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)