A Matter of Time: PD Frequency & Follow-Through

“Time, Time, Time…See What’s Become of Me.”

According to a 2015 report by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), teachers spend about 19 days or approximately 10% of their school year on professional development. The financial cost, according to the report is about $18,000 per teacher per year and that totals up to about $8 billion for just the 50 largest school districts in the US. But my focus for this post is not on the dollars, but the time. Our prompt for this module was to examine what the ideal technology rich professional learning program looks like and I chose to focus on “when.” If we are truly to “design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment” (ISTE coaching standard 4 indicator b), we should probably consider how often we should do it, what kind of follow-through we might need, and how technology can help us facilitate it.

It’s not a Question of Time…

I partially addressed the issue of wasted time and money in PD in a previous post on respect, but for this post I think I need to focus specifically on how schools and teachers use time to further professional development. The time teachers spend on PD is crucial, and TNTP’s conclusion on how much time, exactly, is spent on teacher improvement is shocking – especially given how little benefit it seems to be yielding. According to their study, there is almost connection between the amount of time spent in professional development and teacher improvement (view full report here). This can be discouraging given the number of hours and dollars spent on this very process each year. Honestly, if we were to grade teacher PD based on the outcome it has on teacher effectiveness (see graphic below), it would be a dismal failure.

TNTP, 2015

And time is expensive! Allison Gulamhussein, in her report for the Center for Public Education (CPE), points out that, “the largest cost of effective professional development is actually teachers’ time.” But we can hardly do without it. Gulamhussein goes on to  explain that, “effective professional development programs require anywhere from 50 to 80 hours of instruction, practice, and coaching before teachers arrive at mastery.” This is an interesting number given that TNTP recognizes “If we consider only time mandated directly by district policy through development days and release time set aside for teacher improvement efforts, the time ranges from 39 to 74 hours per school year.” Thus the amount of time allocated and mandated by schools for professional development matches – almost perfectly – the amount of time necessary to master effective PD programs!

So it’s not a lack of time. Teacher professional development programs are not missing the mark because schools aren’t allocating enough time – or even money. There is something fundamentally lacking in the WAY teacher PD is conducted that’s leading to its ineffectiveness.

It’s How You Use It.

If it’s not a question of time, the question then becomes how do we use the time allotted to professional development more effectively? If the goal is to help teachers implement new learning strategies, then perhaps some of that time could be spent specifically with teachers, in their subject areas, working towards helping them implement that goal. Gulanhussein cities studies by Bush (1984) and Truesdale (2003) and explains, “When professional development merely describes a skill to teachers, only 10 percent can transfer it to their practice; however, when teachers are coached through the awkward phase of implementation, 95 percent can transfer the skill” (Gulamhussein). Teachers have to get over the hurtles that awkward phase presents. If they don’t get past it, they can’t succeed. The PD process for teachers must be continuous. It cannot be a single session or a single day; it must be a process of improvement. This fits with Gulamhussein’s conclusions in her report for the CPE.

  1. Most teachers only experience traditional, workshop-based professional development, even though research shows it is ineffective.
  2. The largest struggle for teachers is not learning new approaches to teaching but implementing them
  3. In order to truly change practices, professional development should occur over time and preferably be ongoing.
  4. Coaches/mentors are found to be highly effective in helping teachers implement a new skill.
  5. Professional development is best delivered in the context of the teacher’s subject area.
  6. Research on effective critical thinking strategies is lacking, but teachers don’t have to wait and can lead the way by establishing professional learning communities.

Gulamhussein’s third, fourth, and fifth points all indicate a longer process for professional development (and, to some extent, the sixth as well). Teachers are exposed to ways to improve their craft, but then there must be follow-through, whether that is through coaching or PLC’s or some other device, PD is a process. And that will take time – not necessarily more time, but maybe the same amount of time used differently.

