The best teacher professional development happens in collaborative learning communities.
Terms like “work collaboratively,” “share what you know,” and “problem-solve as a team” are commonly associated with the kinds of 21st-century skills that most people agree today’s students should learn—but according to a professional development expert with decades of experience in the field, those terms should apply to teachers, too.
During the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education, Stephanie Hirsch, executive director of Learning Forward (formerly known as the National Staff Development Council), discussed how her organization has redefined its standards for teacher professional development to keep up with what is being expected of today’s students.
“What we mean by PD is not some one-off seminar,” Hirsch said. “So many times I hear people say, ‘This was a waste of time. Nothing changed.’ Well, … PD is only as good as its implementation. So let me tell you what we know: PD [should be] ongoing, and it means teachers collectively sharing the responsibility for all students—from grades to lesson plans—and that happens by implementing teacher teams that meet up regularly.”
Hirsch encouraged school district leaders to think of teacher professional development as…
• The glue that fosters collective responsibility for the success of all students;
• The system for engaging all teachers in learning teams committed to continuous improvement; and
• The great equalizer that ensures that all—not just some—students experience great teaching.
“How many times have we heard of principals talking to parents [who are] concerned about what teacher their child will get?” asked Hirsch. “Imagine if this school had collaborative teacher teams using their meetings for continuous PD to foster student learning improvement and achievement. What if the principal could say, ‘I know your child will receive the best education from any of our teachers, because our teachers work as a team to take responsibility for your child and meet continuously to discuss all students in the grade, not just the students part of his or her class.’ Imagine how much better the parent would feel?”