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PD time is essential for teachers, especially this year--here are three things that can help teachers embrace professional learning opportunities

Do your teachers think PD is a dirty word?


PD time is essential for teachers, especially this year--here are three things that can help teachers embrace professional learning opportunities

This past year, teachers were introduced to a lot of new technology to help facilitate distance learning. And, because of this, professional development (PD) time often morphed into technical training–how to use Zoom, how to best utilize a new learning app or software program, how to troubleshoot student device issues.

With so much on teachers’ plates, this so-called PD became draining. Teachers simply couldn’t spend any more valued time learning yet another new program. And they weren’t getting the important support they needed to make tactical pedagogical shifts for their evolving learning spaces.

Heading into a new school year, we have a chance to hit the reset button to restore true PD time into teachers’ schedules.

Yes, technical training is important. But, technical training shouldn’t be used as a synonym for professional learning. It does not provide the same benefits to teaching and learning as does research-based PD.

For school and district leaders, it is important not to conflate the concepts of technical training and PD. Carve out time this year for the types of professional learning that will lead to better student outcomes. 

Align professional development to teachers’ needs… by asking them

PD is all about making teachers feel supported and giving them the tools needed to continuously improve their instructional practice. And, this coming school year, teachers will undoubtedly need extra support. How can they connect with students entering back into the classroom? What instructional strategies can they use to accelerate learning? How can they build strong and collaborative relationships with their colleagues after months of working online?

We can all make guesses, but do you really know what’s on top of your teachers’ priority list? There’s an obvious but easy way to find out… ask them!

It will be especially important for building leaders and coaches to have open dialog with teachers about what they are feeling and where they need extra help, and then really home in on these areas of need during the PD time.

Provide feedback on actual teaching and teachers’ attempts to implement change

Providing targeted, data-driven feedback to teachers is at the heart of the PD process and is one of the best ways to support instructional improvement in the areas teachers need it most. To deliver this feedback and build collective teacher efficacy, systems need to be in place to talk about actual events from classrooms and develop a shared definition of successful classrooms.

After more than a year of hybrid and online teaching, it’s safe to say teachers are more than familiar with teaching on video, so now they should start recording that teaching and start talking about it! This is a statement that applies to both in-classroom and online teaching.

The use of video reflection ensures that reflections are grounded in fact versus memory, a benefit for teachers and those providing feedback. A video does not have an opinion—it’s a mirror for the teacher on what truly happened.

Whether it is an entire lesson or a short three-minute snippet, video recordings enable teachers to self-reflect on their own practice. And, they enable instructional coaches and colleagues to comment on specific moments in time or evidence related to the teacher’s learning goals. This video-powered process allows for really granular feedback on practices that may have been missed during a traditional in-person observation.

Design PD to give teachers a choice in their own learning

In addition to providing teachers with needed feedback and support, PD should give teachers a voice in their own learning. This empowers teachers as they work to reach their individual goals.

Choice boards are one way to help facilitate teacher-directed learning. With choice boards, teachers are essentially provided with a menu of professional learning experiences they can choose from and work on throughout the school year. Do they want to work on strategies for increasing student engagement? Or work on lesson delivery and pacing? Choice boards give them the option.

Keller Independent School District has implemented choice boards with great success. At the district, the boards specifically help guide participating teachers on how they’d like to implement video coaching into their learning plans during each phase of the year. This could include sharing video of different aspects of their lesson design or video of them delivering an actual lesson, for example.

With choice boards, teachers are able to select what – and how – they will learn. Plus, it allows for more targeted and personalized coaching cycles.

As always, setting proper expectations and being intentional about what PD is (and what it is not) is important. So while teachers will most certainly need technical training and support this school year, they, more importantly, will need PD time that focuses on instructional best practices, collaboration, and reflection. This is what is going to really support and accelerate their practice.

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Adam Geller

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