TNTP’s research also seems to support this approach. While their survey generally found PD to be ineffective, they DID find a school where PD seems to be working – at least working better than in most places. This school system is a midsize charter management organization (CMO) that operates in several cities. According to the report, the CMO School had several approaches which made it different:

  1. Clear Roles and Responsibilities for PD
  2. A Culture of High Expectations and Continuous Learning
  3. Regular Feedback and Practice
  4. A More Strategic Investment in Growth (TNTP)

Once again, we can see support for a continuous model of PD. Points 2 and 3 directly relate to sustained professional development and point 4 implies it at an administrative level. In their explanation of these elements, TNTP explicitly addresses this:

“We believe school systems need to make a more
fundamental shift in mindset and define “helping teachers improve” not just in terms of providing them with a package of discrete experiences and treatments, but with information, conditions and a culture that facilitate growth and normalize continuous improvement.”

Culture can be hard to quantify, but it would seem that promoting and supporting continuous teacher development would lead to a culture of improvement. And as stated earlier, this is not a matter of more time, but rather, being more intentional on how that time is spent. Again, the CMO example supports this.

“Overall, teachers in the CMO report spending slightly more time on development activities than teachers in the other districts we studied (22 hours per month on average compared to 16 to 19 hours elsewhere). However, those hours are spent on activities that appear to provide substantively greater opportunities for individualized support that focuses on specific development goals—and they occur within a culture that expects continual improvement.” (TNTP)

One final example of support for follow-through in PD comes from Dr. Natalie Saaris at Actively Learn. She too provides several ways to improve teacher PD and like the others, she also believes that PD is a process:

  1. Start every PD session sharing the student outcomes that you are trying to improve
  2. Make sure your session isn’t a lecture
  3. Provide bite-sized learning opportunities outside of formal PD days
  4. Provide guided time for teachers to learn from each other
  5. Create regular opportunities for low-stakes feedback

Saaris’s third, fourth, and fifth points all echo the call for more procedural approach to PD and in the explanation of her third point, she elaborates on why it’s necessary:

Teachers spend a handful of days in marathon-long sessions of workshops and meetings with the expectation that they can improve their practice in short, intensive bursts of learning. But this isn’t how learning happens.

Like students, teachers need learning to be an ongoing process that builds over time and that gets to depth. A high-impact practice like formative assessment cannot be mastered in an hour-long session; teachers need to understand its purpose, how it fits into their instructional framework, how they can assess its impact and use it to inform their instruction. These are all complex questions that merit sustained investigation.

I like Dr. Saaris’s phrasing here, “sustained investigation.” I believe that’s what we do in PD – or at least, what we should do. I also appreciate the direct connection she makes between what teachers ask of their students and what we should ask of teachers. Education is more an more about exploring personalized, self-directed experiences of learning. Educating educators should be the same, if not more so. Some of this goes to respect, or lack thereof, for the profession, but some of it goes to how we use the time we have.

And Technology?

Given that this is an EdTech blog post, a fair question may be, so where does technology fit in with this? To answer that question, I would look to another blog post I made about coaching and scaffolding. In it, I looked at Liz Kolb’s Triple E framework and how that could be used in coaching teachers. I believe the same framework applies to teacher PD.  The Triple E Framework is a digital age best practice and “digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment” are digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment whether they are for students in the classroom or teachers in the process of improving their craft. Take the summary chart below and switch “students” with “teachers” and “everyday life (lives)” with “classrooms” and you get the basic idea.

Technology allows us to Engage in learning goals, Enhance learning goals, and Extend learning goals. Those goals may be in our classrooms or they may be a part of our professional development, but  in either case, they are part of a process. What’s remarkable is not that this is true, but that it’s taken us so long to see that this applies to our teachers’ professional development as well as our students’ general education.

Three Years of Professional Development

I’ve been a teacher now for about 27 years. According to TNTP, that means I’ve spent nearly 3 years of my career on professional development. Sadly, I think much of that falls into the “ineffective” category. Not that I haven’t improved as a teacher (because I like to think that I have), and not that the schools I’ve been a part of didn’t value professional development (because I like to think they did), but I think we, as a profession, have just been doing it wrong for a long, long time.  We have the time for PD. We have the money (mostly) for PD. Let’s be conscious of how we use that time and let’s promise not to waste another second of it.


