Notable Notes: Professional Development

I recently read an article by Ken Goldstein about why we should move away from performance reviews toward coaching and mentoring (see 3 arguments against performance reviews). This idea resonated with me for two reasons. First, the only feedback I receive is a brief performance review letter (not even a personal session such as the one described by Goldstein) and the only coaching and mentoring I receive is something I must seek on my own. Second, as a National Writing Project site director I hear a lot about professional development fails (usually in contrast to whatever Morehead Writing Project event the teacher recently attended).

Professional development fails are well-known to experienced educators. The Center for Public Education reports in Teaching the Teachers that: “Most teachers only experience traditional, workshop-based professional development, even though research shows it is ineffective.” The report argues against the ineffective (and often expensive) one-off workshop and for ongoing support such as coaching and mentoring or a cycle of workshops where teachers can learn about a practice, then implement it, and return for further feedback, support, and instruction.

My friend and rock star educator, Liz Prather, recently blogged about her experiences with peer observation (rationale and practice) which is one easy and cheap solution to the professional development problem. All too often (at least in my experience and what I overhear from my peers in other teaching situations), we have no mechanisms in place to support this type of effective professional development. Most teachers have little time in their day to visit another classroom let alone have serious conversations about what is going on in that classroom with their peer. In fact, all too often, we have little time or opportunity to share the really interesting things that we are doing in our classrooms or to learn what our peers are doing in theirs. This is a true tragedy.

A similar practice is an age-old educational method: mentoring. Margaret Ruvoldt notes in a Huffington Post article that mentoring is meant to help those still learning and developing in our field, but can also be tremendously beneficial to those doing the mentoring. I have experienced this myself. Sometimes having someone ask questions about your practice can help you see with a new lens. This is my first year in many without an official mentee and I find that I miss it on many levels.

At the Morehead Writing Project we have moved away from the one-off workshop for the reasons noted above as well as reasons I have blogged about before (ie. We Don’t Deliver PD Anymore and You Can’t Teach the Writing Process: How to Make Writers by Showing Not Telling). We believe in simple ideas such as teachers who write are better writing teachers and teachers who hang out with rock star teachers celebrating writing, teaching, and their students are better teachers. You can learn more about what we do instead of the workshop by vicariously experiencing our 2015 Writing Eastern Kentucky Conference.

What are your thoughts about professional development? What makes for good, effective professional development in your experience?

This post originally appeared on my Metawriting blog at: where you can find more Notable Notes about teaching, writing, and teaching writing.