As teachers are faced with new instructional demands due to new standards and new technology initiatives, professional development plays a pivotal role in educators’ success.
While some districts have created engaging programs that support and nurture educators, others struggle to move away from one-size-fits-all programs.
When professional development is grounded in research and relies on examples of successful educator practice, everyone wins.
As school leaders seek to develop professional development programs and partners to bring those programs to fruition, Dr. Karen Beerer, vice president of learning and development for Discovery Education and a former teacher, principal, and supervisor of curriculum and professional development, offers a few considerations to keep in mind.
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1. Alignment to school goals. What are you looking to accomplish, and how does professional development align with that? “When the district succeeds, the vendor succeeds,” Beerer said.
2. Focus on communication. A very strong communication plan goes hand-in-hand with alignment. Along with new directions in curriculum, it’s important to communicate how a new initiative meets learning goals, because this will make professional development more effective for educators. How does the professional learning you’re using align with goals?
3. Emphasize competency. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all professional development. Professional development should empower teachers to identify where they are, what their target is, and what steps they should take to progress to the target.
4. Ensure professional development is ongoing and sustained. “It can’t be just one shot in the arm,” Beerer said. “How do you build ongoing systemic professional development with sustainability built in?” Job-embedded support must exist, including working side-by-side with teachers and supporting them in trial and error, especially as it pertains to incorporating digital technologies into instruction.
5. Make sure professional development is grounded in research-based practices. This is particularly important when it comes to digital technologies, which can be simply a shiny new toy if they aren’t backed by research. For instance, Beerer said, virtual reality is one of the latest educational technologies to spring up in classrooms. It would be tempting to dive in, but it’s essential that research proves how this technology influences learning. And as it happens, there is research proving that virtual reality can close learning gaps and help students build background knowledge. The next step, then, would be to focus professional learning on the best instructional practices using virtual reality.
6. Use reflection. Digital technologies, platforms and online communities of practice make it even easier for teachers to reflect with their colleagues. School leaders and professional development directors should be able to identify what learning looks like in their professional learning programs.
7. Don’t forget about collaboration. How is the professional learning engaging teachers with collaboration? And collaboration means not just subject-area or grade-level colleagues, but also whole-school collaboration or even K-12 collaboration. “Digital technologies give us the opportunity to collaborate beyond school walls,” Beerer said.