The Problem With Professional Development

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately. Seems this sort of thing always leads to a new blog post. Professional development in public education seems highly restrictive to me. It seems that once we decide to become leaders in this work and we move beyond the classroom, the organizational investment in our professional development subsides. Im going to make an attempt to explain my opinion here and in doing so I’ll be making some rather broad generalizations. Please note I realize there are exceptions to this, but I’m speaking generally as a reflection of my experiences and observations.

It seems teachers have routine opportunities to be professionally developed. We have a structure that supports such. There are teacher work days, late start days, and early dismissal days that can be used for teachers to engage in professional development. I am in full support of this, and especially believe that professional development should be job-embedded, continuous, and of high quality. My concern isn’t for teachers, but for others who have the responsibility of leading and supporting teachers: principals and district level leaders.

It seems to me, that as one moves up the leadership ladder, professional development opportunities are gravely reduced. Instead, these school and districts level leaders spend an enormous amount of time in meetings, participating in information download sessions, taking notes, and going back to communicate deadlines and deliverables to their organization. I’m wondering if we also need to be focused on developing our leaders as much as we are focused on developing our teachers. Our efforts to build the capacity of system leaders could have a broader and more significant impact on creating better systems of teaching and learning. I’ve racked my brain trying to think of professional learning opportunities that are routine and job-embedded for school and district level leaders, which I have knowledge of, but the list is very short.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that these leaders are hungry to be developed. They want and need opportunities to learn, not just to collect information and be responsible for communicating it back. They need the opportunity to build their capacity to design efficient teaching and learning systems, to learn how to create mechanisms of support for teachers and others, but it seems there is little time for learning for them. Their days are filled with doing instead.

I’m wondering if we have an opportunity to think of professional development in a broader sense. Perhaps we might think about committing our resources, time, and talents to developing the capacity of teachers and leaders. In my mind it’s not an either/or situation, but a both/and one.

I’d love to hear from you and what you think about this. Perhaps you are a school level or district leader who is in a district that routinely invests in your professional development as they do teachers, and if so I would love to learn more about your experiences in this realm. If your observations and experiences are similar to the ones I’ve described here, I want to hear from you too. Are we missing the boat on professional development? Is our focus too narrow? Are we missing an opportunity to impact the system instead of spot touching classrooms here and there? Let me know your thoughts!

Until next time…be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!


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