Why is staff development so bad?
We have known for a long time (decades!) about what constitutes effective
staff development. As the latest version of the National Staff Development
Council Standards for Staff Development notes, effective staff
- has small groups of educators working together over time in professional
- is based on principles of effective adult learning; and
- deepens educators’ content knowledge.
Yet what does staff development look like in most school districts? Typically
it involves three or four one-shot “sit and get” (or “spray and pray”) sessions
spread across the year, each on a different topic than the one before, that are
attended by most or all educators in the organization. A “one size fits all”
model is used, meaning that there is relatively little differentiation between,
say, music teachers and math teachers and industrial arts teachers. Sometimes
schools spice it up a bit and have a buffet day where educators can pick from
multiple choices throughout the day, much like a professional conference.
Rarely is there follow-up. Rarely is there sustained, focused conversation
about a specific learning issue over time. Rarely does educators’ staff
development satisfy any of the three bullet points listed above. In fact,
schools make deliberate structural choices that directly violate the three
bullet points above. The end result, of course, is that most school
organizations’ staff development practices have little to no meaningful impact
on instructional practice and/or student learning outcomes.
This is a shame, because staff development time and monies might possibly be
the most scarce resources in schools. Staff development also is one of the only
mechanisms that schools have for giving employees new skills and turning the
organization in new directions. It’s embarrassing and disappointing that schools
take this precious, limited resource and squander it.
So the question is… Given that we know what effective staff development looks
like, why is most staff development still so bad?