I was recently reading an article on teacher learning and developing more effective professional development for in-service training. As I read, I couldn’t help but relate the article to the limited and sporadic PD opportunities we offer in Islamic schools. Hopefully some of the highlights from this article will inspire discussion toward more robust PD.
In the article, there is a side panel that describes “the old paradigm” of PD for teachers. In short it describes a large urban high school facing low levels of student achievement in math. To address the issue, the principal dedicated two of the five PD days in the upcoming school year to bringing in math specialists to introduce an exciting new research based program that, through videos, hands on activities, math manipulatives, and reflective case studies, encouraged teachers to transform their math instruction.
Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
The feedback from the teachers exhibited excitement toward the new ideas and approaches — which in itself is rare. But in the follow up months after the training was provided, teachers admitted that little was consistently implemented and as a result, student achievement remained low.
This seems to be a common scenario: Teachers identify learning needs, administrators coordinate PD hoping to address those needs, workshop presenters conduct PD — yet there is no transformation.
Where’s the disconnect?
Darling-Hammond and Richardson found that:
“Professional development lasting 14 or fewer hours showed no effects on learning. The largest effects were for programs offering 30-100 hours spread out over 6-12 months.” (p.49)
The new paradigm of PD rejects the idea of “drive by,” “one-shot” workshops. The most useful PD “emphasizes active teaching, assessment, observation, and reflection rather than abstract discussions” (47)
The new paradigm is defined by PD that:
- Facilitates collaboration between teachers in a school or across schools
- Is sustained over time (ideally 6-12 months)
- Is coherent (focused on a single area of instructional improvement)
- Is intense (requires reading, dialogue, observation, planning, and reflection)
The way that this is most commonly achieved is by establishing Professional Learning Communities within and across schools that encourage teachers to share and collaborate through study groups, collaborative lesson planning, team teaching, peer observations, and other similar PD best practices.