The moment has come for your 5 year old to ride his bike without the training wheels on. You are both filled with trepidation, unsure if the training you provided will be enough to keep him from falling. You reflect on the skills you've given him...a shiny new bike with all the bells and whistles, the best training wheels money can buy, a sturdy seat and even a cute little horn! You showed him the bike on Saturday, told him how to ride it, let him sit on the seat, test out his balance with the training wheels teedering back and forth. You celebrated with joy and laughter when he honked the horn and placed his feet on the pedals. He rode it up and down the driveway all day Saturday and Sunday, grinning from ear to ear. It's Monday morning, time to take the wheels off, letting him ride independently. As he gets on the bike, he asks, "Hey Dad, do you think I can ride it now?" You answer, "Of course you can son, you've trained for a couple of days, you have all the equipment you need and it looks great!" You wave at him, wish him well and walk away back into the house, you have many things to do after all so he's on his own. You're sure the training you provided for the couple of days is certain to be enough, you couldn't afford to hire the best professional bike trainer nor do you have more time to invest in his training, a momentary thought crosses your mind, "I hope it was enough, ahww, he'll do alright."
How do you think he'll do? Will he take off down the driveway and around the block like a seasoned pro or wobble a few feet before he falls? If he falters, will he keep trying or throw the bike down in disgust? If he gets back on, how long do you think it will take him to master bike riding? What if he never learns how to balance properly and yet learns how to ride in an awkward fashion just enough to get by? Will that be determined as successful?
This father never came back outside to see how his son faired with learning to ride his bike. He never checked on his progress. But, a long time later, he found the brand new bike in the back of the garage under a pile of other toys that were barely used. He confronts his son about wasting money on toys and equipment he isn't using. His son says he tried, but just wasn't making enough progress without proper training. His son has a great idea though, he has talked with his friends in the neighborhood who all ride their bikes like pros, up and down the street. They've made tremendous gains with their skills, even starting to learn to jump small ramps. They have found a really good trainer who spends weeks on training, not just a couple of days. His son has researched this method and found it to be highly recommended all over the country. He asks his dad for this training. His dad says he has a perfectly good bike, just get on it and ride, soon he'll be sure to show progress. The son argues that excellent training is the key to using his shiny new bike properly, that it's not very resourceful to have something he is ill-equipped to use. Not much progress can be made if he isn't sure he's using it right and that no one checks in on to be certain progress is being made. His dad agrees that something must be done. The next day, his dad calls him into the garage to discuss a new plan .......he's bought him a brand new bike! This one is a different color, made by a different name brand company and get this, ..... the horn is on the cross bar instead of the handles, this will surely be exactly what his son needs to master bike riding!
We would not use these methods to teach our children how to ride a bike, but this is often how we approach professional development with our teachers. Recently, The Washington Post printed an article about how wasteful much of the annual teacher training is. While I think the amount of $18,000 per teacher per year is astounding and may be over-estimated, I agree that much of the annual teacher training is wasteful.
Teacher training is determined based on the Spiderman Effect. The Spiderman Effect is just a term I've made up, but the image that runs through my mind when I picture administrators choosing which Professional Development (PD) opportinities to provide their teachers is much like Spiderman casting out a large web from his wrist.....whatever throws the widest net and will reach the MOST teachers, wins. Whether it is necessary, wanted or even relavant may never be part of the equation.
Administrators are tasked with the same job as every teacher is, to DIFFERENTIATE their instruction to the group that sits in front of them. This is a VERY difficult task if one appraoches it in its truest form, provide PD for each of the type of teacher---gym, art, music, resource room, reading interventionist, math interventionist, science, social studies, robotics, yearbook, videography, speech, reading, math, spelling, writing, special education, etc., this list is not complete....but you get the idea. That is a very long list of very specified PD. On top of just this basic list, is the fact that teachers come with differing strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are likely going to have a variety of skill levels in their teaching; some due to their university education, the number of years they've been teaching, their outside/personal education interests, etc. With this long list of variables, many administrators pick an area of study for school or district as a whole that suits the majority of teachers, whether it applies directly to their job or not. Trainers are expensive, the really good ones are even more expensive and booked well in advance. There are too many trainers who sell themselves well but aren't worth hiring.
In addition to all those variables, much of the collective billions of dollars handed over to schools (according to the article) has stipulations tied to it that must meet minute, detailed government criteria. It makes the job of providing PD even more difficult for administrators--how in the heck can they begin to pay attention to the varying needs of their staff when they have to complete mounds of paperwork and meet mounds of criteria in order to receive these billions of dollars?!? The job of the administrator has shifted from looking at the needs of the staff to keeping up with paperwork.
Many teachers' dedication to their passion for teaching leads them to find amazing resources but because the training is suited to their individual area of need or interest, funding is often not available. The administrator is usually only willing to put monetary resources toward PD that casts a wider net or they cannot figure out how the request ties to the long list of criteria they are allowed to spend the money on. On occasion, they will pilot a program, but follow through with studying its effectiveness is often lacking, mostly due to time constraints and future funding cuts.
I've sat through hundreds of hours of PD in my 20+ years as an educator. I ALWAYS find something of value from each one, because my very wise father (who was a great teacher of bike-riding and all other skills) taught me that nothing is valueless unless YOU choose not to seek and eek out what is useful to YOU. So, while I've gained something from every PD opportunity, sometimes I've had to look very hard to find it.
I spend a lot of looking for and finding the perfect PD that will make me a better teacher and lead more children to become readers and writers only to be told the money is not there. I need more hours in a day to find grants that meet my needs and can be applied for--there are thousands--but not many for teacher development, and the amount of time it takes to apply and then wait to hear if your idea met their criteria is wasteful. Boy, that's hard to say, applying for grants can be of great benefit, but unfortunately, in this stage and in this time of my life--it truly is wasteful. With the hours in a day spent teaching, researching, educating oneself, and taking care of family, the little time left is precious. This time is needed to spend on my own children so they grow up to reach their potential and not only be productive members of society but problem-solvers or grant-givers or provide some other way to be of benefit to their communities and the world. My wish is for educators to be entrusted with a set amount of funds to use as they see fit to educate themselves in ways that make the most of their skills.