Our PD Problem – A Lack of Direction

On Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed yesterday, he discussed Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book The Flat World and Education.  Will describes her book as being “rich with detail about everything that’s troubling about the US education system (and the potential fixes).”  A section of her book describes the deficiencies relating to professional development in American education, and she states, “the landscape of supports for quality teaching looks like Swiss cheese.” I find this an apt description also of Canadian education as well, certainly in my realm.  Darling-Hammond discusses the general inconsistency in the delivery of professional development – a problem that exists here as well.  Will shares some ‘extended snips’ of her book that clearly outline her point [which I recommend reading – here].

“When a profession’s knowledge is not organized and made available to the practitioners who need it most, advances in the state of both knowledge and practice are slowed.”
“If teachers, principals, superintendents, and other professionals do not share up-to-date knowledge about effective practices, the field runs around in circles: Curriculum and teaching practices are inconsistent, many poor decisions are made, and the efforts of those who are successful are continually undermined and counteracted by the activities of those who are uninformed and unskilled.”
“Students experience an instructional hodgepodge caused by the failure of the system to provide the knowledge and tools needed by the educators who serve them.”

When I read these words, I can’t help but feel that she is describing the education system of which I am a part.  Now, I don’t mean to be overly critical of my principal, superintendents, directors or other leaders in my system.  I am quite sure that most have very good intentions for education, as well as for professional development opportunities.  However, I don’t think that it is a stretch to describe our current situation of professional development in education as ‘looking like Swiss cheese’, or ‘not organized and made available’, and that teachers are ‘running around in circles’.

Darling-Hammond criticizes the American education system, saying that American teachers spend more time in the classroom and have less opportunity for professional development than in other nations.  In Canada, I don’t necessarily see that we have a problem in a lack of opportunity for professional development especially in terms of time.  The problem is not a lack of available time, it is a lack of unity.  Our professional development opportunities only contribute to the chaos that is keeping us running in circles and creating and instructional hodgepodge.  There is no cohesiveness of direction, there is no unified messages or guidance of message, there is no consistency of direction for best practices in education.  So as I don’t criticize the intentions of the leaders of my system, I do criticize the lack of consistency of direction.

Richardson criticizes Darling-Hammond’s book, noting that, “there is very little here in terms of a meaningful discussion around what role technology plays in educating for a “flat world.” Kind of ironic.”  He goes on to discuss his own work with PLP that he feels “addresses most of the issues that Darling-Hammond cites.”  My next post will discuss a variety of web tools and resources that offer great potential for professional development opportunities.  As I head in a direction of evaluating or critiquing such resources, I can’t help but think that these tools are simply the medium.  There are some truly great technological tools that pose great benefits to opportunities for professional development.  However, if there is no unified direction of message, does it really matter what tools or media are used?

Darling-Hammond advocates for state and federal intervention as a solution to these issues.  However she goes on to say that, “I’m not optimistic that will happen anytime soon.  We can’t seem to agree on much in this country these days.”  And I think that this statement points towards the root of the problem.  Do we lack consistency of direction because we have too much choice?  With research that points in so many directions, do we no longer have any direction of best practices in education?

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One Response

  1. I will have to check this out . . . I have referred to her work in the past and have challenged some of her positions. UNESCO has been working on re-orienting teacher education to address sustainability since the UN declare the decade of education which ends 2014 as a staging decade for the future. I will look for any reference to this in Darling-Hammond’s work.

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