Imagine if we taught pilots to fly without ever letting them in a cockpit. Or gave them the keys to a commercial airplane without the required hours—or years—of hands on training and practice. Sure, we’d show them plenty of PowerPoint presentations and make them sit through a few seminars on the theory and physics of flight, but then we’d slap on a graduation cap and let them take off into the big blue sky.
Not only would it likely be ineffective, it would be borderline criminal.
Yet when it comes to professional development for classroom teachers, that’s almost exactly what we do.Most professional development opportunities for educators are still lecture style – telling, showing, and explaining how something can be done. And when the ‘learning’ is finished, we push teachers onto the runway with a cabin full of students and wish them luck.
Predictably, many crash and burn.
Hands-On Will Keep You Flying
We also know that in any skill-based undertaking – be it flying or teaching – those who are highly successful receive years and years of ongoing teaching and coaching. In these cases, blended learning (the use of both in-person interaction and online learning) as well as a mix of ongoing formal and informal (or collegial learning), has proven to be most effective.
Even more, in many high-skill professions, it’s common for those who have mastered their skills to help teach others. In fact, those who have done something and done it well make some of the best coaches because they can relate, motivate, and provide priceless insights that turn ambition and ability into excellence.
But when it comes to teaching teachers, we scarcely attempt to turn those who have mastered new skills into coaches and peer leaders. At a minimum, there is no structure to capitalize on earned wisdom of those who are getting things right.It’s a system which is almost designed to fail.
And it does.
It’s the little secret every teacher and school leader knows – professional development programs for teachers are, with a few exceptions, a waste of time and money.
According to a 2009 research report, when asked about their experience in professional development, “most of those teachers…reported that it was totally useless.”
We could be throwing away more than $3 billion a year between federal, state and district on professional development for classroom teachers. You don’t need too much imagination to dream up what we could do with an extra $3 billion a year in education funding.
Here’s one crazy idea: let’s train our teachers better.
How To Teach Teachers Better
If it takes 50 hours or more plus collegial and ongoing interaction and peer engagement to refine a skill and model successes, it would take a district with 5,000 teachers nearly 300 qualified trainers and five years to complete the task. But that would mean rounding up teachers, setting them in a seminar room and talking at them for days on end. That’s the old way.
With ubiquitous technology and social engagement tools, effective and efficient initial teacher training on virtually any subject can be done much faster and better – and in 12 weeks.
Maybe there was a time when flying was only theory, but now man can even rocket to the moon. If we can use technology to get a cab or search the world’s libraries in under a second, surely we can deploy it to making our teachers stronger and more effective.
Believe me, good teachers want to become great ones. Our outdated system is letting them down and there’s no excuse to keep throwing money, time and eager teachers into the same old process in which we watch so many crash.