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Let Me Get This Straight—All Professional Development is Ineffective?

31 Aug 2015 by Emily Doyle

A couple weeks back, I came across this story in the Washington Post (and another on Ed Central) that nearly made me spit out my morning coffee. One title asserts, “Billions of Dollars in Annual Teacher Training is Largely a Waste,” and summarizes a study recently released by TNTP, which explores whether teacher improvement could be traced to professional development efforts at scale. But when I consider what I know about the massive umbrella of resources we call “professional development,” I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In fact, when I speak to teachers and administrators, there is often a negative reaction to “traditional” professional development (think: one-off workshops, one-size-fits-all approaches, and deficit-model coaching). This study “found no evidence that any particular approach or amount of professional development helps teachers improve in the classroom.” Which begs the question: If so many teacher improvement efforts are ineffective ... does anything work?

Although the jury is out on definitive proof about how to build a better teacher, Teachstone is optimistic—and pleased—to see some of our core principles aligned with the findings of this study:

1. Effective Support is Systematic and Individualized. The report refutes the effectiveness of the "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach. So does Teachstone. Instead of piling on more resources when something doesn’t work, we should evaluate and remove elements that are not working in favor of efforts that are individualized to the teacher.

2. Observational Data Should Inform Professional Development. The report mentions using data analysis as an evaluation measure for the study; at Teachstone we assert that data should be taken further to inform formative feedback and individualized support. Coupling observational data with individualized professional development sometimes seems like common sense, but it can be pretty revolutionary when, time after time, data and teacher improvement seem to exist in siloes.

3. Regular Feedback is Critical. This article discussed one particular district that stood apart from others, showing greater impacts—and one of its focus areas was regular feedback. This comes as no surprise, as observational feedback from CLASS data is at the heart of Teachstone’s evidence-based programs and services.

4. It’s not just about the PD you use, it’s how you implement it. Sure, you need to choose professional development that works. But even the best programs, coaching models, and teaching tools can be ineffectual without a solid plan, strong buy-in, and effective leadership.

As grim as its findings appear at first glance, I think this study is an important one to learn from. Teachstone is investing on the approaches that research is showing to be effective. And as the research continues to define what does work, then it’s our mission to figure out how to take that to scale for the betterment of teachers and children. 

 

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