How to Ensure Your PD Investment is More Than Window Dressing

How to Ensure Your PD Investment is More Than Window Dressing

How to Ensure Your PD Investment is More Than Window Dressing

by: Dr. Michael Ward, Graduate Faculty
University of Southern Mississippi Department of Educational Leadership and School Counseling

February 7, 2014

Professional development (PD), when done right, is one of the most important investments a school can make. That’s because it’s not just an investment in teachers, but in students and the economy.

Unfortunately, much of what passes for PD these days is more window dressing than anything else. Schools often don’t resource it well – either because they haven’t made it a priority or because they simply don’t have the budget. At other times, the PD itself is lacking in quality.

PD, engages teachers directly using multiple teaching methods (just like the best classroom teachers do for their kids). It provides hands-on, classroom-based collaboration between education consultants and the teacher. And it incorporates a constant feedback loop, based on direct observation, to ensure progress.

There are many PD providers out there, and nearly all of them can chatter about why their way is best. This can make it difficult for school leaders to winnow out the wheat from the chaff.

Yet, there are sure signs of quality that an astute school leader can look for to choose an effective, high-quality PD organization.

First, it’s worth noting that there are all kinds of reasons schools, and school districts, seek PD for their teachers. Some have been shamed into doing something because the situation in their schools has become dire. Others run good schools that want to be great. And there are all kinds of motivations in between.

A good PD organization should be able to adapt its programs to all of those situations. The best PD providers understand the differences between rich schools and poor schools, high-achieving and low-achieving schools, and can work effectively in all of them. But there are other qualities that a school should insist on before selecting a PD provider.

First, principals and/or curriculum directors should ask if the provider has the capacity to supply one-on-one instruction to teachers in their classrooms. No amount of “sit-and-get” type of PD can achieve the substantial gains that come from an education consultant working with teachers real time and collaborating with them on course corrections and next steps.

Second, school leaders need to know the reputation of the PD provider within the education community. Look for testimonials from knowledgeable educators whom you respect and trust.

Third, it’s important to know whether there is a clear track record supported by the numbers. Can the company demonstrate progress in its schools using statistically valid data? The best PD organizations not only can demonstrate their successes, but also can show you how “their” schools fared compared to other similar schools over the same period of time.

The final test is this: Do the PD providers respect teachers and school leaders?

A company that can treat teachers respectfully and professionally while maintaining an uncompromising commitment to improving practice is the kind of company I would want to work with. Chances are, it’s the kind of company you’ll want to work with, too.