Why Professional Development for Teachers is Often Useless



It is very rare that I come out of a day long or 2 day long professional development seminar feeling more adept at teaching than before attending. I commend Valerie Strauss for her criticisms of professional development, because many teachers feel the way she does, but few are game to admit it:

There has been a strong reaction to my recent post titled  ”A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds,” which revealed Chicago teachers being led in a professional development session in which they sound like kindergarteners, repeating words in unison. Some commenters on the post defended the practice but most of the comments attacked it, revealing what is well known in the education world: Most professional development (PD) is lousy.

Though professional development for teachers is critical to their development as professionals, a 2013 report on PD by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education noted that most teachers aren’t given the kind of professional development that would actually help them, and it called the most prevalent model of PD nothing short of “abysmal.” A summary of the report said:

Most teachers only experience traditional, workshop-based professional development, even though research shows it is ineffective. Over 90 percent of teachers participate in workshop-style training sessions during a school year (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). This stands in stark contrast to teachers’ minimal exposure to other forms of professional development (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). Despite its prevalence, the workshop model’s track record for changing teachers’ practice and student achievement is abysmal. Short, one-shot workshops often don’t change teacher practice and have no effect on student achievement (Yoon et al, 2007; Bush, 1984).

A summary of the report also noted that:

The reason traditional professional development is ineffective is that it doesn’t support teachers during the stage of learning with the steepest learning curve: implementation. In the same way that riding a bike is more difficult than learning about riding a bike, employing a teaching strategy in the classroom is more difficult than learning the strategy itself. In several case studies, even experienced teachers struggled with a new instructional technique in the beginning (Ermeling, 2010; Joyce and Showers, 1982). In fact, studies have shown it takes, on average, 20 separate instances of practice before a teacher has mastered a new skill, with that number increasing along with the complexity of the skill (Joyce and Showers, 2002).

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has gone so far as to say that the $2.5 billion in federal funds spent annually on professional development is largely a waste:

At the federal level, we spend $2.5 billion a year on professional development. As I go out [and] talk to great teachers around the country, when I ask them “how much is that money improving their job or development,” they either laugh or they cry. They are not feeling it. So as we fight for additional resources, we also have to be honest about that $2.5 billion investment, and the additional two or three billion dollars that states and districts are spending, to see what is necessary to really help teachers master their craft and hone their skills. I think the honest answer is that, in most places, we are not even close.


Click on the link to read my post Finally, a Step Forward in Education

Click on the link to read my post Tips For New Teachers from Experienced Teachers

Click on the link to read my post, Do experienced teachers give enough back to the profession?
Click on the link to read, ‘Teachers Trained Very Well to Teach Very Poorly

Click on the link to read my post 25 Characteristics of a Successful Teacher


Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Why Professional Development for Teachers is Often Useless”

  1. kedavis99 Says:

    I was once sent to a week long PD, I was dreading spending 6 hours a day for five days sitting and listening. I was wonderfully pleasantly surprised. I was attending a Kagan Cooperative Learning workshop. We actively used the structures we were learning, there were multiple examples of how to apply this to our classrooms. We were teamed with other teachers who taught similar subjects/grade levels so we could brainstorm together. It is the one time I can recall leaving a PD session feeling utterly rejuvenated about teaching, ready to go back and try out the new things I’d learned, and when I did and they worked I was even more excited then signing up for another Kagan training. Unfortunately since then I’ve had to attend those workshops that put me to sleep. Too bad more presenters can’t take lessons from the Kagan people on how to make a workshop interactive and quality!

  2. John Tapscott Says:

    The most effective professional development occurs when a teacher recognises a need for him or her self and seeks out by some means or another a way of satisfying that need.

    When I was newly appointed to the leadership of a regional team of behaviour teachers I suddenly realised I was not equipped for this role. I was under the direction of an assistant principal who worked on the same team and who, I realised was no better equipped than I was. In fact I worked under 3 different assistant principals in my first years in the job. These I discovered were upwardly mobile, using their position as another rung on the ladder.

    My first strategy was to offer a PD course to the schools in my area about why children misbehave. It was about mistaken goals that children adopt to have their needs met and which land them in trouble. I have since learnt that fewer children are having their needs met in schools than ever before.

    My second strategy was, during the course of the PD program, to provide an efficient referral process with as few steps as necessary so that students with difficulties could be assessed and a program set up with little delay.

    My third strategy was to provide a program of social skills to as many classes as I could get access to in order to provide as many students as possible with people skills necessary to relate to the people in their lives; teachers, peers, parents, public, bullies, etc. etc.

    In approaching students referred for behaviour problems I found it counter productive to approach the student from the point of view of his or her maladaptive behaviour. I first had to establish a working relationship. This involved multiple strategies. One particularly violent student I took on my rounds, as he was in no frame of mind to be in the classroom. I gave him a disposable camera and had him take pictures of anything he wished. When the pictures were developed he pasted one on each page of an exercise book. I had him tell me about each picture and wrote what he told me on the page. This book became his basic reader.

    Other students I gave pottery or woodwork lessons, or some other form of art or craft. Still others I worked on their literacy and numeracy skills. The main thrust of these activities was to build a working relationship with the students.

    Also early in my role I recognised the work of William Glasser and read much of his work. Then when I heard of a program being run in Sydney about a model for quality schools (following Glasser’s work), I got approval from my director to attend. It was 1100 km each way but worth every minute. I also had time to visit the teachers of a wilderness program and a school for students with emotional disorders. This was PD undertaken for reasons of my own and not something imposed on me from higher up.

    Much of the PD going on these days is imposed on teachers from above. It is delivered in the most boring way possible and it is largely irrelevant to what teachers are currently working on. That is to say it doesn’t scratch where they itch. It is usually an attempt to cover as much as possible in as short a time as possible with little input from the participating staff. Sometimes it’s about another cockamamie scheme the powers that be are about to foist on their teaching staff with very little attention paid to “buy in”. It’s “you’re going to do this, then you’re going to implement it.” And before anyone comes to terms with it there’s another mindless scheme being foisted on them. No wonder teachers are wary; no wonder they are indifferent towards a lot of the PD they have to do. There is often very little choice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: