Does professional development do more harm than good?

Purposeless professional development

Recently, I was thinking back to the last professional development session I had attended.  What was the purpose? Did I walk away thinking that this was a great benefit or did I find my mind wandering to the many other things that I had to accomplish that day?  As an educator I know that leadership training and career development is extremely important. I know it is but often I find that I spend a large amount of that sitting time justifying why I there whilst trying not to multitask the other issues and concerns I have running around in my head.  This is why I often can understand where many teachers are coming from when they explain that they know why they need to take professional development and leadership training but they just don’t have the time.  

“Punishment by Rewards”

Time is a culprit of many things.  As educators we often just don’t have enough time to do the things we need to in the twenty-four hours we have been allotted.  This reminds me of a time when I was explaining to my students about homework and why it was necessary. (Or why I thought it was necessary).  I had assigned some reading and assignments for a group of grade ten students.  I received the immediate response of “This is so much homework” and “I don’t have time” “I have soccer practice” or “I have hockey practice” and so on.  As I sat and listened to the students vent about their time constraints at their young age I began to think about Alfie Kohn’s book Punishment by Rewards (1999). I read this book as an assignment in school and remember the underlying theme is that we often teach the idea that “If you do this…you will get that” mentality.  Like those grade ten students we often tell our teachers that if you do this professional development you will gain better career development and personal development and a wonderful rainbow of skills.  However, do you really know this to be true or are we just assuming that one will lead to another?  

Beyond “sit-n-get”

Many professional development involves training and development that is often delivered in the “sit-n’git” fashion.  Teachers are herded into a large room or conference hall and provided with activities that is peppered with lecture like material.  The question is how do we assess what is being processed and what is simply them just “waiting” out the process?  Many of my grade ten students completed the homework but it was done as quickly as possible so they could get back to the other engagements they has also agreed to participate in that evening.  So how can we go beyond this “sit’n’git” methodology? It is a difficult question to answer as many teachers need to attend training and development but organizing such large and well executed ordeal can be time consuming and exhausting.  I did recently stumble across a new type of professional development that engages teachers on their own time and allows them the chance to step away from the sit’n’git method.  It was called Chrome Warrior and is worth checking out if you have the time.  I also suggest re-thinking the way that you approach the delivery of professional development much in the same way that Alfie Kohn approached homework.  The “old-school” method is not always necessarily the best method.

Kohn, Alfie. (1999) Punished by Rewards: The trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and other Bribes.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.