Professional Development From Our Research Center

One-Time PD Is Not Effective. Why Do Districts Still Rely on It?

By Lauraine Langreo — October 13, 2022 3 min read
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Research has shown that one-time professional development is not effective. Yet a majority of teachers say that most of the training they’ve received in the past school year on how to use new ed-tech tools has been one-off experiences, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey.

Thirty-four percent of educators said the professional development they’ve received has mostly been one-time events with some follow-up training and 23 percent said one-time events with no follow-up training, according to the nationally representative survey of 1,042 teachers, principals, and district leaders conducted in late July.

Liz Lee, the director of online learning for nonprofit International Society for Technology in Education, said ISTE is hearing similar concerns from educators.

“We’re definitely hearing that [professional development] tends to be very one-size-fits-all, where there isn’t a lot of choice or voice that educators have in terms of what training they need,” Lee said. “That ends up making it feel like it’s sort of a waste of their time, which is already stretched so thin.”

Teachers and students are using more and more ed-tech products, and school districts are trying to train teachers to use digital tools effectively. But if one-time training is not as effective as providing ongoing support, why are some school districts still relying heavily on such a superficial kind of professional development?

“It’s probably an issue of lack of time and resources,” Lee said. “It takes a little bit of an upfront investment to build out a structure and a system where there is a library of content available or a range of options so that educators can build those personalized pathways.”

Dominic Caguioa, the instructional leadership support coordinator for Los Angeles Unified School District’s Instructional Technology Initiative department, agreed.

“There’s always never enough time. Even if it’s virtual,” Caguioa said. “To put something together that really is meaningful for participants requires time [and effort] to create from scratch.”

At Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the nation, there’s a team in charge of the delivery of professional learning focused on leveraging instructional technology. In smaller districts, this could be the job of just one person because they don’t have enough funding or staffing.

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F. Sheehan/Education Week and Getty Images

Another issue could be a “mismatch” between what principals and district leaders think teachers need and what teachers say they need, Lee said.

“We’ve seen that teachers tend to feel like they’re not getting enough of what they need, and admins tend to think we’re providing maybe too much,” Lee said. “One-offs can seem like you’re putting less on a teacher’s plate when, really, there is a desire for more [training]. It just needs to be more personalized and flexible, as opposed to that one-size-fits-all.”

Other experts agree that making professional learning more personalized and flexible will be more effective. Even if educators might not have a lot of time, they will still seek out and make time for relevant professional learning that fits into their schedule.

For example, at Los Angeles Unified, educators have the flexibility of choosing among three modes of support, Caguioa said. There are individual online training opportunities, but there are also more collaborative training sessions with other educators and programs where the whole school can engage in professional learning.

“We cannot all expect that [teachers] are all on the same level of adoption of instructional technology,” Caguioa said. “We have to approach our professional learning in a way where everyone has an entry point, regardless if you are just starting your journey or understanding of what that can do for your practice.”

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A team analyses data and tracks progress
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus

Lee recommends using a flipped model, where educators take advantage of online, on-demand professional development sessions and then use the allocated PD days for deepening that learning. There should also be regular check-ins and topics should be revisited after teachers have tried a tool in their classrooms.

“For some reason, we’ve been slower to acknowledge that professional development should also be an active, engaged learning experience for educators that involves their agency over what they’re learning [in a way] that’s relevant and helpful for them,” Lee said.

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Data analysis for this article was provided by the EdWeek Research Center. Learn more about the center’s work.

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