Professional Development: Pitfalls and Perks

In an era of education reform, there is more pressure for teachers to achieve highly qualified teacher (HQT) status. One way to do that is through professional-development programs.

School districts spend between 2 and 5 percent of total annual expenditures on professional development, between $5 billion to $12 billion nationally! These are just the dollar figures. Add to that days spent away from students on in-service programs and lost time and revenue if the program’s ineffective. There’s a lot riding on these programs.

How do you know which professional-development course is right for you? Although the U.S. Department of Education states “there is a broad consensus about the elements that constitute an effective professional-development program” (classroom-embedded practices and programs that enhance student learning), research is scarce and schools don’t often have time or resources to investigate every professional-development course out there. So what can you do to make sure your dollars are being well-spent?

The Pitfalls – How to Avoid Them
Because schools are allocating considerable financial resources for professional development, the efficacy of such programs has come under increased scrutiny. Among the questions that teachers and administrators should ask when choosing a program are:

  • Is it a waste of time? With so many other issues on their plate (economic instability, over-crowding, NCLB requirements), teachers need to believe their time with students won’t be compromised by professional development. Find out if other schools have used this program. What is the program’s reputation? What is its history? Word-of-mouth is usually a good way to find out how other teachers and schools have reacted to the program. Visit other schools that have attended and used it. What changes have they seen as a result? Ask those schools why they chose the program.
  • Will it meet the needs of my school? What will you and your school get from the outlay? Has your staff bought into the program, or are they simply fulfilling the requirement? What long-term goals do you expect to meet from attending? What will the staff and students accomplish after one year? After five years?
  • Which one is best for me? What’s best for one teacher may not be ideal for another. “The content must be relevant to the educator’s position and interests,” said Anne Morris, professional development program director at Madonna University in Livonia, MI. “If a teacher attends training in a subject area that isn’t related to his or her teaching position, the knowledge won’t make a significant impact.”

The Perks – How to Find Them
Professional development can be immensely beneficial. Unfortunately, research in the field hasn’t kept up with the burgeoning demand and number of programs.

It doesn’t make sense to measure the efficacy of the program solely on student achievement. Many factors can disrupt the benefits such as personnel and policy changes, but there are steps you can take to determine if your professional development is working:

  • Keep records of participation. For your staff, make a log of what hours are spent on which courses. Use these figures to gauge what the benefits were. Ask participants to keep a diary of what they did and reflect on the course’s effectiveness afterward.
  • Link student learning to teacher learning. Track any changes in teaching and learning according to what the students produce. If the professional development changes teacher practice, student learning should change as a result. Is it improving? Although this should not be the only indicator of success, it’s an important one.
  • Monitor teacher practice. Some professional-development programs focus on changing the climate of the school through teacher practice. Improvements in student learning are a secondary benefit. Conduct pre- and post-course evaluations of your school and how teachers operate within it. Use this data to reflect on the benefits of the program.
  • Increase teacher collaboration. An effective way to measure what is being taught is to collaborate with other teachers and examine the program together. What one person takes from a program may be different than what others do. Share notes immediately after the program and in the months that follow.

“No matter how excellent our education or career preparation is, we can never expect to learn everything in two, four, or six years,” said Erica Bouris, program director at San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies. “Learning new things energizes us and pushes us to embrace new challenges and responsibilities.”

Character Development Seminars
Josephson Institute has run professional-development seminars for 15 years. The most popular one is the Character Development Seminar, which trains participants in the core concepts of the CHARACTER COUNTS! framework. Graduates are eligible to receive credit from accredited institutions such as the University of San Diego, San Diego State University, and Madonna University.

CDS is ideal for teachers, administrators, youth group leaders, and community builders who want to learn character education strategies that really work. Our professional development can enhance your effectiveness as a leader and bring your school or organization a new way to cope with behavior problems, student underachievement, and drop-out rates. We can even customize training for your unique needs.

CHARACTER COUNTS! improves the lives of adults who teach it and communities that embrace it.

“It’s exciting to partner with an organization that views character development as a critical area that needs to be addressed in education,” said Anne Morris of Madonna University.

Successful professional-development programs develop and meet the goals of the school and expand them to achieve the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders. This is the Josephson Institute approach.

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