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Can Professional Development Really Become A White Elephant?

by Rebecca Thomas

A white elephant is a possession that its owner cannot dispose of, and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness.

- Wikipedia

It’s no secret that this year teacher professional development has become one of the many casualties in 2023 educational cutbacks, but isn't its maintenance justified?

There are over 200 consultants waiting with bated breath to see what breadcrumbs fall from the Ministry table as a result of the May, Regionally Allocated Professional Development fund. Many of the panels who decide each school's fate are meeting later this week to undoubtedly check each application that has been submitted with a rigorous rubric, and cross reference it to Ministry guidelines. Their job will be to evaluate who does/does not get a helping hand. I'm sure not a job they will take lightly, or willingly, as the money pot is certainly small.

Addressing needs and challenges

Any school, any leader, who has taken the time in asking for help after they have assessed their community's needs, collected evidence and voice from their staff, students, and whānau and lay their honest cards on the table about the realities of the landscape, or culture in their school, may get told ‘not this time’.

Schools who fill in these application forms because they understand that investing in their teachers' growth ultimately enhances the quality of education provided, may be met with defeat. Despite taking their precious time to evaluate their school’s weak points and describe their achievement journey with data, they may be met with dismay. Anyone and everyone lately wants to remind us all that the quality of our education system needs to be improved, so why the sudden lottery?

Professional Development consultants have the time and space to prepare and evaluate what tools and resources schools need. PLD allows our profession to collaborate, reflect, interact, share ideas and learn from each other at conferences. This magic is carefully crafted by lots of good people, lots of good providers who give their time to support the profession they love.

PLD providers also use this collaborative medicine to enhance their own capacity; instead of being in competition with one another behind the scenes they cooperate. Steve and I in our Engaging Learning Voices capacity have had the pleasure of working with Weaving Futures, Leadership Lab, Future Makers, Freedom ed to name but a few synergetic souls.

Across the PLD field we share educational trends and research, we write blogs and share philosophies and resources, we uplift and empower our workforce between kilometers and kilometers of tarmac, lonely nights away from whānau, and meals for one. We all want the same thing; to support teacher growth and job satisfaction.

Maintenance vs Usefulness

Whilst I don't have the figures of what it costs to keep PLD going, nor am I able to estimate its beneficial cost in supporting our schools and students, I can however estimate the costs of what may happen if we don’t continue to invest in our consultants and value the gifts they bring.

#1 Outdated teaching methods may continue to hinder teachers' ability to engage students; especially our target students, our hard to reach families.

#2 Restricted knowledge on research and best practice may prevent teachers from valuable insights into student learning; can we afford to miss out on these insights?

#3 Diverse student’s needs may not be met; strategies for differentiation, support and instructions are invaluable to this group of ākonga.

#4 Technology integration may become limited; in a time when AI is becoming ubiquitous

#5 Burnout and low morale; PLD providers provide growth satisfaction, networking, and value to an already undervalued workforce.

# 6 Inequalities in education may continue to persist; PLD is our critical friend to help tease out cultural capability and challenge the status quo.

#7 Reduced student achievement; Coaching and mentoring by our professionals is a sure way to support effective teacher practice being challenged and implemented.

It is important for our governments and purse string holders to continue to prioritise and invest in the professional development of educators. We can not afford to dispose of it, it is definitely worth the cost.

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Derek Wenmoth
Derek Wenmoth
Jun 04, 2023

Great provocation, Rebecca - there are certainly a lot of school leaders as well as professional development providers that I have been speaking with who are asking the same questions currently. Your 'counting the cost' list at the end of the post correctly identifies a range of areas that schools need ongoing professional support with - and I'd like to suggest another, perhaps overarching one that comes from the work I do mostly with school leaders, BoT's etc. and that is the issue of ensuring a school's strategic direction is future focused. That is, that the 'why' is sufficiently articulated in terms of what is required to ensure that the decisions that are made about staffing, curriculum, assessment, timetabling, learning…

Rebecca Thomas
Rebecca Thomas
Jun 12, 2023
Replying to

You are right Derek, there is scope I believe for a little more autonomy in the direction a school may need support with, providing there has been rigour around their decisions how to move forward.

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