The definition of professional development varies in school districts and educators agree that the term is ever changing and involves the use of technology. Some educators have said that the term has an operational definition. In the article, key design factors in durable instructional technology professional development, author John Wells offers the following definition for educators within the context of the technological age:Professional development…goes beyond the term training with its implications of learning skills, and encompasses a definition that includes formal and informal means of helping teachers not only learn new skills, but also develop new insights into pedagogy and their own practices, and explore new or advanced understandings of content and resources. [This] definition of professional development includes support for teachers as they encounter the challenges that come with putting into practice their evolving understanding about the use of technology to support inquiry-based learning (p.2).
Professional development may encompass various characteristics such as goals and outcomes aligned to the districts, relevant topics in trainings, opportunities for staff collaboration, development maintained by an on-site coordinator, high quality and professional training and evaluations to determine effectiveness of program.
James Polk, author of traits of effective teachers, states, “the need for a strong professional development program is well established in research” (p.2). Mr. Polk (2006) cites a recent study of factors contributing to three aspects of the teaching process that, “teachers ranked professional development in the top third of importance on each aspect” (p. 2).
In analyzing the professional development plan of my school district, Richland County School District One, I noticed several issues that were identified by Mr. Polk. Mr. Polk outlined several problems associated with the traditional in-service programs that are deemed ineffective. Mr. Polk (2006) states that:assumptions, such as periodic in-service being sufficient to develop new teaching methods and improve practice, teachers being able to learn by listening to a speaker, and professional development being a luxury rather than an integral part of district improvement, are all negating factors in the implementation of patronization of training programs (p. 2).
Mr. Polk further identifies research-based, more effective assumptions such as professional development should be perpetual, and school change involves external and internal organizations and personal development. In professional development programs, the instructions to teacher should be demonstrated or modeled, practiced with feedback and professional development should be integrated into the daily life of teachers. Mr. Polk (2006) states that “if professional growth rests solely on bimonthly, two-hour in-service sessions after the students are dismissed early, then any training received will unlikely be reflected in student mastery” (p.2).
Richland County School District One’s (RSDI) professional development program has several components such as the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA), Avatar, and classroom walkthrough.
According to the Richland County School District One’s website, Plan Do Check Act is used in “designing curriculum and delivering classroom instruction, in providing student support services, staff goal setting and evaluation, developing any new program, product or process design, planning strategically and starting a new improvement project or implementing any change”. The Plan component is identifying the learning problem and gathering the needed data. The Do component is analyzing the causes and implementing the plan on a trial of pilot basis. The Check component of PDCA is gathering the data results of the solution and analyzing the data. The Act component is implementing the instruction for all students and modifying the improvement plan.
Avatar is the district’s professional development management system that allows for teaches to sign up for trainings offered by the district. All the trainings are offered after school or in the summer; this contradicts the recommendation offered by Mr. Polk that professional development should be integrated into the daily life of the teacher during the school day.
The classroom walkthrough team is a district employee, the principal, assistant principal, and the professional development on-site coordinator. The team conducts the classroom walkthrough by observing the instructional strategies of a teacher for a total of five to ten minutes. The teacher is not offered prior information or feedback on the classroom walkthrough to correct or enhance his instructional strategies. The Richland County School District One website offers the levels of engagement of the students who the team should identify during the walkthrough. The levels; Authentic Engagement, Ritual Engagement, Passive Compliance, Retreatism, and Rebellion and their definitions are cited on the web page but teachers would not know their level due to lack of communication from the classroom walkthrough team.
The problem of the poor quality of professional development was identified in the South Carolina schools that I have researched. For example, in Richland County School District Two, the district’s professional development program mirrors Richland County School District One’s program by only focusing on providing monthly in-service trainings on half-days for students or summer in-service activities. Both districts also provide the occasional monthly state or national conference in the teacher’s subject area and online training, i.e. Educational Television. Richland County School District Two differs by offering their Richland School District Two’s Technology Education Collaboration Mentors Program. The program is for school-selected representatives from every school in the district. The program focuses on helping fellow staff members develop personal technology skills and integrate technology into their classroom. Besides this program, I was unable to find any difference from the two districts and the professional development training.
Richland County School District One and District Two professional development programs consist of low quality training once a month, irrelevant topics, lack of feedback from teachers and administrators, and concepts but lack of implementation. The districts’ programs lack the scope, high quality, accessibility (besides the Avatar system in RSDI), relevancy, and feedback from students. The majority of the district’s professional development program is the poor quality program described by Mr. Polk; two-hour in-service sessions after the students are dismissed early from school.
Polk, J. (2006). Traits of effective teachers. Arts Education Policy Review, 107, p. 23-30.
Wells, J. (2007). Key design factors in durable instructional technology professional development. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 15, p. 101-123.
www.richlandone.org/ipda/Training_Tools/pdca.htm and www.richland2.org