Professional learning may be viewed either as an investment that will pay future dividends in improved staff performance and student learning or an expense that diminishes a school district�s ability to meet its other financial obligations. While the latter view has been dominant in many school districts, the National Staff Development Council�s position is that well designed and implemented professional development for school employees is an essential long-term investment in successfully teaching all students to high standards.
Well designed professional development creates learning communities that provide mutual support and focus everyone�s attention and learning on a small number of high priority goals. While the vast majority of educators� professional learning should occur during the school day in collaboration with colleagues, it is also important that they acquire knowledge from sources outside the school by attending workshops and state and national conferences. However, when most teachers� and principals� professional learning occurs away from the school, it serves as a centrifugal force that leads to fragmentation and incoherent improvement efforts.
Professional development resources may serve many purposes. For instance, they may fund trainers who help teachers and administrators implement new instructional strategies and successfully use technology in their classrooms. They may provide full or part-time in-school coaches who assist teachers and principals in implementing standards-based curriculum in classrooms serving an increasingly diverse student population. In addition, these resources may support the use of external consultants or facilitators who assist the schools and teams in planning and evaluation of program efforts. They can also fund substitutes who cover classes while enabling educators to learn about leading-edge ideas and practices through attendance at state and national conferences. Funds may also be used to provide stipends for lead teachers to serve as mentors or members of training cadres. To these ends, NSDC advocates that school districts dedicate at least ten percent of their budgets to staff development and that at least 25 percent of an educator�s work time be devoted to learning and collaboration with colleagues. While many schools allocate one percent or less of their budgets to professional development and offer virtually no time for adult learning and collaboration, others have found ways to provide resources that approach the amounts recommended by the Council.
Because technology purchases have increased dramatically in many school districts during the past decade, often with little attention given to the development of teachers� abilities to use the technology, NSDC advocates that at least 30 percent of the technology budget be devoted to teacher development in this area. Without opportunities to learn, plan, and practice what they have learned, district investments in technology will fail to produce the intended benefits for students.
To make certain that resources invested in staff development achieve their intended results, district incentive systems such as salary supplements for graduate degrees may be redirected to reward demonstrations of knowledge and skill and student learning gains rather than seat-time arrangements such as courses taken or continuing education units earned. These changes require extensive discussions among key district leaders about the organization�s purposes and the role of professional learning in improving student achievement. They are also likely to require significant modifications of collective bargaining agreements. However, recognizing that resources for professional development will continue to be scarce, it is vital that the resources be aligned to support the outcomes the districts seek for their educators and students.
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