Why is staff development so bad?


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


  • 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?

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