Your Professional Development Might be Nonsense If…

3 min

1. It is taught by someone without expertise

I remember once I was attending a training on classroom management and someone roped the school social workers into leading it. Now, in my experience, social workers are among the most caring and hardworking people in the building, but we all have our core competencies. Most social workers don’t spend much time teaching a class, so classroom management is, shockingly, not their area of expertise.

Sometimes, like in this case, it is good people being put in a ridiculous situation. If not, feel free to ask, “can you give me an example of how you implement this technique in your classroom?” or “How would you apply that technique in this hypothetical situation?”

2. You aren’t allowed to ask questions

We all know that any lesson interrupted by questions every two minutes isn’t going to accomplish much, but even the most traditionalist among us don’t think a long monologue is the best way to educate people.

Einstein took questions, and it isn’t likely that the guy or gal doing your PD is SO much sharper, that everything they say is completely correct and flawlessly explained.

In my humble opinion, a presenter’s willingness to take questions is directly related to their confidence in being able to answer them. If they make a major factual error or misrepresentation within the first minute, strap yourself in for a long uninterrupted speech.

But, just because they don’t WANT to take questions, doesn’t mean you can’t raise your hand. Find a couple of buddies and you can trade off holding your arm up.

3. The speaker spends an hour of direct instruction telling you to use every method but direct instruction

We all know that spending the entire period droning on is a good way to put your class on the fast track to nap town. However, direct instruction has its place.

There is a special place in the depths of the school basement for people who preach progressive teaching techniques while talking at you for 60 minutes.

A good question to ask is, “What makes today’s PD a bad match for the teaching techniques that you talked about?”

4. The consultant tells your administrator how smart he/she is

I admit I don’t live the healthiest lifestyle. When I go to the doctor, I expect that she is going to bring this up. She should because that’s her job. If she didn’t, I’d know she was a quack.

ame thing with educational consultants. Some have realized they can make some nice coin telling your administrators how smart and progressive they are. If there ARE any problems, it’s only because some holdout teachers aren’t getting with the program and need a swift kick in the butt.

This is a tough one to handle because it usually means your admin has pretty fragile self-esteem and upsetting the situation could lead to a meltdown. A good question to ask the trainer is “what is an area where you DON’T think the district is heading in the right direction?”

5. The research that they quotes doesn’t jive with the message

Good professional development should have a strong foundation in well-designed research. Some presenters do a fantastic job of interweaving relevant research with practical down to earth strategies. Those who don’t usually come in two varieties. 

The first variety is where the presenter cherry picks a piece of research that seems to support the conclusion they’ve already made. You end up sitting with your fellow math teachers in your urban high school hearing about some brilliant new strategies. All of the “conclusions” are based on a study of a single class of kindergarteners working on reading comprehension in rural Appalachia. While it is usually hard to look up and critique the study on the fly, feel free to ask the presenter about the subject and demographics of the students in the study and how closely they match your classroom.

The next type is the ever famous meta-analysis. Meta-analysis can be wonderful statistical tools to aggregate multiple studies to come up with a pooled result. Of course, this presupposes that all the studies in the meta-analysis are relevant to the subject, grade, and student makeup that you see in your classroom. It is often worth asking the presenter something like, “How much variation did the researcher see in the results of the studies based on grade levels, income levels, and subjects? I’m specifically interested in the results of the studies that showed the effectiveness of homework in rural, middle school, science classrooms like mine.”

The goal of this article is not to make you reject professional development. I can think of several PDs that I’ve found to be life-changing and inspiring. My goal is to encourage you and your colleages to ask the tough questions and hold PD providers to the same standards that we hold ourselves professionally. So please share this article with your friends, colleagues, and supervisors.

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