Counting what matters in professional development

As some smart person once said, you have to count what matters to make what matters count.

Professional development plans often have “measurable outcomes”, accountability, and other such means to prove that professional development is successful. But very often, the evidence of success is simply “showing up”. You go to a workshop or conference, you get credit. It doesn’t matter if the workshop was boring or if you knit a sweater instead of participating. The measure of success unfortunately has little to do with the intended outcome.

As Mike Maloy pointed out in the comments on my recent post, What is Professional Development?, some of this is a matter of finding better ways to document what’s happening. What is the evidence that any professional development works. In the big picture, you hope that professional development makes a teacher better, and a better teacher will produce better results in the classroom. How do you measure better results in the classroom? Saying there is a certain amount of disagreement here may be the understatement of the century.

What Matters is Your Vision
When we work with schools as part of a grant, there is often an evaluation design that seeks to measure the effectiveness of the grant. When we sit down to talk about what to evaluate, we always advocate that the evaluation actually measures all the outcomes you would like to see. Not just the usual suspects that are easy to measure, like test scores.

What’s your biggest dream? What would like to shout to the clouds when you are finished?

Isn’t the real vision that you hope to see kids more engaged, teachers who feel that they are doing a better job, parents who see that their kids education is more relevant? So why not ask those questions. There’s nothing wrong with combining test scores with a survey that asks questions that go to the heart of the matter. If you don’t ask what you really want to know, the opportunity is lost forever.

It’s often dismissed as “touchy-feely” to include subjective questions and measures, and yet, this is often exactly what we hope happens when we implement a new project. Somehow, affective and subjective have become a dirty words.

Blending PD Models to Produce Measurable Results
In my recent post, Six Degrees of Professional Development, I grouped PD into these types: Academic coursework, Workshops/sessions, Formal research, Informal, Classroom embedded, Action research. The reason I these particular groups is that 1) they situate the PD and 2) illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of each model at creating evidence of success.

Some of the more informal PD types are notoriously bad at creating measurable results, because documenting them undermines the reason they are interesting and easy. Imagine documenting your Twitter interactions, as an extreme example, or counting your Diigo friends and getting a “score” based on friends and how many bookmarks you post. That’s a sure fire way to stop participation!

But sometimes it really makes sense. Blogging, for example, is something that creates “evidence”. As I outlined in the post, Six Degrees of Professional Development, combining the informal practice of blogging with the discipline of action research can give you the best of both.

Say for example that someone blogged every day and gave a “score” for how they felt the day went. For example, a teacher could rate their own feeling of satisfaction that the lesson went well, or how well behaved the class was, or any other item that might be important. A simple scoring system from 1-5 would end up giving you data. After a time, you could extract data from the blog. Maybe you’ll find that scores are always better on Fridays, or worse after a 3 day weekend. To delve deeper, you could try to connect events actually recorded in the blog with the scores. You may notice that every day you go to Starbucks, it’s a better day. You might keep track of greeting the class in a certain way, or using an active whiteboard, or turning up the air conditioning. Just because the criteria is subjective doesn’t mean it can’t be measured.

What matters is counting what YOU think will make a difference, and proving it by measuring what YOU think counts.

Next: Why situating PD is critical


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