Empowering educators: 9 facets of more effective and lasting Professional Development

Informed by shifting pedagogies, and expanded by new technologies, professional development for K-12 educators is undergoing a sea change. Teachers and administrators are facing new challenges as well as opportunities as learning models move from instruction-focused and passive, to student-centered and active.

Today, the business of educating youth and adolescents is becoming less about seat time and hours-based professional learning — and more about acquiring and demonstrating increasingly complex competencies. Yes, only 29 percent of teachers are reportedly highly satisfied with their current professional development offerings, according to the NewSchools Venture Fund, leaving plenty of room for PD progression. Teachers want PD that is frequent, relevant, interactive, and delivered by experts who “get it”.

An estimated $18 billion is spent annually on PD, and teachers spend around 89 hours each year on district and self-guided professional learning, according to the Gates Foundation. At the same time, teachers are being asked to play dual roles as both Technicians who parlay research-based instructional systems, and as Intellectuals who study and apply innovations to their profession.

Teacher quality has a large effect on student performance. One study shows a 53 percent difference in academic achievement based on the performance of the teacher. Administrators need to ensure students receive instruction from consistently highly qualified educators who pursue continuous improvement of their art. What’s more, continuous PD should be sustained by means of clear and coherent 1- or 2-year plans that are reviewed at least on an annual basis.

Devoting time to evidence-based, teacher-driven professional development

Professional development is a top priority among 74 percent of school districts officials, principals and teachers. Districts are looking at more effective strategies for implementing professional learning opportunities — and they want them to be anchored in a clearly articulated purpose and desired future state — for instance, improvement metrics can help gauge the impact on student learning.

Nine up-and-coming facets of PD are transforming the way teachers teach, and driving higher student performance, to meet rigorous testing and higher accountability.

1. Personalized PD. Time-strapped as ever, educators are exploring different avenues of learning and creating individualized pathways. PD is becoming re-imagined as educators turn away from one-size static content, toward peer-led, personalized, and simulation-based instruction. PD is often on-the-go, designed in real-time, every day and in context. Many blended-environment approaches afford a multiplicity of ways to gain and absorb learning, according to the teacher’s own choices. Customizable curricula, online training, and just-in-time embedded courses are enhancing PD. Each teacher’s Individual Professional Development Plan (IPDP) can specify some innovative, customized actions. For instance, allowing each staff member to select from a range of options for institute days is effective and motivating.

2. Advanced collaboration. Teacher collaboration and peer feedback support the development and use of high-quality curricula. Experimental and highly effective collaboration devices including PLCs (professional learning communities), learn-from-anywhere MOOCs (massive open online courses), and peer-based online learning portals are helping increase student achievement. PLCs are incorporating protocols to help shape focused and productive conversations, and to keep educators on track. Plenty of PD communities exist to offer educator-focused content like EdSurge, YouCubed, BloomBoard, LearnZillion; while others offer opportunities for simulation, such as Aspire, Edthema, and TeachLivE. Social learning communities like Edmodo are enabling district-wide collaboration. PLCs and learning management systems facilitate engagement post-training — so educators continue to share resources, successes, and challenges from the classroom.

3. Data-driven learning. Today’s teacher evaluations are fueled by data-based feedback to more precisely guide and improve instructional delivery. Evidence-based professional development is becoming more common, as digital tools and assessments, to video capture of teaching, are creating opportunities for evaluating and refining instruction. Adaptive digital assessments can be utilized for both educators and their students.

4. Alternative credentialing. New ways of approaching certification and course-based learning are driven by a growing call for competency-based learning. Educator micro-credentials that verify knowledge, skills and abilities developed is predicted to impact teacher licensure and certification in coming years. New options in micro-credentialing like nanodegrees, micro-degrees and microcredits bring fractional learning in byte-sized chunks. Media-rich courses of study are incorporating ebundles, home-delivered labs, and digital simulations.

5. Leadership expertise. Creating new PD roles for your district’s competency-area specialists, developing expert teachers as peer tutors, forming school improvement teams, and leveraging the skills of outside consultants, can all raise professional learning to new levels. Veteran teachers can lead PD sessions around what they learned at workshops, classes and conferences to share perspective and knowledge with beginning and middle-of-the-road teachers. Blended coaching models using onsite consulting and job-embedded instructional coaching and workshops are bringing new learning practices into action.

6. Curriculum co-creation. Some school visionaries are shifting from consumers of pre-canned methodologies and training programs to become creators in the learning process. The techniques of makerspaces, challenge- and project-based learning, user-generated videos, and entrepreneurial education can create new PD opportunities and vehicles. As schools transform learning, redesigning learning experiences and experimental, neo-millennial learning spaces are critical investments.

7. Higher relevance. With more emphasis on common standards and assessment for improving student achievement, professional learning needs to elevate these skill areas and make a deeper connection to drive more effective college and career prep. No matter your views on Common Core State Standards, they remain at the core of PD priorities. CCSS, together with core curriculum areas differentiated instruction, and technology integration, received top ratings from educators polled by Education Market Research. When EMR asked teachers which new PD programs they want most, the top answers were implementing common core standards (31.9%), improving student achievement (18.7%), and implementing new assessment related to standards (11%).

8. Holistic embrace. Comprehensive learning approaches to accommodate the “whole student” are essential, especially with the increasing diversity of the student body. From a child’s perspective, school, extracurricular activities and home are part of the continuous experience of life. Adults need to look at growth as a collaboration following a clear developmental path, to give each child a better chance at a life filled with choices and the skills to achieve goals, according to a report from the University of Chicago. Great PD needs to address ways of dealing with special needs, stress, trauma, school-to-home communication, and wraparound services — all increasingly vital to academic success.

9. Edtech integration. The technology cycle never stops. Eighty-one percent of US districts are planning to implement 1:1 digital solutions through 2017/2018, and 4 in 5 teenagers age 13–18 carry smart phones. Teachers need to learn continuously to keep up, and to give kids guidance in using tech to learn. Teachers are adopting handheld computing devices both as a portal to instructional content and to augment their capabilities. Online learning modules as “PD in PJs” are being utilized more than ever to keep teachers current with professional development. Cloud computing, mobile, open content, and learning analytics are areas where educators need a higher grasp to keep up with a nimble technology trajectory. When evaluating commercial curriculum programs, check to make sure that PD is embedded into every edtech tool and digital program.

Last, but not least, make sure you leverage the growing body of open source, association, and media-based professional learning resources. Webinars, virtual events, and live conferences can inform your personalized PD path, including those from Edutopia, Education Week, District Administration, and ASCD to name a few. Check out Twitter chats while you’re on the run at #EdChat, #EdTechChat, #iPadEd, #DigCit, and #FlipClass.

On-demand and live webinars from McGraw-Hill Education feature expert authors and educators discussing leading topics in preK-12 education: 1:1 teaching, adaptive learning, Common Core State Standards (CCSS), digital curricula, educational technology, English language arts, mathematics, Google tools for educators, personalized learning, science, social media, social studies, standards-based programs, STEM, teacher and administrator professional development, and more.

Ultimately, PD must elevate top skills, and advance student learning. Whether delivered online or in classrooms, sufficient time should be dedicated to allow teachers to practice and construct learning opportunities for students which reflect the pedagogy stressed in the PD. This way, new ideas are gained, learning is sustained, and outcomes achieved.

By Dawn Haskins-Powell

McGraw-Hill Education

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