Monday, September 12, 2011

A Brief PD History

The ideas behind professional development for educators is almost as old as public schools themselves.  Often, PD has a deserved reputation of being expensive, vague, and ineffective.  The basic workshop approach was often perceived as a day away from students with little to show for it afterward but doodles on the handouts.

But things began to change in the 1990s.  Public education began to see the development of "inquiry teams."   Generally, all the third grade teachers would get together before school, plan a less or two, maybe read a chapter in a book, give students an assessment, then analyze the data.  Many districts have embraced this approach because it's cheap and is district-specific.  Even so, there is research that says even this approach isn't terribly effective.

And still there are gaps.

Very little district-devised district-wide PD has anything to do with a good portion of the teaching staff.  For example, the Art, Music, and PE teachers aren't invested in academic learning in the same ways that content-area teachers are.  And special educators are marginalized too.  Those folks really need PD designed specifically for them; something that many districts just don't have the time, expertise, or energy to create. Most often schools assign paraprofessionals to support students with disabilities, most of whom do not hold college degrees, have little to no experience with students with disabilities are often thrown to the wolves without much training at all, even though parapros crave responsible and effective training. What is intended as assistance to the teaching staff actually becomes a hindrance, and the people who are hurt the most are our students.

As we work toward developing 21st Century Skills in our students, educators who value life-long learning, work to find new and improved ways to support teachers in their need for ongoing, effective, and valuable professional development. 

We need to put the days of ticket-punch training behind us.

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