In my last post, I ranted a bit about the low standards I think most staff developers have. I don't know very many who can walk their talk---and that's rather pathetic, in my view. This post is geared more toward administrators and school boards and again, I hope that teachers will weigh in. What I want to think about now is "output." If a principal brings in someone to do some staff development, there must be some sort of reason. There is an initiative the principal wants to support or perhaps she hopes to reverse some sort of trend in student achievement. Teacher time is expensive. Think about the number of teachers you have at a staff meeting and what they're being paid per hour (including benefits). How much is this meeting costing the district, even before adding in materials, cookies, and (at times) a paid consultant? Are you getting your money's worth? Is it just another example of GIGO (see post header)? How do you know?
I don't think that saying we expect scores on state tests to go up is enough. Again, thinking about the differentiation idea from my previous post, shouldn't we expect our "assessment" of staff development to be broader than simply measuring student scores? Perhaps more importantly, there are very few valid and reliable ways to connect staff development to student achievement---there are just too many variables involved. In other words, just because student scores go up in Mrs. X's class doesn't mean it was because she participated in a PLC in the past year. To do so means assuming that there were no other changes to her practice, the sample of students was roughly the same (gender, ethnicity, SES...), and so forth. We have to step back. The goal of professional development is to change teacher behavior. Whatever we use to assess and evaluate that has to focus on teachers, not kids.
So, what might be some appropriate ways for teachers to show what they know? Teachers are among the most creative people I've ever met. I don't think they should be limited to writing lesson plans using the new "it" strategy in the school. Obviously, I love the idea of blogging, but there are other electronic media which could be just as useful. An admin wrote this post last May about an Instructional Council where admins would bring their favourite thing to share. Kind of a grown up show-and-tell PLC. I really like that idea. How many of us get excited about something we've discovered or tried, but don't have an outlet to share it with others? I'm still thinking about Clay Shirky's article on the idea of Cognitive Surplus. We have so many more tools with which to be creative these days---how do we harness that? How do we encourage new types of "output" for teachers? Or even old ones like presenting at conferences instead of just attending?
We don't expect students in our classrooms to just be passive vessels. We demand that they demonstrate their learning for us. We want to see multiple and different models. Why do we not have the same expectations for our teachers?