Teacher Professional Development and the Boomerang Effect

The Boomerang Effect

Educational Leadership magazine had a great article in their summer issue titled Dogs Chasing Frisbees. If you haven’t read it yet head on over to the article and take a moment to do so. If you’re an educator I’m sure you can relate to the teacher professional development scenario that the article lays out. This boomerang effect is not uncommon with professional development.

Administrators would periodically come out of their offices and toss a Frisbee that represented the most recent program designed to revolutionize teaching and learning. Teachers would dutifully scurry to catch it. Sometime later, the administrators would reemerge from their offices, toss another Frisbee, and, once again, teachers would scurry to catch this new ‘now we’re really going to get it right!’ Frisbee du jour.

While this sad analogy is rather humorous, it’s also rather true, and without administration direction and leadership teacher frustration and burnout is frequently the result. Of course not all the blame can be placed on the administration. State and federal changes to standards, mandates and other redirects often have administrators frustrated and chasing their own set of Frisbees.

The article does a nice job of laying out the importance of spending time evaluating teacher professional development programs and matching them to student and classroom needs.

Administrators must plan and present a cohesive, thematic professional development curriculum. This starts by building consensus among teachers concerning where we want our school to go; why we want to go there; how we plan to get there; and what our students will know, do, and understand upon graduation.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say this sounds an awful lot like establishing the vision and moving on down to the instructional level to the learning targets for students. Teachers are similar to students (and similar to everyone else for that matter) in that setting expectations helps lead to successful outcomes. Quantitative and qualitative research supports the notion that education strategies that help students (people) understand what they are learning and how they will be assessed (used) allow them to support one another more effectively.

And this leads to the key points the article lays out in terms of implementing a successful teacher professional development program.

1. Involve teachers in the planning process. We’ve repeatedly expressed the need for teachers to be intricately involved in their own professional development. Just like students collaborating in the classroom to meet learning targets, teachers need to collaborate on building and managing their own professional development.

2. Identify the experts. Teacher leaders can take the lead in driving the professional development, and work with their peers to deepen teacher knowledge.

3. Gather data. Teachers need to share with each other (collaborate) what works and what doesn’t. They need to spend time observing other teachers in action, as uncomfortable as this may seem, to see for themselves how to better implement strategies and tactics, or to discover new techniques.

While these three virtues are certainly important I’d suggest that teachers also need to be committed to sustained professional development. One or two hours of collaborating on good ideas are simply not enough. We recently posted a blog – Creating Successful Teacher Professional Development – Elements to Consider – that highlighted several key variables to a successful program.

Have you experienced the boomerang effect in your teacher professional development efforts? We’d love to hear your stories – good and bad – about your experiences, so drop a comment below.