Why doesn’t professional development improve?

Dennis Sparks

I am deeply puzzled about why decade after decade professional development remains at unacceptably low levels for far too many teachers and administrators.

More precisely, why do school system and school leaders continue to inflict on teachers the very practices they themselves often complained about when they were teachers?

Two fundamental reasons come to mind:

1. Professional development is not expected to lead to professional learning that significantly changes what educators believe, understand, and do on their jobs every day. It is simply a box to be checked or hours to be counted, preferably in the easiest, most entertaining way possible.

2. School leaders have antiquated views about what is essential to affect the hearts, minds, and behavior of educators. Consequently, they significantly underestimate the amount of deep conversation, practice, reflection, and coaching that is almost always required to change important instructional and leadership practices.

Perhaps my views are unfairly negative and out of touch with the reality of professional development as it is experienced today by most educators. While I don’t think so, I am open to that possibility.

What do you think—is professional development in your setting meeting its potential for improving teaching and learning for all students, and, if not, why not?

5 Responses to “Why doesn’t professional development improve?”

  1. 1 carla October 22, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Hi Dennis,
    I have a few other reasons why professional development is pretty much stagnant. First, I don’t think many schools are thought of as a learning organization with learning for all a first priority. Instead the focus is on learning for students which is good however in a learning organization the focus is on learning for everyone. Secondly, the old model of teaching in isolation is still in effect so not enough sharing is going on between educational professionals within school and outside of school. The Internet does support sharing though for those who take the time. Lastly, PD supplied by the board office often targets whole groups without recognition of the diverse needs of the learner. For example, someone who has been teaching for many, many years has different needs than someone with less experience. Even self-selected PD could be differentiated by offering beginning and advance levels for example. The lack of invigorating PD causes groans amongst educators and that needs to change so that learning is wanted and energizing. The PD that invigorates me and advances my learning the most is AQ courses which is a whole other level of PD.

  2. 3 Wanda Dean October 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

    I agree with your comments and those posted above. What should we do differently? Where do we go for guidance about what to do differently? I am working with a district that is willing to do some different things but I am struggling with what to suggest. I think that proves the quality of PD that I have been involved in previously.

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