[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

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 development

  • has small groups of educators working together over time in professional learning communities;
  • 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?