The Three Most Common Types of Teacher Professional Development and How to Make Them Better
Challenge and Opportunity
According to Schoology's 2017 Global State of Digital Learning survey, the number one challenge faced by school administrators is to provide professional development that is both relevant and effective. Your aim must be to create professional learning opportunities that are meaningful to teachers, can be implemented and sustained, and that lead to increased student learning.
The top three types of teacher professional development are periodic workshops, in-class observation, and single session workshops. Each can be substantially improved by keeping a few general principles in mind.
Elements of Effective PD
Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner identified several key elements of effective teacher professional development:
- Focus on content. Provide PD that supports specific instructional strategies in specific subjects. For example, an English language arts session might help teachers understand student metacognition as applied to Julius Caesar and help teachers structure lessons accordingly.
- Create opportunities for active learning. The theory of andragogy tells us that adults have a need to direct themselves, use prior experience, solve real-world problems, and to immediately apply new learning to current job responsibilities. Adults have an innate need for opportunities to develop autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work.
- Support work-embedded collaboration. PD that helps educators develop peer observation strategies, data teaming communication protocols, co-teaching models, and more.
- Model best practices. Just like a tell me, show me, involve me strategy can work with students, moving to modeling and application instead of "sit-and-get" lecture-based professional development can be powerful for adult learners.
- Coach and support. Instructional coaching is a non-evaluative way to create opportunities for ongoing observation, feedback, reflection, and improved practice, whether provided by experienced colleagues or external consultants.
- Incorporate feedback and reflective practice. Providing teachers with substantive, specific, and timely feedback--and providing them with adequate time to reflect and act upon that feedback--is a best practice for instructional improvement.
- Deliver the PD over a period of time. The one-shot PD session is the kiss of professional death when it's not paired with ongoing support and engagement. One workshop does not a major instructional initiative make. A strategic release over a period of time is much stronger.
How to Improve Periodic Workshops
There is often a disconnect between introducing a new idea, implementing said idea, and sustaining that implementation. We must move beyond periodic workshops to ongoing professional development implemented with support over a period of time.
The Center for Public Education reported that allotting a significant amount of time—perhaps as much as 50 hours—gives teachers the chance to demonstrate mastery of a new instructional strategy. Teachers should be active, not passive, during that time.
Which do you think is more effective: reviewing a PowerPoint and reading examples about the integration of technology into lesson plans or actively building a Webquest with a future lesson in mind, peer reviewing the results, sharing the work with students, and getting back together to reflect on learning outcomes? Ongoing, active, continuous PD wins the day.
How to Improve In-Class Observations
Observation is a fantastic way to learn new things, and teachers don't usually struggle to learn new things! The main struggle lies in implementing new techniques. You can go next door and watch your colleague teach an inspiring lesson using a KWL literacy strategy or simulation activity, but that won't necessarily translate into action.
Again, ongoing support is key. To increase implementation, working with a coach to implement and debrief following the use of a new strategy can make all the difference. A coach can shadow the teacher as they observe another class, model skills, assist with implementation, and provide substantive feedback.
Another key is clearly articulating (and agreeing on) what learning should look like with a new technique or tool before setting faculty loose with it. Having a clear definition and expectations along with a detailed rubric that will be used in observation and evaluation matters immensely.
Teachers also need school leaders to provide them with the most valuable resource--time--to be able to observe their colleagues during the school day. This can be achieved with special schedules, rotating substitutes, and more.
How to Improve Single Session Workshops
Trying to put on a "magic bullet" workshop or seminar can be exhausting and ultimately futile. Single-session workshops are often woefully misaligned to the actual needs of teachers. You know the drill--the entire faculty gathers in a sizable room and receives one large-group PD session. There is usually not enough time for teachers to discuss ideas, nor adequate follow-up to implement and sustain new strategies.
Why not let teachers take the lead? Through the formation of teacher-led professional learning communities, teachers can create and discuss instructional techniques within an environment characterized by ongoing supportive mentorship and turn the single session workshop into a powerhouse for instructional improvement.
The Importance of Modeling and the Power of Your LMS
You have the ability to transform the typical PD quagmire. First, remember to look for opportunities to show and involve teachers as new instructional practices are modeled. This will help them translate high-level ideas into classroom practice.
Additionally, you likely have one more untapped resource at your disposal. When planning improved PD opportunities, don't forget about your learning management system (LMS). Nearly half of respondents to the Global State of Digital Learning study report that the LMS they use for classroom instruction is not being used for staff professional development. By following the recommendations above and activating the full potential of your LMS, you can immediately impact all types of teacher professional development and make them more meaningful, productive, and sustainable long into the future.
What types of teacher professional development have you been a part of as an educator? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @Schoology