When I started teaching in the early 90s, I was an eager and very green third grade teacher ready to change the world, one class at a time. My colleagues and I worked hard to build a learning community that met the needs of our students, no matter their circumstances or the resources at our disposal (or lack thereof).
Since then, I have served in various roles in public education and the private sector and have witnessed innovations in curriculum, instructional design, classroom design, and more. But amid all this change, one area has remained relatively static in public education. When it comes to training and developing teachers, we have been letting opportunity to leverage technology pass us by. Instead of a place to break new ground and match the demands of the modern classroom, professional development programs remain a pain point for teachers.
More than half of teachers have expressed wanting to leave the profession, with many citing a lack of quality development and support as a contributing factor. Teacher PD feels obligatory, generic, time-consuming, and for many, out of reach.
So, what can we do? I propose three ways to address the professional development needs of teachers today:
Increase Teacher Choice
As a former principal, I know that data and district mandates can determine the focus and timing of professional development. The increased focus on social-emotional learning as we emerge from the pandemic is a great example school and district PD requirements. Administrators are right to equip their teams with SEL trainings and resources, but teachers also face myriad challenges unique to their classrooms that aren’t being met in the moment.
According to a 2014 study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 38 percent of teachers cited “learning that is not customized enough” to the content they teach and the skills they need as a barrier in their professional learning. However, teachers who choose all or most of their professional learning opportunities are more than twice as satisfied with professional development as those with fewer options.
Teachers need the ability to create a personalized teacher PD experience that not only serves their school or district goals but also helps them best support every student in their classroom.
Offer Resource-Efficient Solutions
According to reports, many teachers say that outside of a handful of in-service professional development days provided by their districts, they have to pay for their own professional development. Some even have to take personal or sick days to get the PD they want or need. Consider, too, that they spend more than 65 hours annually on these activities.
As technology has infiltrated our lives and our classrooms, we have not adequately leveraged it to support the growth and development of our teachers. We need teacher PD that doesn’t pull them away from their students and families, and that doesn’t force them to dig deep into their own pockets. By delivering content online and on-demand we can reduce time teachers are spending out of the classroom and give them the flexibility to meet their PD goals in ways that serve them, and their students.
Improve Relevance and Timeliness
Today, teachers juggle an ever-growing list of demands on their time and energy: curating lessons, preparing for standardized tests, and serving as counselors, coaches, and confidantes, all while navigating staff shortages, COVID protocols, and cultural discord the likes of which my generation never confronted in the classroom. Despite this, 50 percent of all teachers feel current PD does not improve outcomes There’s a sense of urgency and timeliness to get teachers what they need to serve the kids they have.
Rather than having to wait for the next teacher workday to address what they’re facing in the classroom this week, teachers should have real-time access to diverse topics in the form of on-demand, personalized teacher PD content with a focus on preparation and planning, data-driven practices, instructional environment, and building relationships
A lot has indeed changed in education over the past three decades. We must innovate the ways in which we support and develop our teachers. Communities across the country are already grappling with teacher shortages. If these challenges are left unaddressed, it could lead to further exodus from the profession at a time when the nation needs quality teachers more than ever. We cannot shy away from this for another 30 years.
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