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Here are three ideas to help district and school leaders make the most of teacher PD solutions

Why cheap teacher PD costs you more money in the long run

Here are three ideas to help district and school leaders make the most of teacher PD solutions

There’s a lesson about return on investment hidden in the humble classroom pencil. That’s right–the pencil.

Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you definitively that all pencils are not created equal.

There are cheap pencils with soft lead that breaks too easily and erasers that smudge writing instead of removing it.

Then there are name-brand pencils that feature strong graphite that breaks less often and top-quality erasers for clean corrections.

Yes, those name-brand pencils might cost a bit more money up front, but everyone will tell you they are better at achieving their intended purpose with less waste. They are cost-effective because they help teachers (and students) achieve the goal with less total cost. Those pencils provide a better return on investment.

This same analysis can be made for just about any type of investment school or district leaders need to make, including investments in professional learning to support educator growth.

This is even truer when technology is involved, as there are many teacher PD options that advertise they’re cheap, but may not deliver much to any return on investment if teachers don’t find the tools helpful and personalized to their needs. Cheap PD does not equate to cost-effective PD, as district leaders may ultimately need to spend more in the long-run to help teachers progress in their professional learning.

Below are three ideas that will help district and school leaders make both strategic and cost-effective purchasing decisions related to professional development platforms.

PD technology should play nicely with teaching technology

There’s a common mantra to avoid “yet another platform” for teachers. This isn’t because another platform is inherently a bad idea, but because there are too many platforms that aren’t adding value for teachers and that another platform can feel like something extra, outside the day-to-day routine.

Professional development “library of resources” or “on-demand training” are the most likely types of platforms to get dusty and go unused. Instead, invest in a teacher PD platform that integrates into teachers’ workflows to help them achieve their professional learning goals.

Take for example the use of web conferencing tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx, and Google Meet that teachers have been using to teach online and hybrid-learning students. Even as many schools return to in-person teaching, these platforms will continue to have some place in teaching moving forward.

So while we’ve mostly been thinking of these as tools for teaching, video conferencing software can also be a tool for professional learning when you use those videos as part of a video observation and video coaching process.

With only one extra button-click, teachers can record one Zoom-teaching video, upload it to the video observation and reflection platform, and share it with their coach or peers for feedback. Video observation offers a way to integrate more opportunities for self-reflection and streamlines the process of receiving feedback from others.

Teacher feedback data that helps teachers and leaders drive decision making

Part of professional learning is reflecting on one’s teaching practice. There are a variety of tools for capturing “feedback to teachers,” but there are only a few tools that will help transform that feedback into something meaningful for the teachers’ ongoing professional development.

District leaders should look first for professional development platforms that provide robust and targeted data for teachers’ own use. Yes, having a district-wide dashboard is important, but ensuring the feedback process is generating valuable insights for teachers is part of what will drive teachers to continue to use the platforms outside of a compliance context.

With the right data dashboard, coaches and administrators will also be able to answer important questions like:

  • Is our feedback aligned to our priorities?
  • How much feedback are teachers receiving?
  • How are teachers collaborating outside of formal settings?
  • What professional skills are we measuring most often?
  • And, what professional skills are teachers prioritizing when they set goals?

Based on these answers, coaches and administrators can make adjustments as needed to further enhance the professional learning experience for their teachers.

Teacher PD platforms need to help teachers meet professional development goals

There’s always a lot on teachers’ plates, and sometimes making progress on professional development goals can fall by the wayside because of other priorities. Technology can help keep these goals front and center and, as a result, help teachers better work toward–and meet–those goals.

District leaders should look for programs that help teachers set goals aligned to professional standards and track their progress.

For example, if a district is prioritizing “use of academic language in the content area,” then it’s important to enable teachers to set goals against that specific prioritized skill area and also to collect evidence related to that goal. This alignment helps transform the “priority initiative” idea from a bullet point in a staff meeting to an action plan in the classroom.

Tools that help teachers align their goals with teaching standards also create an easier throughline in the data between individually-developed teacher PD plans and the bigger-picture goals of a school or district. This means teachers will feel confident their individual learning efforts are going to “count” when it comes to talking about progress in an end-of-year evaluation conversation or getting PD credit for time invested.

It goes without saying that implementing any new technology can be a big decision, but when it comes to something as important as professional development, the cheap option does not mean it’s the best option. And, as always, supporting the growth of teachers is an investment worth making.

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Adam Geller

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