The job of teaching students is a complicated endeavor and, as educators, we need to constantly refine our craft. That is where your Professional Development Plan (PDP) comes into play. Planning our professional learning helps us to remain mindful of our goals and capitalize upon learning opportunities as they present themselves.
A new emphasis was placed on professional learning in 1998 when the N.J. State Board of Education adopted regulations that required all teachers to complete 100 hours of professional development every five years, starting in September 2000. Local Professional Development Committees (LPDCs) were also established to create and implement professional development plans for the schools in which they served. In 2007, the process was refined to create specific five-year cycles, recognize the importance of collaborative learning through professional learning communities (PLCs), and create school-level professional development committees. Teachers’ personal professional development planning was to be included in what was then called the Professional Improvement Plan (PIP). PIPs were renamed Professional Development Plans in 2008.
The intention of this refinement was to improve teaching and learning by improving teacher practice. The process was meant to empower teachers, through the Local Professional Development Committee and PLCs, to develop learning experiences that were personally meaningful to meet the needs of the both their classrooms and the district.
Following the passage of TEACHNJ in 2012 (the new tenure and evaluation law), the State Board of Education adopted new regulations around evaluation that had been proposed by the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE). These new regulations were based on language in the law and included revisions to the ways that Professional Development Plans were to be developed.
All certificated members of the school community are required to have Professional Development Plans. The PDP is to be developed by a school administrator in consultation with a faculty member and must (items with an asterisk represent new requirements):
For those teachers new to a district, the PDP from their previous school may apply so long as the administration finds it appropriate. Otherwise, a new PDP must be developed by an administrator in consultation with the new faculty member within 30 days of beginning employment. This shortens the former regulation of completing a PDP within 60 days of employment. Current faculty members will create their PDPs sometime after their summative evaluation occurs.
Prior to Achieve NJ, teachers were required to complete 100 hours of professional development over a five-year cycle. Now, the PDP must consist of at least 20 hours of learning time annually and be documented through certificates, attendance sheets, time logs, and transcripts. Mandated training such as Right-to-Know, Suicide Prevention, etc. also continues to count toward the 20-hour requirement.
If the entire PDP is imposed without agreement between the teacher and the administration, it is recommended that the teacher involve local leadership while still working within the imposed PDP. The PDP is a flexible document that may be revised as opportunities and challenges present themselves.
For teachers earning a summative evaluation score below 2.65, the PDP is replaced by the Corrective Action Plan (CAP). The CAP, by nature, is imposed upon the faculty member for the purpose of increasing his/her evaluation score. In this instance, members should also inform local leadership to ensure that their rights are being protected and so the local can provide all possible assistance to the member in meeting the terms of the CAP.
One of the bigger shifts in PDP development is the move from a democratically elected Local Professional Development Committee (LPDC) to a School Improvement Panel (ScIP) selected by the building principal. The mission of the ScIP is somewhat different from that of the LPDC. While the majority of LPDC members were teachers focused on developing learning experiences to refine professional practice, the ScIP is composed primarily of administrators focused upon personalized professional training driven largely by an individual’s formal evaluation.
The School Improvement Panel consists of a minimum of three people: the principal, a building level administrator, and a teacher. The group may be larger but is mandated to be composed of at least one-third teaching faculty. The ratio of teachers may exceed the minimum and may even be a majority group if the administration so chooses.
Since the ScIP is so closely tied to evaluation, the process can put teacher members into a difficult situation. Legally, individual evaluations are confidential, excluding the teacher member of the ScIP from actually seeing or discussing the contents of an individual’s evaluation. The only exception is if the local bargaining unit gives permission for its member on the ScIP to participate in these confidential discussions. It is a practice that is not recommended by NJEA. Instead, it becomes the responsibility of the administration to provide aggregate evaluation data so that the teacher member may make recommendations about school or district-wide professional learning initiatives.
The ScIP is also charged with the task of developing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) for faculty members who are rated below 2.65 on their summative evaluation ratings. Again, the faculty member on the ScIP should not be involved in these discussions in any way. Confidentiality should go so far as to even exclude the faculty ScIP member from knowing who is being placed on a CAP or even how many CAPs are needed or are in place.
When the regulations were last revised in 2008, professional development for teachers was focused primarily upon teacher practice. Professional development was viewed as sustained and ongoing community practice that led to the refinement of skills, inquiry into practice and the development of new methods to improve student learning. The process was seen as collegial and collaborative, meant to encourage a nurturing environment driven by experimentation, and create an atmosphere where educators constantly sought to learn about their work and grow from their experiences. It was a perspective affixed firmly upon the teacher.
The perspective from which PDPs are created has now shifted to focus specifically upon the outcomes for learners, making it more evaluative in nature. The State Board of Education is currently considering regulations on professional standards for teachers put forth by the NJDOE that provides a justification for this change. In its proposal to the State Board, department officials wrote: “Key themes that run through the updated standards are: (1) the importance of personalized learning for diverse learners; (2) a stronger focus on the learner’s application of knowledge and skills; (3) improved assessment literacy to reflect the importance of using a variety of assessments to understand each learner’s progress; (4) a collaborative professional culture; and (5) new leadership roles for teachers and administrators in building a shared vision, advocating for students, and communicating with families.”
While a focus on learner outcomes is important, PDPs should not be reduced to a review student achievement data. Like students, teacher success should be viewed through the lens of multiple measures.
To further emphasize the connection of PDPs to evaluation, the proposed changes to the regulations group the Professional Standards for Teachers into four domains that closely mirror the domains of the common teacher evaluation models being used around the state. The domains and standards are:
Each standard in the four domains is further described through three facets: Performances, Essential Knowledge, and Critical Dispositions. Performances consist of actions taken by a teacher that illustrate the standard. Essential knowledge is information that the teacher must have in order to be proficient within the standard. Critical dispositions are the behaviors and beliefs aligned to the standard that a teacher exhibits.
Despite the regulations stating that the PDP should be informed by a teacher’s evaluation, it is important that the PDP continues to be a collaborative process. Every teacher should remember that, as a professional, you are often the best judge of your professional learning needs and you should be an active participant in planning your professional development.
Those goals could well be based on the needs of a particular group of students a teacher needs to reach, a new grade level, new course content, or learning new ways to meet the demands of new standards. Teachers should also be ready to advocate for professional learning that includes collaborative work with colleagues, and should fight back against a “point and click” approach that over relies on the use of video clips that often come with evaluation model vendor packages. Use the checklist below as a means of clarifying your professional needs before meeting with a supervisor to determine your PDP.
Best practices in professional learning for teachers continue to be groups of teachers working together to define what students need to learn, what skills they need to reach those learning goals, and what skills the teachers need to develop in order to bring their students to that place.
NJEA provides a number of ways to help members meet the rigors of their PDPs. In the member section of njea.org, under “My Web Apps,” individuals have access to the “My Professional Development Transcript” App. This app will automatically track any PD opportunity that a member attends at the NJEA Convention and also provides a space for members to manually enter any learning opportunities provided by their local, district, or outside provider.
The NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division has an extensive catalog of workshops to meet the diverse needs of members at the local and county level. These workshops may be requested by your local leadership.
Finally, NJEA offers a number of conferences throughout the year around a variety of topics such as improving professional practice at the Summer Professional Learning Institute, effective technology integration at Techstock, and meeting the special needs of learners at the Exceptional Children’s conference.
Mike Ritzius is an NJEA associate director of professional development and instructional issues. Contact him below.