Other countries’ professional development practices could inform U.S. practices

PD-USWhile the December 2013 release of the international PISA results prompted U.S. education leaders and policy makers to urge for improvements in teaching and learning, of notable interest was the fact that teachers in other top-performing countries such as China spend more time in professional development (PD) than they do in front of their students–the reverse of how the U.S. does PD, experts said.

So, what can the U.S. learn from other countries?

One potential step is to look at what other countries do and determine if those practices are scalable in the U.S., said Leslie W. Grant, a visiting assistant professor in curriculum and instruction and educational leadership areas at The College of William and Mary and an ASCD faculty member. Grant recently co-authored West Meets East: Best Practices From Expert Teachers In The U.S. And China, which examines instructional practices’ potential to spread and impact education internationally.

(Next page: Insights on U.S. and international PD)

From her studies, Grant and her colleagues discovered that in China, teachers have about 24 hours of planning time per week, but in the U.S., teachers have only about 5 hours.

More collaborative planning takes place in China, and it is a critical part of the country’s PD. In the U.S., PD is much more isolated. Part of that is due to desk arrangements–in China, teachers typically have a desk in the same room, and being in a common area lends itself to more collaboration and sharing. In the U.S., teachers typically have a desk in their classrooms and are isolated from their peers.

“If you think about PD in the U.S., we have PD days that are set aside–it’s kind of divorced from our everyday work,” Grant said. “In China, PD is much more integrated into teachers’ daily work–they’re planning together, they’re observing one another, and it’s more of a collaborative process.”

Removing PD from its silo in the U.S. would take quite a bit of effort, Grant said, including thinking about how the U.S. structures its educational system, what school days look like, and changing planning time as it exists now. Another step is encouraging more collaboration instead of emphasizing and focusing on “the individual teacher” as a concept.

Identifying positive practices, examining how those practices might be put into place and supported in the U.S., and then ensuring that PD is woven into teaching as an ingrained and natural part of the teaching process are all steps to changing the way the U.S. approaches PD.

One of the most important PD approaches is “to be shoulder-to-shoulder with educators,” said Shanika Hope, vice president of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment for Discovery Education.

One reason that other countries consistently out-perform the U.S. is due to a “huge level of front-end investment in terms of teacher recruiting–that’s one of the big things the U.S. would benefit from,” said Hope, who noted that the teaching profession is revered and quite competitive in other countries, whereas in the U.S., teachers are not paid as much or held in as much esteem as they are in other countries, where their professional compensation and status can be compared to doctors’ and lawyers’ statuses in the U.S.

PD in the U.S. could change for the better with a number of concentrated improvements, including ensuring PD is practical. One way this is accomplished is by “leveraging instructional strategies that you can immediately put to use,” Hope said.

For instance, if educators instantly understand why a particular strategy is helpful, and if they know how they can use it right away, they’re more likely to try it out and follow through on that change, versus an obscure technique that feels awkward or uncomfortable to them.

Carving out time for collaboration is important, too, although challenging for many teachers, who struggle to find enough planning time during the day and who often bring work home with them.

“Also, give teachers the opportunity to reflect and collaborate,” Hope added. “Educators oftentimes learn best from one another, and they trust each other–they trust their peers.”

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