The 37 And A 1/2 Hours Sham

Here in South Australia, if you teach in a government school, you have 41 weeks of active teaching duty for the calendar year. Well, it was until about ten years ago when the state government decided to bring our system in line with the eastern state public systems by dispensing with the 41st week. The cynics pointed out that this was nothing more than a cost saving exercise and the teachers were delighted about not working with students right up until Christmas. But there was a catch.

In order to earn the privilege of an extra week off in the face of a public already convinced that teachers got too many holidays, the government invented some hoops for its teachers to jump through. This became known as the "37 and a 1/2 hours requirement" where accredited professional training and development to the minimum of 37 and a half hours had to be recorded and presented to the principal for verification before signing off early for the summer. The 37 and a 1/2 hours had to be done out of school hours in a teacher's own time so conferences and training done within the school day could not count. Teachers who failed to meet this requirement had to report for duty in what was formerly the last week of the year, sometimes to the local district office if the principal had their hours and had commenced their break!

Principals were also expected to ensure accountability in this system and asked to see certificates of attendance so that they in turn could not be accused of not playing this new game. This varied from school to school in its stringency. At my wife's school when this was introduced, only training aligned to the school's identified priorities could be counted - too bad if you had an interest or membership of a professional organisation that fell outside this parameter. On the other hand, I actually read the book "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People" and had it counted by my then principal as official PD good for about 15 hours. Oh, and he lent me the book as well!

So for many teachers, the 37 and a 1/2 hours has become a game to play - not for fun but to cynically satisfy the government's needs. I have heard of teachers going to workshops or cheap events to "get their hours up" which is sort of self-defeating if the process of Professional Development is to have any meaning. We all know that seat time and a paper certificate does not ensure that the participant has actually learnt anything of value and become a better practitioner because of it.

By the way, I don't have any problems getting 37 and a 1/2 hours of official PD to qualify. This year I had at least 50 hours of conferences, training events, seminars etc. and that did not include anything I did online. I'm not really sure how this scheme can recognise anything except for "traditional" modes of adult learning/training/PD. How many hours have I logged with my blog, reading the sharpest educational minds from around the world in my Reader, participating in online events (K12 Online etc.), listening to others, watching others etc..? Unless you have a principal who gets it (whatever "it" is) then all of this online interaction and networked learning is not real, not certifiable and does not qualify as proof of improvement as an educator. 

The powers that be that created and continue to perpetrate this sham have missed the point. As my principal pointed out in our leadership meeting on Tuesday, "The most powerful way for educators to learn (and grow) is from each other." My network is the biggest collection of "each other" that I could ever hope to learn from - any system that fails to recognise this as a manifestation of the most powerful learning available to its fleet of teachers has really missed the boat. 

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8 thoughts on “The 37 And A 1/2 Hours Sham

  1. Charlie A. Roy

    Thanks for sharing. I’m the principal of a school in the states and it is interesting hearing about the concern that teachers have too many holidays. Our own state has some interesting rules regarding professional development. Most of them seem aimed at making a few companies who provide these services money. You’re spot on with the power of a networked learning community.

  2. Doug Noon

    I like the idea of time spent with the personsl network counting as professional development, but schooling is about earning credit(s), not learning. The institution can’t deal with unauthorized learning.

  3. Tony Searl


    I blogged about the high quality professional development my PLN has afforded me since May08.Best I’ve had in 22years because we control it, its empowering and authentic.

    We posted a blog response during our (compulsory) second last day professional learning (to jump TPL hoops I think, but it was good), the audience thought how cute he’s online and doing techno geek stuff, but lets get back to serious real research work now.Boilied blood resulted.

    Sue and Tomaz so far have responded. Next year when I offer web2.0 PD for the keen teachers I want them to see these comments and the connections are with real educators doing real learning using web2.0 tools. Many just do not “get it”, yet, but my goal for 09 is to change that, slowly I guess.

    Your comment below is so true

    “Unless you have a principal who gets it (whatever “it” is) then all of this online interaction and networked learning is not real, not certifiable and does not qualify as proof of improvement as an educator”.

    I still need to use (waste?) expensive teacher professional learning funds from our school budget to attend f2f events which often then fall way short of the free sharing of my PLN world.

    Go figure which one earns the DET NSW accreditation points?

    A great post on exactly what i was discussing with my supportive Principal the other day, but he self admits he just does not get it.

  4. Colin Becker

    Hi Graham,
    Having a number of friends in the government system and hearing what some of them can do towards their 37.5 hours just acknowledges how it can not be properly monitored, especially in a large system.
    My school (non-governmen) encourages staff to do PD activities and has a set budget for these. Staff are encouraged to attend PD of their choice and many staff apply to go to local or interstate conferences.
    However, while we have to indicate on our form how we will share what we have discovered, there isn’t really any accountability after you have attended the PD.
    In 2009 we hope to start an appraisal system that has as one of its functions to target areas of PD. This could be an individual having a goal to improve in a certain area or it may reflect the needs of the school, or both. I belive that we will also need to report/reflect back on the PD and discuss whether it helped to meet the goal.
    Those of us in IT are hoping that the school will have some goals for all staff relating to the use of ICT in learning. However, we all know that as soon as somehting is mandated, people can dig their heels in.
    I would also like to see staff encouraged to keep a reflective journal (hopefully in blog form) about their professional learning and their growth as teachers. While I wouldn’t like to see the 37.5 rule applied, in some ways (for those who do reflect) it could be a good thing.

  5. Graham Wegner

    Thanks for your perspective, Colin. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of compelling educators to keep improving their professional knowledge and skills but contend that the DECS scheme is so rubbery and entrenched towards rewarding seat time courses and workshops, as opposed to connective learning as can be found on the web.

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  7. Jean-Louis Bontront

    Thanks for this article.
    I’ve never been that interested in what other school systems do in terms of encouraging their teachers to do meaningful professional development.
    You are being forced by a system that is so unfair! It de-emphasizes so many other _very_valuable avenues of professional development.

    Although I’ve been teaching for many years now (18, but don’t tell anyone!), I’ve just started my own on-line PLN. A colleague turned me on to Twitter and starting my own blog. What I have learned in the past couple of months has got me thinking “why didn’t I do this earlier???”.

    BTW, I’ve added your blog to my blogroll. You’ll be playing a roll in my own professional development in the future! Thanks!

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