By Ramiro Zuniga, Ed. D.
Looks like the 2010-2011 school year has kicked off! This is a perfect time to look at the staff development that public schools have offered in the previous year and during this summer. I think that there is a real need for public school administrators to evaluate their offerings.
During a study that I conducted on technology integration in public schools, over 60% of the teachers that I interviewed identified the lack of quality training as a factor that has hindered the level of integration in their classrooms. By far, this was the most common factor identified in the study that I conducted. Regrettably, this is not an uncommon finding. In fact, the lack of quality training is a factor that is mentioned quite frequently in various other technology integration studies. The lack of quality training has also been a recurring topic of discussion with my graduate students semester after semester.
Over the years, I have heard or read many comments regarding the quality of staff development offered by school districts. Many teachers have expressed a negative view of staff development in general, for various reasons. Some have indicated that it’s the same presenters passing out the same material. This practice leads to teachers not being engaged in whatever training is being offered. Some have indicated that they attend staff development on technologies that are not present in their classrooms or schools. This results in spending hours on a technology that they cannot use, regardless of how great the technology. Other teachers have indicated that they never see their administrators at any of the sessions and so they believe that the training being offered is insignificant. And still, others indicate that some of the topics covered in some sessions just aren’t relevant to their academic mission.
The end result of this is frustrated teachers and administrators that have lost some credibility. When it comes to technology integration, you end up with teachers that are not prepared to integrate technology into their curriculum. You also end up with teachers that do not appreciate the value of a particular technology and simply decide not to use it.
What is interesting about these comments is that these comments continue to be repeated year after year after year. Whenever I encounter a teacher expressing such a concern, I ask why this is. The typical response that I get is that no one really listens to teachers. They simply offer the staff development on the administration’s beliefs of what is needed. Some teachers have told me that they no longer provide genuine feedback because they have never seen their comments being acted on by those offering the staff development.
Here are a few things that school district leaders can do to maximize the positive impact of staff development at their schools and departments:
- Conduct a thorough review and act on the information collected via staff development evaluation forms.
- Campus principals should take the time to speak to each teacher individually in an effort to find out what the staff development needs really are. Granted, this is more difficult in large schools but the payback is worth it. Teachers will feel validated, as their individual input is being considered.
- Conduct a thorough review of current staff development offerings to ensure that the training offered is relevant.
- Recognize that staff development should be a “hands on” situation in which materials can be developed and built upon, long after the staff development sessions have ended.
- Do not provide staff development on equipment, software, or materials that teachers will not have immediate and continued access to after the session, otherwise it is wasted time.
- Most importantly, campus administration should be visibly participating in staff development sessions. Doing so validates the value offered by the staff development session.
Whether staff development sessions are offered during the year or during summer, it is a great opportunity for professional growth. It is also an excellent opportunity to “bring in” new ideas and new teaching strategies. Staff development, when well balanced and relevant, can be a great motivator to teachers and staff. This is especially true at the start of the school year.
Feel free to share your ideas on how to better offer and sustain an excellent staff development program.