Education Opinion

Traditional Professional Development Often Isn’t Helpful, New Report Highlights

By Learning Forward — August 19, 2013 2 min read
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Tracy Crow

Professional development doesn’t have a great reputation, and this week we have more evidence on why that is the case. TNTP just released a new report highlighting the perspectives of what they term “Irreplaceable Teachers” — defined as top-performers based on a range of measures. These high-performing teachers shared their insights on the teaching profession and their own experiences.

The teachers in this report serve their students well. They are skilled and they get results in classrooms. And when asked about formal professional development, 40% of the respondents didn’t believe it helped them improve.

However, they responded that several other growth-oriented strategies are helpful to them in improving instruction and being better teachers. All the respondents agreed that trying new strategies and methods is helpful. More than 90% find observing other teachers helpful. Almost as many find advice and feedback from colleagues helpful.

These responses highlight the vast differences between traditional professional development and effective professional learning. While there is a place for formal professional development if it is aligned with school- and systemwide priorities and student and adult learning needs, effective professional learning will more often be embedded in the work week, responsive to the identified needs of teams of teachers, and informed by the expertise of the teachers in the building.

What we hear from the top performers surveyed in Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers affirms what we know about the professional learning that has an impact on educator practices and ultimately student results. The Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning outline the elements of effective professional learning, and the strategies we see defined as “helpful” in these educators’ perspectives appear to be entirely aligned with those standards. If systems can ensure that more educators have time and support for such strategies, they will be on their way towards increasing capacity both individually and collectively and at the same time building a culture of shared responsibility and accountability.

So, while it is nice that additional insights affirm the standards, and while we nod our heads at respondents’ unsurprising responses about traditional professional development, what will it take for a more widespread shift to the kinds of adult learning that make a difference? Our top performers will strive to continuously improve — what are we offering to support them on their journey, and just as importantly, how will we help every other teacher improve?

Tracy Crow
Director of Communications, Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.