Thursday, April 9th, 2009...4:25 pm

Supporting Teachers: NSDC Report Makes Case for Job-Embedded, Collaborative Professional Development

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A new report from the National Staff Development Council concludes that American teachers spend more time in the classroom than many of their peers around the world - but student achievement doesn’t reflect the extra work.  Many factors can contribute to that scenario, but one conclusion they draw: teachers in the U.S. need more and better opportunities for on-the-job training. 

It isn’t that American teachers don’t get professional development.  It’s that the opportunities for growth often are not job-embedded, but happen in isolation.

In the report, NSDC Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh notes that Title I and Title II funding both include requirements that money be spent for professional development, and the vast majority of states have standards in place to define and call for ‘effective professional development’ for educators. But she says numerous studies have found that “effective schoolwide collaborative learning” is critical to schools’ success, and that type of professional development experience is not the norm.

Experts have long advocated intensive and sustained professional development as opposed to one-off workshops that may bring about enthusiastic but short-lived changes.  Continual and ongoing effort are what turn theory into practice.

Recent research, though, has indicated that it’s also critical that the learning experiences be job-embedded and collaborative.  Participation in Professional Learning Communities where peers can discuss and examine their classroom issues and practices is essential, says the NSDC report, but making those opportunities a reality has been challenging for many reasons.

All of this comes at a time when advancing technology is making online learning more ubiquitous.  The NSDC report does not directly address the effectiveness of online professional development efforts.  On the surface, individuals completing online coursework would seem to run counter to the call for more personal, collaborative, face-to-face connections within the school.  But it’s not an either-or proposition.

To be sure, online courses have made it possible for many to be exposed to ideas and content they would not have had the opportunity to experience otherwise.  But they don’t replace the need for collaborative communities within a school, for observation and discussion and cooperation.

The NSCD report is much to in-depth to summarize in a blog post, but it raises interesting questions about how schools should approach staff development. At QTL, we are in agreement with the need for intensive, sustained, job-embedded and collaborative efforts that focus on helping teachers engage students and teach their content effectively.  

What do you think?

1 Comment

  • There is a fundamental problem in the way professional development paid for with federal funds is accounted for. In Arkansas, which requires teachers to have 60 hours of professional development annually for certificate renewal, no renewal credit can be given for any of those hours if federal dollars paid for it. If the feds are really serious about increasing teacher capacity… this rule should vanish just as surely as yesterday did. 60 hours is a huge number and demonstrates a strong commitment to faculties and their students. It also leaves a lot of federal professional development money sitting on the sidelines… because the hours don’t count. The feds are actually preventing high quality professional development from occurring with their goofy rule.

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