15 September 2008

Garbage In, Garbage Out

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?


Mr. McNamar said...

I just returned from a brief visit to the Pacific Northwest--beautiful as always. Thank you for the article link!

Hugh O'Donnell said...

"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?"

Aack! I cringe. No matter how self aware the presenter for professional development, they believe that they have so much substance to deliver that they allow themselves to be pressured into offering us sips from a full-on firehose.

To step from stage presentations to change-effecting facilitations is a big move. We have to give trainers permission to reduce the scope of their material and concentrate on real teaching, peer involvement, and yes, "classroom assessment."

The Science Goddess said...

That is so much more enlightened than most. I wish it was the norm.

Roger Sweeny said...

I agree with your message. But one reason that professional development is so bad is that it is not expensive at all. When it comes to teacher time, it is free.

How so? Teachers aren't paid by the hour. I don't know what the situation is like in Washington but around here we have a master contract. State law says we have to teach for 180 "instructional days." The contract also requires us to attend a certain number of professional days (some or all of which are also state mandated).

Administrators can't save any money on us by saying, "I don't see any professional development that would really be useful to my staff. Let's teach the kids for an extra day--or get out in June a day early."

If the district--or, oh my God, the state--had to pay teachers an additional one hundred and eightieth of their salary (say $300) for every professional day, I'll bet there would be significantly fewer of them.

The Science Goddess said...

Very interesting. Professional days here are not legislated (well, 2 are, but the rest are not)---the district has to pick up the tab.

Many districts have one day a week where the kids arrive late or leave early in order to leave a block of common planning time for staff. That time for teachers is paid, but is not student contact time. Pretty pricey stuff.

Lightly Seasoned said...

Personally, I don't want to be "tested" on professional development. Add one more thing to my plate at this time of year and you're likely to be on the receiving end of serious ill will. If the PD is focused on a goal, then you need to have multiple measures of that goal. Say, the goal is reduce the achievement gap. You can look at state testing scores, numbers of A's vs. F's, GPA, numbers of students in advanced classes, the graduation rate, etc. over a period of, say, 3 - 5 years (there is no such thing as instant results). You can ask teachers what's working and what is frustrating them. You can say, look, the number of F's among AA students held steady, but we saw a 20% increase in students enrolling in advanced classes or those F's were confined largely to a small cohort of students who failed all their academic classes instead of being widely spread among the group.

When other professionals do their continuing education hours in order to maintain their licensure, what are they expected to do with the knowledge?

The Science Goddess said...

The expectation for other professionals is that they apply best practices. A doctor who uses outdated knowledge or prescribes older versions of medications shown not to solve problems is likely going to have an oversight board on his/her case.

Ed research shows that the implementation rate from PD is, at most, 15% (but can be as high as 90% with repeated coaching opportunities...like 20x). In other words, PD does not appear to change teachers' instructional behavior.

I don't advocate in-building testing for teachers as a way to measure change, but student indicators aren't necessarily appropriate, either. If PD is about changing teachers, then the measures have to be focused on teachers (not kids).

Ultimately, where is the accountability for teachers to implement best practices?