We should all extend a hearty “Thank You” to Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant for his recent series of posts, “Beware of Consultants.”

Among the reasons professional development in many school settings has such a bad reputation are the poor quality of those chosen to provide it, and the serendipitous manner by which many of them are selected.

Every teacher I know has at least one PD horror story. My personal favorite: The day before students arrived for the new school year, one of my former school districts spent $1,500 and several valuable hours having all teachers listen to a “motivational speaker” tell pointless stories of his youth; then accompanying us on his guitar, had everyone stand and sing all the verses of Kenny Rogers’ “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” (…eight hungry children and a crop in the field…).

More dangerous, however, is the current influx of “educational consultants” from the cottage industry that has flourished thanks to NCLB. Anybody who can print a business card or put up a website is suddenly available to tell the rest of us how to teach.

Some consultants come with real credentials, and bona fide help for educators. Others are a notch below snake-oil and palm reading. Particularly insulting and potentially harmful are persons who washed out as teachers (or never taught), yet try to pass themselves off as having been the greatest thing in the classroom since pencil sharpeners. Sometimes, you can spot these by their Lake Wobegon teaching testimonies….”When I was in the classroom, I never had discipline problems.” “All my students scored above proficiency on the state exams.” Could be true, but who checked?

One school district near me hired as a consultant a woman who had been unable to complete her first semester of classroom teaching in that district a year before. Not only was the woman assigned as consultant to the very school where she had walked out of the classroom before the Thanksgiving holiday, she was also given review power over teacher lesson plans and classroom tests. Maybe the woman discovered (better sooner than later) that teaching was not the right profession for her, but how did she qualify to consult and evaluate teachers who had not only stuck it out, but several who were themselves highly effective with the students she had abandoned?

I’m not suggesting that every PD should be led by an accomplished teacher (although that might be a far better situation than what many have now). I am urging administrators to include classroom success with real students, especially students just like those in your own district or building, as an important criterion for selecting consultants or facilitators. Could be that the consultants who could help you the most are already in your building, waiting to be heard.

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