Few would argue that teachers exposed to technologyfocused professional development are better prepared to effectively and systematically integrate computers, peripherals and software into their classrooms than those without any formal training. However, one must necessarily assume that quality matters … that teachers participating in high-quality professional development are more likely than those engaged in token or perfunctory training to use technology well (for instructional preparation, delivery and assessment); to be cognizant of technology’s advantages and limitations; and to situationally model both hardware and software (Hirsh & Sparks, 2000).
Professional Development: The Conceptual View
Unfortunately, a high-quality professional growth experience does not occur by happenstance. According to Norman (1999), top-notch programs, no matter what their topic or purpose, are always focused on students as the critical stakeholder group.1 Teachers are more likely to enthusiastically embrace efforts that directly or indirectly aim to “… strengthen student performance on reading, reasoning, problem-solving, and related tasks drawn from state curriculum standards” (McKenzie, 2002, p. 34). Clearly, however, other stakeholders play prominent roles in the design, implementation and assessment of program quality—among them, teachers, the principal and other key administrators, parents, the school board and community members (Payne & Wolfson, 2000).
A sound grounding in the theoretical underpinnings of professional development can positively inform program planning. Conceptually driven planning is strategic, not merely tactical; application-specific skills are far less important than curriculum, instructional strategies and techniques, and assessment (Bybee, 2001). Activities are well funded, allowing for training customization, ongoing mentoring and follow-up (Hirsh & Sparks, 2000). There is a focus on metacognition and learning awareness that leads to replicable communities of practice (Burns, 2002). Finally, assessment is fully integrated into program activities; both staff and participants recognize that evaluation helps to ensure program relevance, identify points of resistance that might thwart success or reduce impact, pinpoint opportunities for instructional enrichment or remediation, and suggest strategies to build sustainability and/or replicability (Mulqueen, 2001).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Pedagogy: The art or science of teaching—to include philosophical or theoretical underpinnings and their associated instructional strategies.
In-Service: Brief and/or short-duration training for practicing teachers that tend to be informative (about new mandates, for example). Delivery tends to be traditional, and attendees must determine for themselves how the data relates to their situation(s) or discipline(s). Follow-up is rare, as is any effort to collect evidence of change practices.
Staff Development: A deficit model of training for practicing teachers, often conducted to “remedy” or “correct” perceived teaching deficiencies (instructional, managerial, etc.). Follow-up is rare, as is any effort to collect evidence of change practices.
Systematic Thinking/Planning: Planning that is carried out in an organized, deliberate and methodical manner.
Professional Development: A planned, comprehensive and systemic program of goals-driven, competency-based training activities that promotes productive change in individuals and school structures. The activities are interrelated and cumulative, complement the school’s and district’s vision/strategic mission and reflect all key constituencies.
Strategic Planning: A carefully devised plan of action (or methodology)—featuring multiple activities, tasks and interventions—to achieve a long-term goal.
Communities of Practice: Informally structured groups—often geographically dispersed— whose members share similar goals and interests. In pursuing them, they employ common methods or strategies, often work with the same or similar “tools” and express themselves with common terminology.
Tactical Planning: Small-scale actions made or carried out with only a limited or immediate end in sight.
Systemic Thinking/Planning: Planning that affects or relates to a system as a whole, not merely its individual elements/components.