From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin
Last month, Stephen reported on the NSDC finding that U.S. teachers spend more time in the classroom and less time on collaboration and professional development than their peers in the highest-performing countries. (Many of our readers were right on board with the study’s findings—take a look at some of their insightful comments.)
The PD scheduling discussion came up more locally this week when a southeast Wyoming school board, prompted by a parent petition, voted to get rid of its district’s weekly staff training half-days. It’s easy to see how this case might provoke (and/or stem from) an adversarial relationship between parents and teachers. The two parties’ perspectives on scheduling are, in fact, tough to reconcile. Parents want to keep their kids in an academic environment, while teachers want to become more effective instructors. Or, if you prefer to consider more selfish motives, the parents don’t want to take off work or find child care (or subject their kids to in-school babysitting if it’s offered), and the teachers don’t want to attend training outside of school hours.
But why accept this parents’ vs. teachers’ mentality? As Stephen and I were discussing earlier this week, maybe it boils down to a PR problem. During those professional-development days, the districts are ideally offering invaluable research-based training that will transform classroom instruction. But as far as many parents know, teachers could be spending those half-days grading papers in their classrooms alone or, worse, sitting (sleeping?) through tedious, irrelevant seminars.
While teachers shouldn’t necessarily have to convince parents that they are using their out-of-class time wisely, the district could step in and get the message across. Perhaps those districts with the PR problem can inform parents about professional development by inviting them to follow-up workshops, sending home a PD summary, or posting the materials to the school’s Web site. Wouldn’t this keep the school accountable and assuage parental anxiety about the necessity of days off? Does your district find ways to involve parents in PD?
(As an aside, I’ve also heard of teachers who, after a day of PD, take a few minutes of class time to share what they learned with their students. It seems to me that modeling lifelong learning could be even one more benefit of PD.)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.