Pitfalls of Professional Development, Part 1

Professional development is something every teacher is familiar with- every year staff find themselves required to get so many hours of professional development. Every district is different with the amount of hours that is required. My district, for example, requires 18 hours of professional development every school year. Staff can attend district professional development (required or not), submit certificates from trainings or outside professional development sessions, provide proof of attending a conference, take a graduate course, etc. Many options exist, and teachers have the entire year to collect their 18 hours. If a staff member fails to collect 18 hours before the year ends, they are required to attend sessions at the board office during the final days of teacher clean up before summer. I’m actually not sure what happens to a staff member if they fail to meet this requirement.

As I’ve gained experience in the education field, I’ve noticed a few “pitfalls”, so to speak, when it comes to professional development. In my opinion, these pitfalls hold professional development back and can keep it from being meaningful. They can make professional development just “another required thing”, and something educators dread attending. And of course, having a set requirement of hours is nice, but it can also give others the false comfort of thinking that once the required hours are in, then they don’t have to do anymore professional development the rest of the year.

Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls featured in professional development across the landscape. Some of these may occur more often than others. Many of the pitfalls, if not all, I’ve experienced firsthand.

Pitfall #1: Opening Day/s presentations and meetings count toward required professional development

Every year, our staff are required to attend the opening days sessions. Day 1 is at the high school. It includes opening statements from the superintendent and the teacher of the year. Typically, a guest speaker has been brought in to talk on a particular topic. Usually the talk lasts about 2 hours or so before we are all given a break for lunch. After lunch, it’s meetings with our assigned schools to go over the usual beginning of the year items. These last all afternoon. The next day is much of the same: meetings with the assigned school all day, including faculty senate. Sometimes different departments from the board office come in to review topics or update staff with new information. If teachers are lucky, they might have some time to work on setting up their classroom.

While the information provided during these sessions is beneficial and very necessary, it shouldn’t count as professional development. How does this information help educators grow? Is it presented to a targeted group? What have the staff learned that they can take back to their classrooms and use to help their students grow? Sure, some of the sessions might be worthwhile professional development, but not every single session. And yet, my district gives every staff member who attends 12 hours of professional development.

Yes, the opening session information is necessary and required. It needs to be in order to make the school year successful for the district. However, just because the sessions are required does not mean it should be counted as professional development.

Pitfall #2: The belief that once the required hours are met, no more professional development is needed

It’s probably been heard before: the staff member who sighs with relief because they’ve finally met the last of their required professional development hours for the entire year. For some, this occurs at the beginning of the year. Others, near the middle, and still some not until the end of the school year. Regardless of when it’s said, the person doesn’t seek out other sessions. If they waited until the end of the year, chances are that some of the professional development they attended wasn’t even something they were interested in. They only went to complete the remaining hours.

Professional development is a never-ending process. Professional development is part of being a lifelong learner and having a growth mindset. One should always seek out opportunities to learn something new to better themselves as an educator. Educators should never stop learning because we’ll never learn everything there is to know. Professional development spread out over the course of the year helps to encourage educators to continue to better themselves and their teaching methods. Administration should also encourage staff to attend professional development throughout the year. This can be done through meetings, or by sending emails to staff who might be interested in certain professional development topics.

Pitfall #3: Lack of staff designing their own professional development to present

There’s a belief that floats around that only experts should be the ones to present staff development. Some staff feel as though they aren’t knowledgeable enough in anything to create staff development. Others wonder how they could fill an hour’s time with enough information. Then there are those who prefer to leave it to the professionals. Whatever the reason, it’s clear to see that there’s very little variety on the staff development website when it comes to presenters. Chances are, the same presenters are almost always listed.
While these are most likely great people, they aren’t the only voices in the school.

It’s time for other educators to take a stand and share their knowledge. It can be nerve-wracking the first time one stands up in front of a large group to do a presentation. It’s the same way that many students feel their very first time. However, we all must start somewhere. Educators may find it easier to start small and present with their PLCs or their grade level teams. From there, they could move on to presenting in front of groups from all over the district. I don’t know how many times I’ve come across an educator who is very knowledgeable on a topic and hasn’t shared that with anyone. Teachers hold valuable information that can benefit their fellow colleagues. Presenting a professional development session allows them to get that information to others and benefits the growth of the school community bond.

Pitfall #4: District fails to provide options for professional development throughout the year

I’m not sure how many others have experienced this, but I have seen it each year in my current district. When the year first begins, there are a multitude of options for professional development. Different topics across subjects and grade bands can be found, and there’s something for most staff out there. However, once late fall hits, options for staff development trickles down to nearly nothing. Once second semester starts, good luck finding any options in the district to attend.

Part of this pitfall does fall back on staff, and goes back to #3 above. Staff have a multitude of knowledge, and should be encouraged to share and present that knowledge. Administration should encourage staff from their schools to try to host a professional development session. Not only will it assist staff in the district, but it also helps the presenting staff to see how others learn about the topic and how to tweak it to improve for next time. If each school had at least 2 sessions presented during the course of the year,
think of the difference it could make.

The other part of this pitfall does fall back on administration, not only at the school level, but also at the board office. Part of the vision for staff should be continuous growth and development of the educator, continuous being the keyword. The superintendent, for example, might model this for the staff of the district by hosting professional development for all of the administration at each school. These would be different than the monthly meetings principals may already attend. By modeling, the superintendent
would set the idea in place that yes, professional development is important and should be occurring throughout the year.

So far, we’ve only looked at four different pitfalls of professional development. Of course, these aren’t the only pitfalls. There are still more to come in a future blog update. Stay tuned for Part 2!

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