Teachers and professional development providers weigh in on three commonly critiqued PD practices. What makes these experiences so frustrating, and what should schools and districts be doing instead?
No Differentiation for Experience
Veterans and new teachers are all in the same room together, working on the same skill.
John Troutman McCrann, a math teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, would be happy if he never had to hear someone explain how to write a class objective again.
“I’ve been teaching for 13 years. I’ve been in that PD 13 times,” said McCrann. By this point, he said, there’s not much more he could gain from a session covering the basics of objective-setting—he’s already mastered the skill.
Before requiring all teachers to attend PD on a certain topic, schools should pre-assess their staff—just as teachers would their students, said McCrann. Then, facilitators could group teachers based on their ability level. Those who were already proficient could lead groups, or move on to a new skill.
McCrann also suggested that schools and districts could consider exempting experienced teachers from trainings on foundational skills. “I would love it if, at a certain point, veteran teachers didn’t have to go to some of the meetings,” he said.
Constantly Switching Focus
One year, the district initiative is formative assessments. The next, it’s social-emotional learning. And there isn’t much conversation around how to integrate new approaches with existing ones.
Brittany Franckowiak, a biology teacher at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., said that facilitators should understand that teachers already have a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t in their classrooms. "[Acknowledge] that you are talking to people who currently have a teaching practice,” she said.
Often, she said, a facilitator will present a lesson, a unit, or an entire new curriculum with the expectation that teachers will adopt it wholesale. Instead, said Franckowiak, presenters should be asking teachers: “What are you already doing, and how might that be informed by this new lens or this new framework?”
It’s the school’s or district’s responsibility to put thought into the PD scope and sequence, said Mandy Flora, a fellow at Teaching Lab, a nonprofit that supports teacher-led PD. That can sometimes mean asking hard questions about attractive new initiatives—and only adopting those that line up with the broader vision that the system is trying to achieve, she said.
Lack of Follow-Up
Teachers attend a one-off presentation or workshop, but don’t receive support or guidance for integrating new practices.
“We never want to give [teachers] a set of information and then just walk away,” said Dina Strasser, a project manager of curriculum implementation at EL Education.
But a cycle of implementation, reflection, and feedback doesn’t just happen—it needs to be scheduled, said Strasser. Districts should be planning these embedded PD practices, “as you would your testing schedule,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2019 edition of Education Week as Transforming ‘Disrespectful’ PD Practices