The cost of Professional Learning

We are all aware of the economic challenges that schools face. The truth is, schools have always had limited budgets and been scrutinized for spending decisions. In the wonderful age of accountability, those decisions seem to be under a much bigger microscope and lots of questions get asked.  That's not necessarily a bad thing but it certainly requires us to think about how we justify spending. 

Professional learning comes in all shapes and sizes and I'm hard pressed to assign value to any. Those who speakabout "training" usually are speaking about a linear, by the book approach which is often easily transferred into the classroom. These are not transformative types of experiences but sometimes necessary to help teachers do their job. The professional learning that moves to make us truly better teachers and provide the best learning experiences possible are the really expensive ones. By expensive, I'm not referring exclusively to money but largely time. If change were that easy, we'd all be doing it. The hard work of improving practice generally takes years and as we all know, teaching is a profession you never quite get right and the very best never stop learning.  By that standard, professional learning is simply what we do. You might say, teachers are professional learners.

A rough calculation would suggest that in the last 10 years, my school district has spent upwards of $35,000 on my professional learning that includes conferences, classes, and workshops. That's a lot of money and I realize that it's probably more than most teachers would receive. (Although most of that has no substitute teacher costs which for most teachers, represents a significant expenditure) Was it worth it? There's no doubt that some of those workshops and conferences were less helpful than others but the whole of those experiences I believe are greater than the sum of the parts. Out of all the conferences I've attended, I'd be hard pressed to recall a single event or experience that has significantly shaped my work above any other. However, I can't imagine being anywhere near the educator and leader I am today had it not been for those opportunities. I also recognize that not all professional learning costs money. This space has been one of the greatest sources of professional learning for over five years. The time invested here is significant but has been worth every moment.

In the effort to be fiscally responsible and focus our attention on what truly matters, we hear this question asked almost everyday as we make choices on how to support our school division: "Will it improve student learning?" That's a simple and yet very complicated question. It's pretty easy to suggest that almost anything you do will improve student learning  but not everything will translate into the classroom and impact student learning immediately or directly. 

Here's what I want to know:

1. How do you measure the effectiveness of professional learning?

2. Is there a time frame in which the professional learning translates into student learning?

I'm not sure I'm articulating myself particularly well here but am searching for some ideas that will help me solidify my own beliefs. I'm really curious to hear your thoughts on this one. Thanks in advance.