Breaking the habit…

A significant part of my job involves designing, developing, delivering or helping plan for approaches to professional development. There's no doubt in my mind that effective professional development is the critical difference between high performing schools and those that aren't.

Sadly, there are still examples of professional development I see occurring in schools that suffer from the following:

  • PD isn't linked integrally to the school's strategic plan
  • PD focuses almost exclusively on addressing individual needs, rather than school (and student) needs
  • There's no requirement for participation or accountability for outcomes, and staff are free to 'opt-out'

A recent paper from the McKinsey foundation reinforces the view that we need to break the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers. They studied a range of school systems at the national, state, and local levels, as well as other leading educational institutions and public- and private-sector organizations, highlighting five promising ideas that were identified from the studies:

  1. Base the PD program on a vision of effective teaching;
  2. Segment teachers and deliver PD strategically;
  3. Make coaching the centerpiece of PD;
  4. Move from “push” to “pull,” so that teachers get what they want, when they want it; and
  5. Only offer PD with demonstrated impact.

A key issue for me in reading the report is the realisation that while these ideas may appear 'obvious', they don't represent what may be regarded as 'traditional' approaches to PD in schools. This is what McKinsey refers to as 'breaking the habit'. The fact is that, through custom and practice, many of our approaches to PD are developed through habit, rather than intentional decisions to achieve better outcomes. The good news is that habits can be broken, and the McKinsey report provides some useful strategies for what we can do to replace them. 

I blogged recently about the elephant in the room, drawing attention to the impact on learning across a school system where teachers are given the option of 'opting out' of strategically determined actions and plans. This, along with ineffective approaches to PD cannot be tolerated. Aside from the fact that it's a waste of time and valuable resources to invest in less than adequate PD, it has a lasting and devastating impact on what could otherwise be a high performing school system, resulting in high(er) achievement for all of the students whithin it. Let's learn from the research of McKinsey and others, and ensure our teachers and learners get the best.

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