Why “PD Days” are Neither Professional nor Developing

22 Sep

How we think about and approach teacher Professional Development (PD) is  almost entirely wrong. Especially externally mandated PD Days and PD activities imposed on teachers by education administrators (by “admin” I’m not referring to principals but the multiple layers of education bureaucracy. I think Principals are just as frustrated and disengaged with our current PD system as teachers).

Here’s the evidence:

  1. PD Days Don’t Matter: PD Days were cut back to save money. A teacher’s federation and the Ministry of Education decided that PD Days, the opportunity to improve the skills of teachers and a cornerstone of recent improvements in our education system,  were unimportant and could be cancelled to save money and get a deal. This has since been imposed on all Ontario public school teachers. The message: PD days are a frill, and unimportant.
  2. PD Days That Don’t Improve Teaching: This week I will attend a PD session that will not improve my teaching, nor is it intended to. My school is part of the control group for a math research project. My role is to deliver my regular math program so that researchers can compare it with the impact of a new math program. Someone decided that it isn’t fair to give the test group teachers PD time and not give the control group teachers any. So next week I will attend a PD session to help me to deliver the same math program I am currently delivering.
  3. Alphabet Soup That Always Tastes The Same: The school I teach at will be part of another board/ministry mandated PD program to help raise school EQAO scores (we do this every year). The program sounds exactly the same as the program we were part of last year, but has a different acronym. The program requires that I will be absent from the classroom for ten times throughout the school year. That means ten sets of plans I must prepare, ten days that learning conditions will be less than optimal for my students and ten occasions I’ll have to take take time to help the class recover and catch up.
  4. PD as a Perk or a Rest: A former principal treated PD opportunities as perks for teachers who did things in the school. I coached a team and got sent to a workshop on report cards. I guess she thought I deserved a break? She’s not alone in the view that PD opportunities are really just a chance to rest and recuperate from the daily grind of the classroom and nothing more.

How can “experts” claim to know so much about learning but not apply it to PD? Engagement is essential to learning and allowing choice and control over learning enhances engagement. I’m encouraged to use Differentiated Instruction with students, but often, when I show up to a PD session I am required to sit, listen and do what I am told while someone reads slides to me. There is little opportunity to learn in any method other than those mandated by the instructor.

This situation drives me crazy. It’s insulting. As professionals, teachers should be able to use our judgement to determine what we want or need to develop and in what direction. This is the respect given to students as they enter high school and increased as they progress. In university, students get lots of choices. Other professionals get to control their personal growth. Why, when it comes to teachers, do we force everyone to learn the same stuff in the same way?

Our current PD system ignores that I am the resident expert in my teaching situation. I know what resources I have at my disposal, what strategies I can use successfully with the particular blend of students I have at that moment and what I might need to make my program better. Why would somebody whose never seen me teach or met my students be better positioned to decide what I need to do?

This happens because PD days or mandated PD workshops aren’t really “PD”. They are efforts by administrators to control teachers and make them accountable. PD has become a tool for educrats to reach into classrooms and force teachers to do things as they prescribe, because they think they know best.

This ignores the reality that teachers know but is rarely publicly expressed. The only person who really knows what goes on in a classroom is the teacher. My colleagues who teach in adjacent classrooms might suspect what my weaknesses are, but only I really know if things went as I intended. Teachers are the only ones who can affect student learning and so the only ones who can guide their professional development. The sooner the education system accepts this the better.

We need a PD system that respects teachers as professionals and allows them to get the learning and support they really need. Anything less is insulting to teachers and by extension the students and families they serve.

6 Responses to “Why “PD Days” are Neither Professional nor Developing”

  1. Jennifer C (@jennzia) September 22, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    It is time to take back PD as something that is amazing, inspirational and provocative. Just like one-size fits all testing and teaching doesn’t work, neither does one-size fits all PD. It’s like going to the store and finding that pants are one-size fits all, it is just demeaning and complete oversight of the designer, the store that is carrying them and anyone that attempts to sell them to everyone that walks through the door.

    I personally LOVE PD. I have never been in a position where I have been told that my PD is for me to develop x or y skill, but rather an opportunity for me to choose where I’d like to broaden my horizons and to develop my interests and therefore deepen my passion. It makes me sad when I hear that people hate PD.

    The fact is, we can learn anything from anywhere now, so we have to make every learning moment more than just about information. We have to make people think, ask questions and take action. And most important RELEVANT!!!!

    What questions would spur your creativity about PD? Is there one?

  2. Royan Lee September 22, 2012 at 12:31 pm #


  3. Andrea Kerr September 22, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I agree with you Andrew. I’ve had a principal or two administering PD like it’s some bad tasting medicine prescribed by a doctor (AKA the board office). No one is engaged.

    And those ministry initiatives you speak of? Well, let’s just say that my colleagues and I are still wondering “What’s Shared Reading????” – it’s an ongoing joke about doing the same PD over and over and over. No one asked or even checked to see where we were at.

    I’ve been given the excuse that not everyone is at the same level. So I took it upon myself to read the theory behind the ideas that are being shared in our washed-out and prescriptive presentations. This helped a lot. And this is where I agree with Jennifer.

    I recently heard a presenter comment on the necessary slow pace of PD using the word “compliance”. Yes, she meant that teachers need to comply with certain policies. Since then, I seek out all of my own PD opportunities. Thank you, Twitter. Now, satisfied that I am constantly learning something, I don’t have to resent it. Rather than just sit and have my time wasted, I try to contribute and mend the sad situation we are in.

  4. davidrowanweir September 23, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Hi…interesting thoughts. As a long time teacher I feel your pain. However, in my current role I assist in the planning of PD activities…with a twist. We are moving to a responsive PD system where teachers indicate their needs and next steps. Now, sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know and as a team within schools we look at an overall need taking into account individual strengths and needs of the staff. PD is then planned accordingly. Our PD days are quite structured with only a small part for operational info…that’s usually done through email and memos. No inservicing occurs on PD days…except for admin assistants and caretaking. It is a shift in thinking… But it is working. Admin need to be in contact with appropriate support staff to deliver PD in authentic ways that apply to today focused on student work. In fact at most PD sessions student work and data is expected to be brought to the table right at the beginning.

  5. Daniel Ballantyne (@ballantynedj) June 9, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    “I’m encouraged to use Differentiated Instruction with students, but often, when I show up to a PD session I am required to sit, listen and do what I am told while someone reads slides to me. There is little opportunity to learn in any method other than those mandated by the instructor.”
    You have identified one of the biggest, and IMHO, largely under-appreciated issues in Ontario education. The resources that are used in the service of this type of PD must be mind-boggling!
    I think it speaks to a institutionalized lack of trust within the system. Teachers are not given control of any resources to service their own PD. Yes, you can do this on your own time and dime, but rarely will the Board support it.
    That said, at the same time, in my experience, teachers are often dismissive of the person reading the slides to them. If it is a person from the central office, it is easy to ignore them because “they haven’t seen a classroom in years.”
    So where do we go from here? I don’t know.

    • ballacheybears June 9, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

      I think we also need to acknowledge that not everything labelled PD is really about making you a better teacher. Sometimes the board has to deliver a certain program for liability or funding reasons. When Growing Success came out the MOE said every school had to have 2 teachers in serviced on it. This didn’t have anything to do with classroom practice and everything to do with being able to say “We told you how to do it, now do it that way”.

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