New Data Revolution: Professional Development



After reading article after article about how professional development fails teachers, it became clear that one of the issues surrounding these results is that they are based on false metrics on how adult learning ultimately impacts students. In most cases, next generation professional development is being measured by legacy metrics that fail to recognize the impact that quality professional development can have on learning environments. The reason for this is that our current metrics, student test scores in almost all cases, are the only universal metric that resonates in conversations both inside and outside of education spheres. This continues to be like measuring an ant with a yardstick, inaccurate and awkward. What new metrics are available? How do we use them? How do we get them to be more universally accepted?


Gathering adult learners away from their primary responsibility of guiding learning in the classroom to dialogue about new practices, reflect on current practice, and build new instructional plans has been happening since we moved away from the one room school house. The complexity of teaching since those times has and will continue to grow. This leads to the need to grow the complexity of the way that we support adult learning as well. Professional growth is a tricky thing to measure, but there may be some innnovative ways to use new data points to get better results. Consider the following framework.


There are three moments that are ideal for measuring the effectiveness of professional development. Let’s call this the 7:7:7 model. This model measures effectiveness seven hours, seven days, and seven months after the training takes place.


To begin this framework measure effectiveness at the end of a professional learning session. Professional learning must get over an initial seven hour hurdle that has adult learners more interested in the topic than when they started the day. Too often, professional learning is dead in the water after seven hours because of how it was presented or received.  If there is amplified energy and interest in a topic when someone leaves a session then long-term success is possible. To know this measure the positive energy, learner satisfaction, questions asked, and conversations initiated. In addition, presenters often get a feeling about how a group is absorbing and interacting with the ideas being presented and examined in a session. Debrief with the presenter to keep from losing those data points.  Though it still makes sense to survey folks before, during, and after a seven hour session, other metrics, like counting engagement non-verbals throughout the session, can truly provide the feedback necessary for growth and future effectiveness.


The next benchmark for measuring effectiveness of professional learning is about seven days after the training. The afterglow of the training will have worn off by then, and the realities on the ground will have reentered the lives of the learners. They will have returned to the classroom, school, or district, and they will have continued to see what they learned as essential to their daily work or the learning will have quickly faded into something that they may return to when they have time (which almost never happens). Seven days is long enough to have a conversation with a colleague, connect the new learning to previous learning, and have shared it with others beyond the walls of the school. Seven days is also enough time to have curated the new learning to remove that which didn’t apply, seek clarification about resources that were confusing, and push back on ideas that didn’t seem correct. How many leaders in schools are measuring these seven day metrics through surveys, conversations or follow-up focus groups? These are the intermediary metrics necessary for long-term success and stickiness of new ideas to occur.


At seven months, there is a real sense about whether a learning ecosystem has moved on or it continues to be fueled by the learning that took place. Are people still growing the ideas acquired in both theory and practice? Has the dominant conversation moved on to ideas that aren’t nested in the previous? What concrete celebrations are available based on the learning track from seven months ago? One of the most difficult pieces of leadership is maintaining a focus on the long game, and not allowing the day-to-day to consume the growth of an organization. Leaders (notice the plural by design) within a school must be asking these questions seven months later, but they also must be maintaining the fire around the professional development in a constant way through informal conversations, small group gatherings, and through the common language of the day.


Adult learning doesn’t have to fail. It is far too important for the growth of our students for us to allow it to fall short. The format of the learning is important, absolutely essential, but the follow up including the metrics that we choose to measure success also play a major role in the long-term success. We must not get caught in the legacy metrics trap of the past that tied all adult learning to student test scores, but look to the options that we have as part of this new data revolution to measure meaningfully.