Gulamhussein, Allison (2013). “Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability.” Center for Public Education.  Retrieved from: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/research/teaching-teachers-effective-professional-development

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Kolb, Liz. “Triple E Framework.” Retrieved from: https://www.tripleeframework.com/

Saaris, Natalie (October 5, 2017). “5 Ways to Transform PD with Best Practices for Learning.” Actively Learn. Retrieved from: https://www.activelylearn.com/post/transform-pd-best-practices

TNTP (The New Teacher Project – August 4, 2015). “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development.” Retrieved from: https://tntp.org/publications/view/the-mirage-confronting-the-truth-about-our-quest-for-teacher-development


Paying it Forward: Admins as Brokers of Innovation

Here’s how it starts…

This module’s blog post revolves around the role of administration in professional learning programs and how that relates to digital education. The prompt is based in ISTE coaching standard 4, indicator B, which calls for digital ed leaders to “Design, develop and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in learning and assessment” (ISTE).  My question in particular revolves around how the administrators should deal with a variety of stakeholders and interests who may want different things when it comes to technology in the school. Compound this with the rapid changes in technology and you have a scenario where admins face a host of constituents with a panoply of digital solutions. It can be overwhelming to say the least.

I found a post on Edutopia by Laura McKenna which addresses how administrators (in this case, a superintendents) can pool their resources and use technology to learn from other districts and superintendents and teachers to further the implementation of digital education in their own districts. In fact, this approach is what is expected of teachers in their professional development and students as they become responsible digital citizens. If the expectation is that teachers and students would collaborate digitally, why should the expectation be any different for administrators? McKenna’s article outlines how a Chicago suburban school district, Leyden 212, learned to adopt this approach and how they are now a model for other schools. The approach in her article is chronological, but I want to start at the end…with the philosophy.

WHY it’s a good idea for admin to share

Being a superintendent can be stressful and being a part of a network of administrators and digital ed experts can help. In McKenna’s piece she quotes the current Highline school district superintendent, Susan Enfield, who points out that, “Given the fast-paced changes in technology, being part of a network is now part of survival” (McKenna).  Just keeping up with everything that’s going on with technology in education can be daunting. It’s no wonder school administrators are looking for help. Enfield goes on to say that she views her role as a superintendent as a “’broker of innovation and opportunities’ who connects people and ideas.” This is certainly a modern approach and one that fits with how we see the role of the teacher in the 21st century as well.

But in addition to helping the superintendent do her job better, this approach of sharing amongst admin and districts must be rooted in the correct philosophy about how technology is implemented in schools. It has to be based on what the school’s vision for technology . It must account for the physical and educational needs of the school its constituency. School administrators sharing their experiences and collaborating can foster this approach. As McKenna states, “partnerships among school leaders are also helping them think more strategically about how to use technology as a tool to address specific needs and goals in their districts.” She goes on to say, “Rather than rushing to purchase the next tool or device, as many did in the past, leaders are now having more collaborative discussions about their visions for their districts first.” There is a strong impulse to chase after the newest tech, but MacKenna is quick to point out that that should not be what drives admins’ tech decisions. The US Department of Education agrees. Their office of Educational Technology warns against pursuing technology without vision.  “Technology alone” they state, “does not transform learning; rather, technology helps enable transformative learning. The vision begins with a discussion of how and why a community wants to transform learning. Once these goals are clear, technology can be used to open new possibilities for accomplishing the vision that would otherwise be out of reach.” The benefits of collective understanding will help school leaders  “Develop clear communities of practice for education leaders at all levels that act as a hub for setting vision, understanding research, and sharing practices” (Office of Educational Technology).  These “hubs for vision setting” certainly include the kind of networks McKenna describes in her article. So let’s see how that works.

