Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development

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Professional Development

Teachers want and need support to develop their practice so that their students can succeed. In most places, that support falls under the auspices of professional development, a broad umbrella that includes everything from one-time workshops to online research, coaching, and collaborative time teachers spend with each other in professional learning communities.

All told, $18 billion is spent annually on professional development, and a typical teacher spends 68 hours each year—more than a week— on professional learning activities typically directed by districts. When self-guided professional learning and courses are included, the annual total comes to 89 hours.

Yet by many measures, including the views of teachers themselves, much of this effort and investment is simply not working. In interviews, teachers say that too many current professional development offerings are not relevant, not effective, and most important of all, not connected to their core work of helping students learn.

To gain insights into the roadblocks to implementing effective professional development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contracted with the Boston Consulting Group in 2014 to reach more than 1,300 teachers, professional development leaders in district and state education agencies, principals, professional development providers, and thought leaders through surveys and interviews. What we heard from this broad range of stakeholders was consistent: The way in which schools and districts deliver professional learning is highly fragmented and characterized by key disconnects between what decision-makers intend and the professional learning teachers actually experience.