Why Professional Development Fails
January 13, 2020
As a professional development provider, I obviously believe deeply in the virtues of PD. I think it’s nothing short of hypocritical to expect our students to devote their time and attention to our lessons if we’re not willing to do the same for their education. It’s essential that we see teaching and learning as a craft, to be continually honed and nurtured. This means investing in personal development and never extinguishing our own desire to learn and grow.
That said, it’s no secret how often PD fails. We’ve heard countless stories from teachers and administrators who have brought “experts” in to revitalize a school, only for the experiment to be deemed an utter failure. School funds are too short and teacher time too valuable to waste on ineffective PD. Here are a few of the most common elements of PD failures. If you can avoid these pitfalls, you’ll likely have a positive experience which genuinely transforms the way your students learn.
Lack of Administrator and Teacher Alignment
All too often administrators and teachers are on different pages about what training is needed. Choosing what areas to focus on and what challenges are most pressing takes compromise. If you don’t include both the teacher and administrator viewpoints when designing PD, you may end up with a training that offers the content an administrator wants, but you have little chance of teachers implanting it with any fidelity.
Lack of Differentiation
There’s nothing more frustrating to a veteran teacher than sitting through a full day of training that assumes they need the same content as the new teacher sitting beside them. We can’t expect teachers to differentiate instruction for their students when we don’t differentiate PD for them.
Lack of Practical Application
There’s no shortage of books and training on pedagogical theory. This is an important element for any teacher wanting to hone their craft. But unless that theory is coupled with directly applicable strategies and practical application tools, it’s unlikely to take effect in the classroom. If you want the most out of PD, training must include classroom-tested strategies, or better yet, demonstrate those strategies with actual students.
Lack of Acknowledgment
Trainers are experts in certain fields of education. They come into schools to deliver that expertise, but if they don’t take time to acknowledge the efforts and progress made to date, they are unlikely to earn the respect of their audience. Lack of respect leads to lack of perceived credibility. Lack of perceived credibility leads to disengagement. Trainers must take time to learn what initiatives are working. Then be prepared to acknowledge that success and leverage it toward the new learning they are there to share. A little acknowledgment goes a long way toward teacher buy-in.