How to be “Brokers of Innovation”

See What’s Out There

In 2012, Leyden district 212 sent a team of administrators to Mooresville, NC to see how they implemented their one-to-one approach with technology. As Moorseville was one of the first districts in the country to implement this, they were a good model to examine. It’s interesting to note (and McKenna does) that this was achieved through an on-site visit and not through a panel or session at a conference. McKenna argues that the immediacy of this type of observation is better than what can be experienced off-site. The Leyden admin team asked questions and took note of what they observed. They also began to think how they could implement a similar program.

Implement and Adapt

Taking what works and adapting to your own experience is next. Leyden schools began implementing technology across the curriculum, but soon realized they needed to do more to make the one-to-one model work in their district. To help the students have access to the hardware at home, they started selling used Chromebooks to families for $30. They also realized, however, their students often did not have access to the internet at home. To rectify this hurtle, the district applied for a grant for their students to connect to free hotspots at home. These were some of the adaptations unique to their specific setting at Leyden, but ones they manged to implement to achieve their goals.

Leyden schools went even further and implemented some 21st Century learning opportunities to correspond with the new technology. They created a class called Tech Support Internship (TSI). This program had students running a help desk for students and teachers. The result was not only a program that solved 90% of the tech problems at the school, but also gave students certification which they could use going forward in their future careers. This was another unique adaptation on their part and one that built upon what they had already seen in Moorseville.

Another key area of implementation and adaptation, and this is where the article most coincides with the prompt, is that the district also trained teachers at every grade level to use tech tools like Google Apps and VoiceThread.  This requires time and a commitment to sound professional development. It should also include input from teachers and other experts. McKenna points out the validity of using staff in this process. The expertise in ed tech has been shifting! “’There’s been a shift that has occurred because of a recognition of where the expertise lies,’ confirmed Mort Sherman, the associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). ‘It’s not with the universities or the government researching education technology, but with the superintendents and staff in school districts doing the actual work.’” (McKenna). Devolving this power is part of a growing movement to cast a wider net to help shape the school’s vision for technology.  The Office of Educational Technology also endorses a broad range of contributors to the school’s tech vision. “Set a vision for the use of technology to enable learning such that leaders bring all stakeholder groups to the table, including students, educators, families, technology professionals, community groups, cultural institutions, and other interested parties.” (Office of Educational Technology). One of those voices has to be that of the teachers.  There is a positive correlation between teacher agency and voice and student learning (Bishop, D., Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R., & Crane, C. 2016). It would be foolhardy to craft a new technology plan without teacher input. They should be part of the vision and part of the professional development related to carrying that vision out.

Pay it Forward

The final step in this process is to pay it forward; to be the example for another school to look and and see what they can implement and adapt for themselves. Thus, the cycle repeats itself. The Leyden school district is giving back in droves. McKenna mentions that the school district has given tours to over 3,000 educators and that the superintendent “regularly asks questions and swaps ideas with other administrators via social media, email, and text messages. On the first Wednesday of every month, he and other superintendents around the country connect using the Twitter hashtag #suptchat (or on Saturdays using #Satchat) to discuss topics ranging from feedback on new apps to new education books and articles they recommend reading, Polyak said.” This kind of active participation in the digital realm allows the district to be part of a much broader network of educational entities than was ever possible before. It allows the district to learn and share – a symbiotic relationship of educational practices.

McKenna points out that this grass-roots collaborative approach is not unique to education either. “The shift in how administrators make decisions mirrors a broader social change also apparent in media and politics, where technology has toppled top-down structures in favor of informal networks of experts and practitioners. It also suggests more transformative changes for how leaders will make decisions in education and other fields in the future.” As I stated earlier, this collective, collaborative role for administrators is similar to what we expect of teachers and students. Technology has facilitated a change for all of us. It’s now time that we work together implement the best possible outcomes for everyone.


