- The Livonia Public Schools in Michigan was able to host a district-wide education technology training event on a limited budget, Tim Klan, administrator of information technology in the district, discusses in eSchool News.
- The school district set up a one-day training event (to save time and money) with the feel of a larger national education conference with a well-known keynote speaker, and scheduled the event before school started in order to minimize the impact on student instruction.
- Also in order to save money, the school district used its own high school facilities for the conference, sought vendors to bring in food trucks for lunch and recruited as much volunteer help as possible.
School leaders often point to the amount of money spent on professional development as an indicator of how hard the school district is working to improve teacher effectiveness and, ultimately, student achievement. However, recent studies indicate that many forms of professional development are both costly and ineffective. In “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development,” researchers at The New Teacher Project found teachers “spent an average of 19 school days each year in teacher development sessions, but only three out of 10 teachers improved their performance as evidenced by several factors including evaluation ratings and classroom observations.”
Some forms of professional development address district-specific issues, such as improving the use of available educational technology or implementing new district-wide initiatives. In these cases, mini-conferences, such as the one mentioned in the article, may offer a lower-cost solution that addresses the need for professional development in an interesting and productive way. However, studies have shown that, in general, this type of professional development does not usually make an impact in the classroom. Long-term teacher mentoring and support is likely to have a greater impact. Some programs, such as Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture, create a framework by which teachers can be promoted to higher positions and earn more money as they mentor, thus converting professional development dollars into ways to enhance teacher pay for effective and excellent teachers.
Professional development for teachers is always more effective if the needs and personal goals of teachers are taken into account. A teacher may feel she needs more classroom management training, may want to learn to speak Spanish in order to better communicate with parents, or feel the need for additional courses in her field of study or as progress toward a master’s degree. Districts may want to explore creative solutions, such as approved online courses, that would offer more flexibility and allow each teacher to develop professionally in a way that has more impact on them and on their students.