Sometimes teachers feel like this car looks – burned up, broken down and falling apart. I recently had a conversation with a teacher who is experiencing occupational burnout and this person pointed to unnecessary and/or ineffective professional development (PD) as a contributing factor. This teacher’s dissatisfaction and fatigue is spilling over into every area of life causing a strain on relationships at home as well as work. This person, whose greatest ambition was to be an educator, is now contemplating quitting the profession. The unhappiness on the face of this seasoned and distinguished teacher haunted me to the point that I was driven to find some sort of direction or guidance to share that might help teachers feeling burned out by the endless demands being placed on them. So, yesterday I began researching and pondering how districts might better support teachers in the area of professional learning (PL).
Since the basis for my investigation was simply the feelings of this one teacher, I was curious to see what the TELL KY survey 2015 results revealed in the area of PD and here’s what I found.
- One of the bottom three ratings in the area of Teacher Leadership is the role teachers play in determining the content of PD programs. Results indicate that 41% of teachers have only a small role or no role at all in PD decision-making.
- Among the lowest three ratings in the area of Professional Development was differentiated PD showing that 29% of teachers believe that PD is not differentiated to meet the needs of individual teachers.
As I examined the entire list of survey questions and results in the PD section of the TELL, I wondered if this is a true reflection of Kentucky’s state professional learning system. Have that many districts and schools really made the shift from traditional one-size-fits-all professional development to professional learning experiences that are largely driven by teacher reflection aligned to district improvement needs? If the TELL survey included questions related to professional learning and flexible scheduling that encourages teachers to exhibit exemplary level performance in the area of growing professionally, would that give us more insight in to the status of district PD programs?
After I reread the Kentucky Professional Learning Guidance and Professional Growth Plan resources, I wonder if self-directed professional learning that helps to meet the 24-hour requirement could alleviate some of the burden on teachers. I learned of this from reading Washington Co’s PD schedule, which contained the guidance and tools for teachers to collect and document their self-directed learning experiences. I wonder whether or not more districts would utilize self-directed learning designs if learning activity could be more easily quantified for use in the credit hours framework? How might this be done so we don’t undermine the idea that professional learning is a continuous and ongoing process that is focused on outcomes?
I also discovered possible options like competency-based PD with micro-credentialing, but it seems like the task of getting that type of system up and running would take a lot of man hours and financial resources. I’m curious as to whether or not it might be well received and worth the effort? Would it require state- and district-level policy changes? Are teachers ready for that type of learning opportunity?
I know this post only skimmed the top of the issue of teacher burnout as it relates to professional growth activities so hopefully my musings will stimulate more in-depth discussions on these problems and support positive resolutions. But, I wonder if solving problems with PD will have enough effect to make a noticeable difference toward relieving over-burdened teachers. I speculate that it can if teachers are given back that extra time being taken for sit-and-get PD hours and encouraged to apply that time to activities that aren’t so easily measured like book studies, mentoring, coaching, etc. Teachers who engage in these types of activities outside of the school day should be allowed to count that time toward the 24-hour PD credit requirement. What can we do so it happens in every district in Kentucky?
Questions to stimulate further thought, discussion and problem solving in the area of professional learning planning.
- If districts design and implement flexible professional learning plans that promote teacher autonomy, will teacher satisfaction and performance improve? Will student learning outcomes increase?
- How can Principals and district leaders honor different ways of learning to address the learning needs of their teachers?
- What are some ways teachers can advocate for themselves when pressured to participate in unnecessary PD or PD that doesn’t align to their professional growth goals?
- How can leaders create situations in which decision-making, in the area of PD, is wielded by teachers who are proven to be trustworthy experts in their field?
- How can teachers who are so passionate about the profession they love live a balanced life and prevent burnout?