meaningful approaches to solving the needs of each school.
Solution: Empower your teachers to learn from one another. They are your greatest resource, your most valued asset.
- Avoid Test Prep: We focus too much on evaluation and accountability in the U.S. with very little actual support for teachers. In our culture of testing, we tend to put an emphasis on test prep, rather than on developing teachers for teaching more effectively.
Solution: Rethink the goal of this year’s assessment results. In light of transition to college and career standards, like the Common Core, use this year’s results as a benchmark for your PD efforts, rather than as solely an evaluative measure of your teachers. This will take the pressure off teachers when it comes to test results and will allow them to focus on how to more effectively support student learning—and that’s something we can all get behind.
Alvin Crawford is president and CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS), a leading provider of blended and online professional learning solutions for K–12 school districts and educators. With more than 20 years of experience in education and media, he is dedicated to building innovative, transformative professional development solutions that support teachers and districts.