Don’t be Overwhelmed

I began with a quote from McKenna’s article by the Highline schools superintendent about how professional networks with a tech focus are necessary for survival. I’ll end with another quote from the article by another superintendent that also hints at the daunting task of administrating in our current tech-laden age.  Dallas Dance, the superintendent from Baltimore County Public Schools  says, “Education technology can be overwhelming if you allow it to overwhelm you. School districts have to center themselves first and have a vision in the classroom, if not, everything becomes the shiny new gadget. That should never be how you look at technology.”

The constant but inevitable evolution of educational technology can indeed be overwhelming. There’s always something new and revolutionary just around the corner. School administrators have been tasked with the difficult job of sifting through all of this technology and determining what gets implemented in our schools and how it’s implemented. They must have a vision, but is a job they cannot do alone. Fortunately, the same technology which presents the biggest challenges can also be used to manage it.  By using this technology to create networks of individuals who can collaborate and share their experiences, administrators can better serve as “brokers of innovation.”



Bishop, D., Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R., & Crane, C. (2016). “Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State –
Project Evaluation Report.”  Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA Retrieved from: http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

McKenna, Laura (November 30, 2016). “Networked: How Today’s Education Leaders Make Decisions. Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/article/networked-how-todays-education-leaders-make-decisions-laura-mckenna

Office of Educational Technology. “Leadership.” US Department of Education. Retrieved from: https://tech.ed.gov/netp/leadership/

A PD Makeover for the Digital Age

Professional PD, Content Area PD & Digital Age Best Practices

We’ve been dealing quite a bit with professional development this quarter in Digital Education Leadership and several of our prompts have focused on how we deal with adult learners. In last week’s post, I railed against the lack of respect that is often shown to teachers in PD. Respect, of course, is one of the chief characteristics of adult education according to Malcolm Knowles – and is typically found in most good teaching. This week we’re looking at implementing “technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in learning and assessment” (ISTE). I wondered what role, if any, content played in this and how it might relate to digital age best practices as well as the professional nature of the learning programs.

To start with the last part of my question, professionalism, I thought back to one of our optional readings for the module relating to restructuring professional development. Mike Schmoker writing in EdWeek criticized much PD out there for its lack of professionalism, “The explanation [for ineffective PD] might be found in a study of professional development conducted by researches Thomas B. Corcoran, Susan H. Fuhrman, and Catherine Belcher years ago, which found that the very people who led and conducted professional development ‘were not members of an evidence-based culture,’ but one in which ‘whims, fads, opportunism, and ideology’ prevailed. ‘Empirical research,’ they reported, ‘had little do do with the professional-development offerings’ provided for teachers. This has to change.” (Schmoker). Schmoker’s lament centers around schools’ lack of serious academic research to drive PD. The report he cites claims that much of the PD schools brought in chased after trends or ideologically-driven agendas rather than what actually worked. This can be devastating for PD as it not only wastes time and resources with unsound practice, but it also demoralizes teachers who are, more likely than not, aware that they’re wasting their time and energy chasing a trend or grinding someone’s ideological ax. Professional development MUST be professional.

Putting the “Professional” in “Professional Development”

Transforming Professional Learning


To help increase the professionalization of their PD, Washington State, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched the Transforming Professional Learning project (WA-TPL) with a goal of “enhancing capacity for standards-based professional learning.” Another key goal of the program was to “deepen their [school leaders] knowledge and skills around effective professional learning.” So a great deal of this project was centered around “professional learning.” To help with this, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State (OSPI), partnered with Learning Forward Washington to establish standards of professional learning (see clip below). The project as a whole was to develop “sustainable approaches to professional learning.”

In the ensuing project evaluation by Bishop, Lumpe, Henrickson, and Crane (2016), content came forward as a necessary component of effective professional learning:

The CPDS survey [Characteristics of Professional Development Survey] includes a factor called Content that relates to teacher discipline-based content knowledge and how students learn content. It contains items asking teachers if, as a result of professional learning, they:

  1. Gained a deeper understanding of content
  2. Increased their confidence to teach content
  3. Learned how to address student misconceptions
  4. Developed pedagogical strategies to teach content.

