American teachers have been stuck in the old ways of maximizing their classroom time, but never enough time to devote to professional development. This lack of self-improvement could have a direct effect on success in the classroom. Would smaller classes and fewer subjects assigned to each teacher result in more professional development and better classroom performance?

Classroom Time vs. Professional Development

To most American teachers, the thought of spending more time in professional development and collaboration probably seems daunting. However, the article How Should Professional Development Change? suggests that American educators spend far less time in collaborative activity than their non-American counterparts, who generally out-perform American students on achievement tests. Drastic changes in the ratio of time teachers spend in front of students to the time spent collaborating and learning themselves would likely lead to improved performance for all students.

Teachers in the United States have long known that there is a traditional disconnect€ between what teachers are expected to do and how the teachers are expected to learn how to do it. Teachers can attend professional development sessions of all kinds, but most will agree that real teacher skills develop on the job, by €œlearning and doing.€ With that in mind, job-imbedded professional development through teacher collaboration is becoming a more significant factor in more and more school systems worldwide.

US teachers should work collaboratively more frequently

America has an inborn attitude of independence, and maybe teachers are expected to "figure it out" and succeed with less training. But if they were expected to band together and learn by observing and cooperating with each other, they would grow professionally by the actual real time experience. They’re dealing with people on a day to day basis, not theories. 

In the article, 3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development, teachers from Denver, Seattle, and Lexington (KY) share a fairly common perspective on how professional learning is approached in the United States. They discussed the elements of professional learning in terms of time, content, and connectedness. In this report, teachers in the U.S. illustrated that time for professional development was woefully inadequate at their school sites. While some of their schools required biweekly meetings for professional learning communities (PLCs), the administration typically chose the content for the three days a year, which primarily focused on some school or district initiative (for example, new curriculum implementation) rather than focusing on teacher professional growth.

America has an inborn attitude of independence, and maybe teachers are expected to "figure it out" and succeed with less training. But if they were expected to band together and learn by observing and cooperating with each other, they would grow professionally by the actual real time experience.

Overseas Professional Development could inspire U.S. teaching

The National Center for Teaching Quality (NCTQ) out of North Carolina published in May, 2014 shines a light on American professional development perspectives. It also includes perspectives from teachers in Shanghai, Singapore, and Canada — nations that significantly outperform the U.S. on the Program for International Assessment (PISA). The study shows that other countries do devote more time for teacher collaboration than in the United States, and it seems to be more effective. 

Decreased teaching loads, achieved by lowering both the number of classes taught and the number of students in each class, make it possible for these teachers to have time to engage in this professional development. Although major changes in these areas seem unlikely to occur in the U.S. any time soon, educators need to work with local school leaders to make whatever changes they can. And while many in the U.S. feel that the government should pay for more training, teachers in other countries seem to be more motivated to collaborate and are also willing to pay for their own training at times.

Key Takeaways:

Job-imbedded development is becoming a significant factor in school systems.
Teachers report that time given to develop professionally is lacking.
Other countries devote more time for teacher collaboration than the Unites States.

Can we do anything to change it?

Should the U.S. education system mimic those more successful systems in other countries? It would seem that the practice of more professional development is working in other education systems. Maybe teachers in the U.S. should begin to devote more time to personal development outside of their classroom. At least partially adopting this practice could improve the performance of the education system in the U.S.

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