The value of PD – or lack thereof

A new report by The New Teacher Project (TNTP) entitled “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development” highlights the collective lack of knowledge regarding what helps teachers improve, despite a myth that we know what works and that teaching excellence is “just over the horizon.” TNTP’s exploration of teacher development activities across three large urban districts finds that school systems neglect to clearly define expectations for teacher performance and growth and do not provide development opportunities that conclusively improve teacher performance.

We know that teacher quality is the most deterministic factor of student success. So, how can school systems promote work cultures that value and support teacher improvement? When teachers, as this report highlights, “are told in innumerable ways that their level of performance is good enough,” what incentive do they have to master this complex job that requires mastery of a “daunting list of individual skills?” In order to drive teacher performance, we must focus on developing and supporting work cultures which value teachers’ individual needs, provide differentiated professional supports, and set an expectation that growth is the norm.

We spend millions of dollars on professional development (PD) each year, but what proof do we have that the PD results in improved capacity and better instructional effectiveness? We know teachers (and district leaders for that matter) need PD, but is the PD we provide working?

This report also highlights some interesting ideas for revamping both teacher training and how schools allocate teacher resources. They suggest that the best professional development for new teachers may well be gained on the job (i.e. job embedded PD)  – new teachers would begin by taking on small (but important!) responsibilities such as grading homework, managing extracurricular programming and communicating with parents. More effective teachers (those with both more experience and a track record of driving student achievement) would mentor these new educators and focus on lesson delivery. Through this system, everyone maximizes their current skill set to deliver the best educational opportunities for youth. Win, win?

Ultimately, this report shows that we have a long way to go in terms of best determining how to support, motivate, and drive the performance of millions of teachers across the country. Innovative ideas need to be tested and evaluated so that resource-constrained districts can begin to use valuable resources to support evidence-based systems for teacher development.

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