Professional Development for Teachers: Spending Professional Development Time and Money Wisely

Posted by Matt Berringer on December 7, 2015

By Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed
Part 1 of 3

Professional Development for TeachersPerception is everything. Despite our best intentions, when we present ourselves and our ideas to the world, how others see us or those ideas depends on the context in which the other exists, as well as how we have planned and prepared the presentation. Our lack of understanding of the other's condition could be our downfall, or we could get lucky and find ourselves in alignment.

In teaching, we have a few basic tenets that help us avoid misperceptions and misconceptions. First, we believe in “starting from where the students are,” meaning that we use the students’ experiences to help them construct new knowledge and understanding. Another important process is “differentiating instruction” so that students can succeed with the same concept, skill, or content starting at their own level of ability and proceeding at a pace that works for them. This has evolved into “personalized learning,” which targets that individual’s needs, not just his/her ability group. Teachers’ access to technology that interacts and responds to the student has helped make personalized learning possible. One could argue that it needs improvement, but that can be said of everything. In fact, a continuous improvement mindset is preferable in many settings, not just educational.

Other concepts that are important to education (and there are many more than what I can write about here) include Understanding by Design, Project-Based Learning, Data-Driven Instruction, Standards-Based Instruction (Education), Evidence-Based Instruction, and 21st-Century Skills integration. These are all laudable ideas, if implemented properly and with care.

That educational researchers and mainstream literature write about these tenets of education often is a matter of record. Therefore, it surprised me to read in The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development that teachers perceive the professional development (PD) offered to them to be too generalized (Hasiotis et al., 2015). Despite the district or state’s best intentions, many teachers feel that PD is irrelevant to them and their context, rendering it not useful. Even the job-embedded activities were not helpful, according to the report. Teachers in the districts studied over two years were disappointed, and the millions of dollars spent on PD were, essentially, wasted. Meanwhile, those providing PD continued to feel that they were serving their teachers well by creating, adopting, and deploying programs that helped their teachers learn about what great teaching looks like. Why is the perception so disjointed between those developing and providing PD and those who are receiving it?

According to this report, the problem is not connected to funding. In fact, their research concluded that districts spend an average of $18,000 a year per teacher, which translates to $8 billion being spent in the United States each year. The problem is not connected to the amount of time spent either, according to the report. Teachers reported spending at least 150 hours, or 19 days, working on professional development activities per year.

The problem then is related to spending but not the amount of money or time devoted to the cause. Instead, it is about how teachers and PD providers are spending their time. The Mirage includes excellent recommendations for the improvement of professional development. I highly recommend reading the report.

In the second part of this series, I will focus on personalizing professional development to increase its effectiveness.

Hasiotis, D., Grogan, E., Lawrence, K., Maier, A., Wilpon, A., Jacob, A., & McGovern, K. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the hard truth about our quest for teacher development. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from this link.

Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed, is Team Lead—Staff Education. She blogs regularly at this link.

Topics: Best Practice, Heather Edick, Opinion