According to research from the Center for Public Education, “one-and-done” professional development sessions for teachers simply don’t work. With new standards rolling out every year, a one-class-covers-all approach just won’t cut it anymore. Educators aren’t that different from their students when it comes to their learning, so why should they be expected to learn everything at once instead of gradually, as they hope their students can?
Ongoing professional learning opportunities that provide teachers with constant access to support through continually improving online and offline resources are essential for truly effective instruction.
However, many of us still get stuck when attempting to approach this topic. It’s not unusual for a district to assume that teacher learning is straightforward, something that can be covered quickly and checked off in day.
But when you consider the rate of evolving practices, a teacher expected to learn a new method they’ve just been introduced to needs as much time and attention dedicated to learning it as they hope to give to their students. Professional learning, if it’s to work well, must support its teachers during the steepest part of their learning curve: the implementation stage.
Knowing the basic concept of a method isn’t enough. They must be taught how to apply it effectively. A study conducted in 2002 by Joyce and Showers showed that teachers needed an average 20 separate instances of practice before being able to master a new skill. And isn’t that what we want from our educators when teaching our children—to be masters of what they teach, instead of simply knowing the basics?
Here are four best practices to push your PD in the right direction:
1. Collaborative Learning
Districts can start by simplifying their effort through teacher collaboration. Your staff will be the ones applying the method first-hand, so it makes sense that you’ll see their best results by enlisting their input and involvement. Giving your educators a voice and a choice in the PD development and application process during this early stage is not only super impactful for them, but it will help teachers to be more engaged with their learning later on.
Adults learn best when the subject they’re learning is relevant to their interests and needs and when they can observe other colleagues enacting the same technique they’re trying to learn. To accomplish both these goals, PD courses can be taught in a professional learning community (PLC) to help the teachers involved learn together.
Creating an in-school PLC gives teachers an environment where they are encouraged to think creatively and innovatively about best practices and their approach to teaching. Communities like these allow teachers in similar content areas to support one another while learning to implement the new practices as a team. PLCs transform several teachers learning separately on their own into a team of educators who help coach one another and learn and grow together.
(Next page: 3 more PD best practices)
2. Creative Engagement
To fully engage learning educators, PD should be tailored to the content areas they teach. Collaborative teacher learning is another great way to kick-start engagement just by opening the door for teachers to engage with each other.
Other, more subtle techniques, such as incorporating humor or using puzzles with the lessons, can take that engagement so much farther. Teachers are natural problem-solvers and learn effectively if the lesson is presented in a problem format. Not only can this encourage team-building and creative thinking, but it’s a way to get those involved deeply immersed in the method itself. They become part of the learning process, not just someone to be fed information.
3. Goals That Feel Important
Ongoing professional development allows for goal-setting that can boost teacher engagement and retention. Many PLCs find success when, through their collaboration, they establish a plan for their PD with set learning goals and outcomes along the way. Benchmarks like these encourage further teacher involvement through goal-tracking and self-monitored improvement.
A few things to consider with this approach:
- Start from the end and work backwards.
- Communicate the goals to those involved.
- Ensure that the goals feel important to all team members involved.
- Spread it out: we never learn something by looking at it once.
- Encourage teachers to come back with questions, share what they have learned, apply the successes, and try new things.
4. Online Access
Once you’ve made the effort to offer ongoing PD in an engaging, collaborative environment, you owe it to yourself to make materials easy to access. Online access is the simplest approach.
When I was developing the Online Professional Development Course for Reading Horizons, we knew we wanted to provide access to our teachers anytime and anywhere they needed it.
Having a resource that your team can log on to from their computers, laptops, and even smartphones means that even when they’re away from the support of their PLC, they can feel assured that they still have the resources they need. This could inspire them to take a quick refresher on a technique they learned a few weeks ago, or watch a short demonstrational video to remember the visuals for applying a certain technique. Online courses like these should always be at their fingertips, not only to boost their confidence in what they’re teaching but to help ensure that no matter the circumstance, they’ll always be prepared to masterfully teach essential methods and technology to the students who need it.