Charles Ames Fischer

Teacher Author Consultant Mentor


Status of Professional Development

Posted by Charles Fischer on September 16, 2010 at 5:56 AM

Here's a recent report on the status of professional development in the United States. There were many key findings, but what I found significant was the conclusion that teachers were not receiving enough contact hours focusing on specific areas. Here's an excerpt:

However, the intensity of the professional development has declined in most of these areas. The report found significant increases in the percentage of teachers who report having received short-term professional development (8 hours or less) across key areas and decreases in those reporting longer-term professional development.

Analysis of a broad range of studies indicates that the kind of sustained professional development that increases student learning requires between 49 and 100 hours of contact on a single professional development focus. However, the report notes that in most areas, teachers were receiving less than 8 hours of training on a given topic, and the average reported number of hours of professional development in the United States was only about 44 hours combined across all six topic areas.

I know in my own experience that many of my contact hours were one-off workshops of the "Mary Poppins" variety, meaning that someone popped in to deliver a quick workshop and then popped out again. Without follow-up, coaching and collaboration, I found many of the workshops I attended did not impact my teaching practice. Here's a sampling of some those contact hours:


  • behavior management (2 hours)
  • organization (2 hours)
  • discipline (6 hours)
  • group building (6 hours)
  • spelling journals (2 hours)
  • storytelling (6 hours)

And there are many others that I can't even remember.

When I think about the professional development experiences that have significantly impacted my teaching, they have almost all been 20 hours or more:


  • Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks Study Group (20 hours)
  • The Golden Education Template's Impossible Training (56 hours) and First Steps Training (56 hours)
  • Arabic Novel in Translation (80 hours)
  • Coyote Teaching (60 hours)
  • Dar al-Islam Teachers’ Institute Understanding and Teaching About Islam (50 hours)
  • Standard Wilderness Survival Course at Tracker School (60 hours)

I could only think of three exceptions under 20 hours: Richard Lavoie's amazing, amazing video F.A.T. City (2 hours), Bill Hubert's incredible Bal-A-Vis-X (15 hours) workshop and a John Collins Writing System Workshop (2 hours) that changed the way I think about and assign writing. 

49-100 hours (or at least 20 in my experience) of targeted training is a lot of investment, but not if we want teachers to have meaningful and engaging professional development experiences that truly change their teaching practices.

Categories: Articles, Professional Development

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