When I was working on my dissertation in 2004-05, I conducted that literature review that everyone who has been through a doctoral program loves to do. Mine focused on k-12 professional development, and one thing that stuck in my mind was from Dennis Sparks’ research: that as educators we often know more about what constitutes good professional development than what we practice. Some years have passed since then, and though I haven’t conducted another review of the literature, I’d like to think that we are doing better in this regard. With the budget cuts, continued pressure for accountability, and most importantly, student learning and achievement for success in a global economy, it’s imperative that we invest our resources well—our resources of time and money for professional development. As leaders in the classroom, building, and district, we must continually ask, “What should our focus be?” and lay out a strategic plan to achieve that focus, realizing that it will take time and more than a one-day workshop or training if we really want the training to have an impact.
The common core standards seem to be on many educators’ minds (or in Texas, the STARR). Effectively implementing these new standards or making the changes necessitated by STARR will take time. They must also be implemented or changes made within a meaningful context—engaging and relevant lessons that will develop expertise in our students. They can’t be implemented in isolation or we return to a skills-based curriculum. They also must be implemented within the larger context of accountability and school improvement.
I believe professional development is critical for us as educators—but let’s ensure that we practice what we know!