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Want to improve professional development? Ask your students for help

professional development

Every year, schools across the country undertake a familiar, but difficult journey of discovery.

Professional-development training. The perennial exercise has racked up costs in the billions, often with little in the way of return for teachers, students, or school districts.

A 2015 study by the nonprofit group TNTP found that heavy investment in professional development by school districts—to the tune of an annual average of $18,000 per teacher—yielded little to no obvious improvement in teacher performance, as the Washington Post reports.

So, why have current professional development approaches mostly failed?

Critics say one potential reason is that these programs lack input from a key voice in K-12 classrooms: students.

Take guesswork out of it

In some ways, professional development is changing for the better, writes PD expert Michelle Blanchet in a recent column in Edutopia. Teacher training programs are shifting away from the traditional lecture-oriented format toward new approaches that encourage problem solving and participant engagement.

But the majority of these programs still mistakenly ask teachers to make assumptions about their students, rather than seeking valuable feedback directly from students themselves.

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“Professional learning could take on a new dimension if we were able to get student feedback and insights on topics before heading into workshops,” Blanchet writes.

A recently released study from the U.S Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences seems to confirm this. ED’s research arm found that introducing more regular feedback sessions between teachers and school leaders throughout the school year contributes to improvements in teacher performance, principal leadership, and student achievement.

Now, imagine if some of that feedback came directly from the people teachers serve every day—their students?

Getting the feedback

The effectiveness of feedback-fueled PD is contingent on how schools collect that feedback, Blanchet writes.

While it would be ideal to have students join in PD sessions and give feedback in person, Blanchet says this isn’t always feasible. She outlines several other ways schools might gather student feedback for PD purposes—from informal classroom discussions to school surveys to video recordings on smart phones.

Regardless of the method, the important thing is to make student feedback a regular part of your schools’ performance culture—so that students get used to giving quality feedback and teachers get used to receiving it.

Michael Garet, one of the authors of the ED study on the benefits of feedback, recently expressed to Education Week why he believes professional development should include more feedback:

“I now believe the feedback is the professional development. It is the conversation, the reflection on the teaching, thinking about what aspects of the lesson improved student learning or didn’t. It’s both a form of evaluation and a form of professional development.”

How does your school or district harness the power of student feedback to aid professional development? How are you building a culture of feedback in your schools? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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