…and boy do we have a long way to go. But fortunately there is now some guidance.
As school leaders begin tooling up for the new year, they are making decisions that commit vast sums of money and gargantuan human work hours to professional development. Writing in Slate this week, Laura Moser gives the following insight into how this typically goes:
“A study raising a lot of eyebrows in the education world this week suggests that, despite the billions of dollars we are pouring into teacher development every year, we have very little to show for the expenditure. The report, released by the education-reform organization TNTP, puts a shockingly high price tag on professional development, which refers to the ongoing, on-the-job pedagogical training, both formal and informal, that teachers receive throughout their careers: The unnamed three large school districts and medium-size charter network it examined spent, on average, $18,000 per teacher for training that spanned 19 days, or roughly one-tenth of the school year. All that cash and time, for what TNTP found to be questionable outcomes at best. Among the roughly 10,000 teachers surveyed, teacher evaluations found that only 3 out of 10 teachers improved while 2 out of 10 got worse over two or three years.”
The results are similar to those reported by the Teacher Development Trust in the UK, www.tdtrust.org, whose study found that just 1% of all professional development was what it categorized as “high quality.” What sad irony, that some of the worst education to be found anywhere is deployed in teaching teachers how to be better teachers.
So what is good professional development? What works? Two studies give perhaps the best insight.
One is “Teachers Know Best” from The Gates Foundation.
The other is “Developing Great Teaching” from The Teacher Development Trust (I urge you to read the full report – the summary is good, but the details in the full report make this unmissable).
The overlaps are considerable and the insights profound. The quality of research on “what is great professional development?” is much more developed, much more robust than you might think. If we are going to use research to inform what we do – and we should for the sake of our own professional credibility – this is an area where we need to take note. As a teaser, here is a snippet from the Teacher Development Trust, which comes after the research underpinning these claims has been discussed.
“School leaders…should interrogate providers (including internal facilitators) prior to signing up to/commissioning a CPD [continuing professional development] programme, to ascertain how they intend to:
- Support identification of teachers’ and school leaders’ starting points.
- Use content-specific formative assessment.
- Build time into any away-from-class or out-of-school activities, for planning changes to be made back in the classroom.
- Embed collaborative learning and the development of shared understanding and goals within the professional learning process.
- Demonstrate in-depth expertise in relation to teaching and learning, the curriculum content, and the process of professional learning process – and have ensured all three are aligned.
- Provide tools to help teachers and leaders engage critically with evidence about how pupils respond to changes they are making in their day to day work settings.
In the same way, any provider or facilitator must be able to demonstrate expert practice across these areas. They should ensure their expertise and understanding is rigorous and up-to-date…”
These sound like perfectly reasonable expectations; actually doing it might seem like a scary proposition, but the expectations themselves – and remember, these are drawn from and supported by research, not just things plucked from the air – are perfectly reasonable. Does your school live up to this research? All school leaders with any involvement in committing time or money to professional development should read both these documents. You are committing a lot to this endeavor – particularly the very precious human capital that makes learning happen at your school – so please be as good at it as you can possibly be.
Dr. Ian Kelleher, Head of Research, The CTTL