CommonLit Archive 5 Professional Development Horror Stories

How to build PD that teachers love

I recently polled the curriculum team at CommonLit in preparation for this blog post. I asked them to tell me about a time when they attended a professional development session that failed to deliver. Here are five of the lowlights:

  • “I was forced to watch Remember the Titans for three days straight with my co-workers.”
  • “I once sat through a PD session where the facilitator cold-called teachers to answer multiple choice questions, and then berated them for getting them wrong. The questions came from a horribly-written, confusing test.”
  • “My school sent me to a curriculum training for three days on how to implement a scripted curriculum for struggling students. The training was good, but my district never actually ordered the books to implement the scripted curriculum at my school.”
  • “I was sent to a training on how to make data-driven decisions. Every example was based on a math example, but I was a Social Studies teacher.”
  • “My school contracted trainers that delivered a session on how to successfully implement an advisory program. There was one big problem: We didn’t have an advisory period in our schedule.”

I think you get the point, and I’m sure you can think of a lot of examples from your own career. Professional development that doesn’t connect-the-dots is, at best, a waste of your time and money. Studies back this up.

Two teachers talking with their laptops open.

In 2015, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) released a research report on the impact of professional development in 3 large public school districts and 1 mid-sized public charter management organization in the United States. TNTP found that each of the districts they studied spent between $10–20k per teacher on professional development each year. The study also found that these districts allotted about 10% of teachers’ time per year to PD activities.

Despite these huge investments of district money and teacher time across all four of the districts studied, teachers benefited an astonishingly small amount from professional development in three of the four districts studied. In the three districts where teachers struggled to quickly progress, there were some common trends. The report said, “less than half of the teachers we surveyed told us they received professional development that was ongoing, tailored to their specific development needs or even targeted to the students or subject they teach.” In short, these districts spent a lot of money on trainings that didn’t meet teachers’ needs.

The fourth school district in the study was an outlier. This district spent more money than the other three districts on professional development. In contrast to the other three districts, student achievement got better and more teachers showed steady improvement throughout their careers. One major difference was that this district focused on giving teachers professional development opportunities where they were able to practice skills, plan upcoming units, and analyze trends in their students’ data.

This research resonates with my own experiences. Looking back at my teaching career, my growth as a teacher was vastly accelerated because I had access to ongoing coaching and thoughtfully-planned professional development. I benefited from working with instructional coaches who deeply understood our staff’s needs and delivered highly-targeted trainings. These trainings gave me and my colleagues tangible skills and resources that ultimately led to institutional success for our students.

Professional Development with CommonLit

At CommonLit, we deliver professional development based on research-based best practices.

We begin by aligning our sessions to the goals of our partner districts. This summer alone, our team has planned customized PD sessions for districts on topics including:

  • Cross-textual analysis;
  • Supplementing novel units;
  • Differentiating effectively;
  • Using data to drive instruction.

These trainings are all in the service of the larger strategic goals of each district. Our attention to detail means that teachers will be building skills in high-leverage areas that districts value.

A teacher writing on a whiteboard

Next, we ensure that every session we deliver is hands-on and resource-rich. We don’t let a single participant walk away without tangible resources or action steps. We recommend that teacher-teams attend our sessions together so that they can engage in our collaborative exercises and brainstorm how they’ll implement CommonLit in their classrooms.

Finally, we know that professional development never really ends. That’s why we equip coaches, master teachers, department chairs, and administrators with the tools they need to continue supporting teachers beyond the session. We offer regular virtual trainings throughout the school year, customized to your district’s needs. This allows us to reinforce skills teachers have already learned, while providing a cost-efficient option for districts.

Over the past year, my team has had the pleasure of building a close partnership with the ELA team in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), led by Roxanne Friday, the team’s English Curriculum Specialist. Just prior to the beginning of this school year, our team worked hand-in-hand with Roxanne to ensure that the professional development we were creating was tightly aligned to their district’s instructional goals.

Teachers gathered in a cafeteria doing PD
CommonLit presenting for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in August

In CMS, there is a focused effort on improving student writing, especially when responding to multiple texts from a variety of genres. In order to meet this need, our team at CommonLit customized professional development sessions that showed teachers how they can develop units that focused on cross-text writing opportunities. The sessions also modeled instructional best practices for teaching these new skills to students.

What’s great about a training such as this, is that it a) aligns to the district’s long term instructional vision, and b) gives teachers the time and support during the training to embed the texts into their unit plans.

Next Steps

If you’re interested in working with CommonLit to develop a Professional Development for your team, connect with a member of our Partnerships team.