The baseline and end of project means for Content were 3.3 and 3.58 respectively on a scale of 1-5 indicating a small but significant increase in average perceptions of participants’ professional learning experiences that increase Content Knowledge.” (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrickson, & Crane)

So content matters in professional development. But what role does it play with regard to what teachers do in the classroom?  Again, Bishop and company provide perspective:

“A teacher’s knowledge of discipline specific content and their theoretical as well as practical knowledge of effective instructional practice provide the practical foundation for the effective application of this knowledge in the skillful planning and implementation of instructional practices.” (Bishop, et al. )

Thus it is content, along with pedagogical instruction that forms the “foundation” for effective teacher instruction.  This can also be seen in the report’s recommendations. Two of the report’s recommendations for future PD relate to content:

“16. Professional learning activities should directly be linked to teachers’ content knowledge and be supported as they teach that content to students.”

“18. Professional learning focused on content knowledge and classroom application should be emphasized in order to maximize impact on student learning, classroom climate, and cognitive levels.”

The Washington State OSPI’s project on professionalization in PD and the follow-up report, conclude that content must play a key role in PD – a role which we really haven’t talked about very much in our program. Of course, our program is about digital education, so the next question lies in how we incorporate those digital best practices along with content in our PD.

Putting the “Digital” in “Digital Best Practices for Professional Development”

Now that we’ve looked at professionalism AND content, let’s see how the two relate to the digital environment.  My main resource for this post is Tanya Roscorla’s 2014 post for the Center For  Digital Education.  In “5 Steps to a Digital Professional Development Makeover” Roscorla makes a point to include content. “While it’s easy to focus an entire formal training session on a cool technology tool,” she writes, “it’s more important to put an academic content area at the center of professional development efforts. Then staff members can demonstrate how technology tools can help educators reach academic content goals.” So when dealing with technology in PD, Roscorla says we should emphasize the content and use the technology as way to facilitate the learning within the content area. It’s not a case of “here’s a cool tech tool for you to use,” it’s more of “here’s some cool content, now let’s see how technology can help us get that across to our students.” This approach fits nicely with Roscorla’s other suggestions for making-over PD:

  1. Create a sustainable professional development plan
  2. Provide informal learning opportunities with the help of technology
  3. Design professional development around an academic content area
  4. Combine traditional, blended and virtual learning experiences
  5. Train the academic content trainers how to model technology use (Roscorla)

Most of these suggestions contain elements of digital age best practices. Having a programmatic approach to the PD, working with PLC’s facilitated by technology, blended learning environments, and coaching are all part of it. What I found most compelling, however, was the content piece. It’s a piece we tend to overlook – at our own peril – in our excitement to use technology.

Teachers usually get into teaching for one of two reasons: the kids or the content (well, maybe it’s the 3 months off in the summer, but I’m not talking about that group here). For many secondary teachers like myself, it was the latter. I’ve certainly become more attune to the student-centered part of teaching in recent years, and I’m confident it has made me a better teacher, but it’s hard to forget one’s first love. As teachers we are professionals – not only in how we interact with our students, parents, and administrators, but also in what we understand about our chosen field of study.  Dealing with content in PD is important. It’s part of good professional development and can go hand-in-hand with digital education if done properly…and there lies the challenge for all of us.


Bishop, D., Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R., & Crane, C. (2016). “Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State –
Project Evaluation Report.”  Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA Retrieved from: http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Knowles, Malcolm. “Characteristics of Adult Learners.” Retrieved from: http://www.txprofdev.org/apps/onlineteaching/time/Adult_Learners.pdf

Roscorla, Tanya (August 12, 2014). “5 Steps to a Digital Professional Development Makeover.” Converge: Center for Digital Education. Retrieved from http://www.centerdigitaled.com/news/5-Steps-to-a-Digital-Professional-Development-Makeover.html

Schmoker, Mike (October 20, 2015). “It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development.” Education Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/10/21/its-time-to-restructure-teacher-professional-development.html?qs=its+time+to+restructure+professional+development