Schools now budget significant outlays for staff PD. A whole industry has been created in the form of PD providers who often charge exorbitant fees.
If the PD is during school hours, the school must employ supply teachers as well as offsetting, in some instances, travel and accommodation expenses.
Some wealthier schools send staff to international conferences, one of the few perks available to teachers and principals.
One would assume incorrectly that schools would ensure that their PD budgets were spent wisely. In fact, there is often little followup and very little systematic evaluation of the efficacy of PD participation.
Instead, conferences are often informally rated by participants by the food menus and any social intercourse enjoyed outside the published program.
As a regular presenter and participant at such conferences it was common to see numbers dwindle long before final sessions unless there was an open bar at the end of the conference.
That is not to say that participants will not find value in the scheduled sessions. Sometimes, presenters will cater for exactly what the participant is looking for and the teacher will be very much inspired in the moment.
However, unless there is a systematic follow-up back at school, all the warm fuzziness and inspiration will often quickly dissipate.
In my experience the main bonus in such conferences was the opportunity to network and share ideas with fellow teachers, often informally, during breaks and meals.
Few sessions were collaborative and tended to be lectures which often did not really provide the listener with practical and useful ideas.
Teachers are always on the lookout for ideas that they can use in their classrooms the next day. Too often presenters are academics rather than practising teachers and their presentations theoretical, rather than practical.
The most efficacious PD activities for me were not one-off conferences but experiences which often incidentally provided an insight or useful classroom strategy. Completing a postgraduate course proved a rich PD source.
Rather than the school deciding what I needed, I benefitted more from choosing my PD activities.
Sometimes it was just finding the time to read an article in an educational journal. Many simply collect dust in common rooms.
Peer support and team teaching are also effective PD strategies.
The combined wisdom of experienced teachers in a school is often overlooked. Younger teachers and their mentors should be given time to meet, even informally over a coffee.
The most effective PD prompts the teacher to reflect on their own praxis and seek ways to improve. In a dynamic school, PD would be invisible, informal and ubiquitous: the teacher as learner!
If a school believes in the value of PD, they will give teachers time within their school day rather than sending them to what are often expensive junkets.