Understanding Professional Development Issues and Shortcomings

Understanding Professional Development Issues and Shortcomings


There are a number of professional development programs and options available for educators, but not all of them are effective or worth the investment. A recent report found that 90 percent of U.S. teachers have participated in professional development, but the majority of those teachers believe that professional development opportunities (with the exception of content-related training) are not useful or effective in the classroom (Darling-Hammond et al.). The ineffectiveness of many professional development programs has garnered professional development a bad reputation in recent years–even some teachers now consider professional development to have more negatives than positives.

The good news is that people are aware of the problem: "Everyone on all sides of the education reform and improvement debate agree that what most teachers receive as professional opportunities to learn are thin, sporadic, and of little use when it comes to improving teaching" (DeMonte). When people are aware of a problem, a solution usually follows, and there have been a variety of studies and reports identifying where professional development is missing the mark. This is a promising sign that professional development may get the overhaul it needs, but until that happens, it is important that you understand why professional development programs need to move away from the status quo:

1. The United States is falling behind in professional development for educators

Due to the effects of globalization on the national and world economy, a lot of emphasis is now placed on student performance in the United States and around the world. According to a recent report published by the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) and School Redesign Network at Stanford University, the United States is "squandering a significant opportunity" to improve student performance by investing in quality professional development for teachers (Darling-Hammond et al.). "Other nations, our competitors, have made support for teachers and teacher learning a top priority with significant results. In these countries, students learn and achieve more. Teachers stay in the field longer and are more satisfied with their work. Educators take on even more responsibility for improving what happens in the buildings" (Darling-Hammond et al.).

The success others countries have experienced by choosing to invest in and emphasize professional development indicates that the United States has to do the same if we want to bridge the gap in both teacher and student learning. The authors of the NSDC and School Redesign Network report cite the following findings as examples of how the United States is falling behind in professional development for educators:

  • Teachers in the United States often have to pay the majority of the cost of their professional development, especially in regards to their travel costs, workshop fees, and college expenses.
  • Few schools in the United States provide teachers with opportunities to participate in extended learning opportunities and productive collaborative communities.
  • Schools in the United States often ask or expect teachers to complete professional development opportunities outside of working hours and on their own time, while other countries typically include ongoing professional development and collaboration in teachers' regular work hours.
  • When compared to teachers in other countries, teachers in the United States spend about 20 percent more of their time teaching students instead of working together to improve and develop curriculum and instruction (Darling-Hammond et al.).

Taking these issues into account and placing more importance on teacher learning will only benefit educators and students. As Ben Johnson explains in his Edutopia article "Why Quality Professional Development for Teachers Matters", teachers cannot control student learning but they can influence learning environments and invite children to learn. Helping educators become the best at what they do is one of the best ways to support student learning and ultimately increase student and school performance.

2. Traditional one-time workshops are still a major part of professional development

Workshops are what most people envision when they think of professional development, but traditional one-time workshops are not very effective when it comes to helping educators learn the skills they need to be better instructors. "The one-time workshop assumes the only challenge facing teachers is a lack of knowledge of effective teaching practices and when that knowledge gap is corrected teachers will then be able to change" (Gulamhussein). However, that assumption is not correct, which means traditional one-time workshops do not adequately address educators' needs and consistently overlook educators' true challenges. In her report for the Center for Public Education, Allison Gulamhussein cites the implementation of new teaching methods in the classroom as being teachers' biggest challenge.

The ineffectiveness of one-time workshops does not mean workshops cannot be effective or play a major role in professional development. In fact, workshops can still be powerful professional development experiences if the right tools are used and the workshops are done correctly. For example, needs assessments often play a large role in making workshops more effective (Alber). Professional development providers can use a needs assessment to ensure that educators' needs are met through the workshop and its content. Completing a needs assessment before a scheduled workshop can also help professional development providers better address teachers' struggles with implementing new teaching practices in the classroom–something that will be increasingly important in the coming years.

3. The future of the education system in the United States is dependent upon professional development and teacher training

Perhaps the biggest reason professional development has to change and move away from the status quo is that the recent education reforms in the United States will require effective, high-quality professional development. Even though professional development has developed a bad reputation and there are many problems that must be fixed, the education industry has recently made a large bet "on the power of professional support to change teaching and boost student learning…Almost every presentation or speech or conversation about educational reform inevitably includes some reference to the amount of support and training teachers and administrators will need in order to make key reforms real and effective in the classroom" (DeMonte).

Many states have either adopted the Common Core State Standards or are in the process of making their own education reforms for elementary schools and upper grade levels. Preschools and child care centers are also shifting their curricula/programs to include more opportunities to teach critical, exploratory, and investigative thinking in addition to school readiness skills and basic STEM/STEAM concepts. These new shifts and reforms "represent a retreat from the traditional rote, fact-based style of instruction toward teaching that fosters critical thinking and problem solving" (Gulamhussein).

Since many of these reforms will transform the education system and change teaching at a fundamental level, professional development for educators has to evolve and offer solutions and training for 21st century learning and instruction. Investing in teacher learning is the best way to increase student learning and achievement in the classroom. Put simply, "teacher learning is the linchpin between the present day and the new academic goals" (Gulamhussein).

Understanding professional development's current shortcomings and why it must change will ultimately help you identify and make good professional development investments. Be sure to visit our Kaplan Professional Development landing page and read "How to Ensure a Return on Your Professional Development Investment" for more information on choosing effective professional development programs.

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Article Sources

Alber, Rebecca. "The Power of Teacher Workshops: Advocating for Better PD at Your School." Edutopia. The George Lucas Educational Foundation, 19 Oct. 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Darling-Hammond, Linda, et al. "Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad." Leaning Forward. National Staff Development Council and School Redesign Network at Stanford University, Feb. 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

DeMonte, Jenny. "High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers: Supporting Teacher Training to Support Student Learning." Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress, 15 July 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Gulamhussein, Allison. "Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability." Center for Public Education. Center for Public Education, Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

Johnson, Ben. "Why Quality Professional Development for Teachers Matters." Edutopia. The George Lucas Educational Foundation, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.