Standing Against Sit & Get PD
Let’s face it – we’ve got a dirty little secret in professional development. The expert that comes in; gives a great talk to the district staff; and poof, in an instant, we find ourselves hoping and believing that what he or she says will magically transform itself into improved teaching and learning.
The truth, we all realize on a gut level, is that this is the easy, and even lazy, way to do PD, and we are all guilty.
Not long ago, while visiting a university with my soon-to-be-college-age daughter, I overheard a conversation that stunned me. As we sat in the waiting room of the admissions office, I heard an individual say: “I need to set up for our professional development session. I don’t want round tables because then they will talk too much.” I found myself becoming uncomfortable, even enraged by this nonchalant statement. Seriously? She didn’t want to set up a room where participants had the opportunity to move and network with one another? She did not want to create an environment that encouraged collegial interaction? Instead, she was consciously choosing to set up a room that forced attendees to sit passively as she, the resident expert, poured out her wisdom. She perpetuated the dirty little secret in PD. Why as a profession do we continue to preserve an old school mentality about professional development? Don’t we know better? Doesn’t the research indicate otherwise?
We’ve all endured our fair share of sit and get or spray and pray PD. Probably hundreds of hours. As passive recipients of this type of PD, the result is all too often little lasting change. Like water skiers, we have all found ourselves merely skimming the surface rather than diving deeply into the topic at hand. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that you have heard from dynamic presenters who were passionate about their message. However, the challenge arises from following what is considered a short-term transmission model. Little, if any, follow up occurs after a PD experience like this; it might not even be mentioned again. Once in a while, we might get really jazzed by one of these experts and purchase his or her latest book! Then, we might actually sprint back to our campuses and try with great futility to translate what we experienced to those we lead.
The glaring verity is that high-quality PD is essential. The days of teacher professional development sessions consisting of expert-delivered awareness campaigns must become a thing of the past. It is high time that as educators and professional developers that we rise up and stand against sit and get PD! You know better. I know better. Our teachers deserve better. Our kids deserve better! We must stop wasting money and time! There is another way – an alternative.
We should all move forward toward more effective and more engaging PD models. Research and personal experience help us realize that high-quality, ongoing PD that deepens each teacher’s content knowledge and pedagogic skills; provides opportunities for practice, research, and reflection; and includes efforts that are job-embedded, sustained, and collaborative will assist in the goal to remain conversant (Sparks, 2002). Seminal research by Joyce and Showers (2002) reminds us that levels of teacher learning and strategy use are greatly increased when coaching, study teams, and peer support are provided. The bottom line is that intensive follow up and support are necessary elements of high-quality PD.
In examining the alternative, it is important to note that, yes; it requires greater resources -- more time, more money, and more energy. And, yet, we all know that anything good always takes time and effort. However, this is the right way, and it’s time for us to start investing in and doing PD justice.
As leaders, we recognize that continuous growth through professional development is the hallmark of individuals who continually contribute to the success of their own organization. The truth is that it is a lot easier to commission experts to come and share their theories and ideas. However, thoughtfully invested resources are sure to reap undeniable benefits for teachers, and in turn, for students.
Essentially, there is still room for occasional sit and get. We don’t have to completely rule out one-day events as they can definitely inspire and spark interest. However, we can offer this nostalgic form of PD a welcome and novel twist by following up on what the expert shares. And, we must stop utilizing this spray and pray approach as our primary form of PD.
Joyce, B. & Showers, B. (2002). Achievement through staff development. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002.
Sparks, D. (2002). Designing powerful professional development for teachers and principals. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council.
Dr. Glenda Horner is the Coordinator for Staff Development in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, Texas. She has participated in ASCD’s On-Site Capacity Building services. Go to www.ascd.org/oscb to learn more.