At first, I thought the students were wilder than usual because we weren’t meeting in our classroom. Actually, we were not meeting in our substitute classroom either. The heat wasn’t working at all that week, and cold air was blowing with great gusto in the first room, so we moved to another room – just as cold, but without the forceful air blowing.

But the cold air and class relocation wasn’t the real cause of the students’ friskiness.

The school district had sent down some exotic professional development that the core teachers were required to take. On one day, all of our math teachers learned about differentiated instruction. On another day, the science teachers attended. Each department had their day, which meant that there were at least twelve substitute teachers in the building for four days in a row. That does not include the teachers who have been long-term subs since the beginning of the school year as well as the two long-term subs filling in for teachers who retired during the school year.

Some of our substitute teachers are amazing, facing a constant battle while holding down the fort in a teacher’s absence. But four days of a high number of substitute teachers creates perfect conditions for inappropriate behavior to go from simmer to boil. Despite my best effort to maintain a connection with them, the students seemed to have no motivation for learning, and we didn’t accomplish as much during the week as I had planned.

At our school, we have the perfect conditions for professional development to occur each day as part of the daily schedule.  Grade level interdepartmental or grade level subject teams meet during a common planning period. During those meetings, team members plan lessons, providing opportunities to discuss how each teacher differentiates instruction in their classes. They discuss what works and what doesn’t work.

Wording in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mentions that effective professional development activities “are developed with extensive participation of teachers, principals, parents, and administrators of schools.” This recent round of professional development was not born from our looking at student data during our meetings and deciding that we needed to apply more differentiation in our teaching strategies.  Upper level administrators had sent the same presentation out to every school in the district, to ensure that all teachers were introduced to differentiation.

NCLB also reminds us that effective professional development activities should “advance teacher understanding of effective instructional strategies.” If the professional development had focused on new strategies or extending our implementation of differentiated instruction, I wouldn’t criticize a week of craziness, but in this situation, the redundancy of the presentations wasted our time and our students’ time. 

It’s understandable that administrators seek ways to help their teachers develop strategies resulting in increased student achievement. A recently released report, summarized by Sarah D. Sparks, suggests that the best intention of implementing district-wide school improvement strategies can hinder progress rather than help schools. Roxanna Elden describes how professional development focusing on sharing best practices does not always meet its good intentions. During that week of professional development, the teachers at my school wondered…

Were the students’ needs considered when the school district scheduled a mandatory professional development class during the week preceding mid-term exams?

Were the students’ needs considered when the decision was made to take teachers out of their classrooms for an entire day? For an entire week?

NCLB spells out the requirements for High Quality Professional Development quite clearly in Title IX (34) (A). Our state places much focus on ensuring that teachers are highly qualified and that students meet annual advances toward 100 % proficiency, but I have yet to see any accountability for ensuring that teachers are involved in the planning of High Quality Professional Development. Perhaps a more meaningful serving of professional development would involve guiding a discussion group focusing on reading the NCLB Act so that teachers and administrators could be more aware of how to use the directives to plan professional development that would directly relate to improving student achievement at our school.

We’ll always lose a few days to frisky student behavior – a full moon, a windy day, an upcoming holiday. Do we really need to lose any days to ineffective professional development?

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