Professional development is created, not provided

Over recent weeks I’ve been so busy that I’ve largely ignored Twitter. To my detriment. A quick return to it this afternoon found me following two links via tweets from @palbion. The two links were

  1. How effective is the professional development undertaken by teachers?, and
  2. Removing the lids of learning.

The first is a blog post outlining the many limitations of professional development as practiced in schools and many other locations (e.g. the L&T PD at Universities) and suggesting how it can be fixed to become both “useful and cost effective”. This post troubled me greatly. I agree that much of Professional Development is essentially worthless. But at least two aspects of the post troubled me.

The assumption that impact on student learning outcomes is the only true measure of the value of Professional Development worries me significantly. It’s simplistic in that it reduces the complexity of schools, teaching and teachers to a single measure. The practice of such abstraction is always going to lose something. But worse, if you focus everything on one particular measure and it becomes a target, it’s useless. i.e. Goodhart’s law

But what really bugged me was that the solution to the woes of Professional Development was better Professional Development. I disagree. I think you have to get rid of Professional Development and replace it with learning. i.e. the teachers (and academics) essentially have to continue learning. Here’s my provocative proposal

Professional development is mostly a solution provided by management due to flaws in the system that management preside over.

i.e. the education (or university) system – in its broadest understanding – is set up to make it difficult for the members of that system to learn and more importantly make changes based on what they learn.

The post actually makes the point itself when it says

Fortunately there have been a raft of reports (e.g. from EPPI and from Ofsted, among many others) that tell us exactly what to look for, and the good news is that great teacher learning is a remarkably similar beast to the great pupil learning.

Slide 19 of the Removing the lids of learning presentation by Dean Shareski contains the following quote from Stephen Downes

We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.

I suggest that you can replace “education” with “professional development” and as a result you identify the solution to the problem of Professional Development.

4 thoughts on “Professional development is created, not provided

  1. I agree. When I worked as an Information Analyst for EDS Canada, PD was always training/research of new programming/software/processes. If I wanted to know how a person in the Texas office did his job I’d simply call him up and ask him! He would definitely not be creating a presentation on it.

    That said, I just went to the recent ACER conference at the Gold Coast and blogged about it too. I found the conference beneficial mainly because I got the opportunity to hang out with teachers.

  2. Anyone who knows anything about the L word understand the point you make. Really well made btw. Pity no ed manager will read it. Always looks good the list of snake oil product to show the higher ups each year. Did you have staff attend the safety in coffee grinding PD? Tick. What about CPR for teachers with red hair? Tick. What about the zillion versions of personality type/learning styles testing? TICK. A big problem with networked knowledge, as Dave Weinberger calls it, is that you do get Newton’s 2nd law operating for every view/argument you can find a counter. The echo chambers for zombie education ideas are huge. Getting folk to think for themselves, ask the odd ugly question about the assumptions on display (yes mine included) is so so important. Everyone needs a mental spring clean once a year at least? Memo to self what are my most cherished memes, ideas? Why do they matter? Where did I get them from? Do they still matter? … etc. Attending to the contrarian. The stuff that has little or no echo. Noticing the black swans, the elephants in the room or the person in the gorilla suit in the basketball catch counting exercise is the new L now (I dislike using the L word – to me humans are L machines – we don’t have an off switch- or at least I have not found mine yet). You can never be sure that you have found all the elephants,/black swans/gorillas but pretending they are not there is one of the best indicators of stupidity.

  3. Often overlooked is the fact that teachers participate in learning communities, both formal and informal, all the time. The type of administrators who are top-down (and that is by no means all of them) generally only consider the formal stuff; the stuff that they ‘deliver’ but it can be argued that this is only the tip of the iceberg. What’s more, not that more powerful communications systems are now becoming mainstream (consider Blackboard Collaborate or Micrsoft Lync, for example) the kinds of events that generally only happened at conferences are now happening right at desks in classrooms. The big question I have is whether we, as a profession, will nurture and grow the type of teacher leadership that will, in its turn, encourage this powerful, informal activity.

  4. Pingback: Does institutional e-learning have a TPACK problem? | The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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