In a recent conversation, a teacher remarked that teaching isn’t rocket science, it’s harder! For anyone who has spent any time in a classroom, they know this is true!
Teaching is a complex and challenging job. Educators are tasked with knowing their content and pedagogy. They must understand child development and how people learn. Add to that the ever-changing external factors of local, state, and federal requirements, and it can be downright overwhelming.
To help teachers be the most effective educator they can be, it is critical they receive ongoing, high-quality professional development throughout their careers.
The term professional development has evolved and is often referred to as professional learning. While professional development signifies something that “happens to” teachers, professional learning indicates that teachers are part of the process – interacting and grappling with new ideas and practicing them in the context of their teaching.
In 2015, the term professional development was included in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and defined, in part as, activities that
“... [provide] educators with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to succeed…and to meet the challenging State academic standards; and are sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused,...”
While Stephanie Hirsch, former executive director of Learning Forward, admitted the term ‘activities’ falls short of the concept that professional development is a continuous learning journey, the fact that the term is now included in federal policy validates the importance of professional development in teacher growth.
Although schools are typically associated with student learning, schools should be places of learning for adults as well! When educators are involved in a continuous cycle of learning, everyone benefits!
A review of research related to teacher professional development highlighted several benefits.
Student outcomes – Several studies agree that the most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher and that teacher quality is impacted by sustained and intensive professional development. Research shows that high-quality professional development opportunities lead to better instruction and improved student achievement 1. As such, schools and districts should allocate resources to increase opportunities for job-embedded professional learning.
Teacher knowledge – Teachers must be supported across the continuum of their careers. In the initial stages of their educational career, the novice teacher benefits from professional development in the form of an induction program.
The hallmark of an effective induction program is one that nurtures the novice teacher while nudging them to learn and improve their teaching practice 2. Over the following stages of their career, professional development serves to help teachers remain current and relevant in their teaching practice as opposed to being reliant on outdated and ineffective teaching strategies.
Instructional practices – As times change, so does our knowledge base of how people learn. Professional development can allow teachers to explore and develop new skills while honing old skills related to pedagogy. A skilled teacher continues to grow and refine their delivery methods, creating vibrant classrooms where each student thrives.
All professional development is not created equal. In a 2017 study from the Learning Policy Institute, Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues outlined the features of effective professional development defined as “structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practices and improvements in student learning outcomes”. In part they found the features to include:
Content-focused – Discipline-specific professional development focuses on the content teachers teach, thus making the learning relevant to their context. Examples of this type of PD include piloting new curriculum and resources, examining student work, or studying content-specific pedagogical approaches. When aligned to school and district priorities and offered in a job-embedded context, teachers are better able to move from theory to practice.
Incorporates active learning, modeling, and coaching – Adult learning theory posits that adults are motivated to learn when they know why they are learning something, have opportunities to engage with new learning, and are supported during the implementation phase of learning. By interacting with new learning, adults are better able to make sense of and incorporate the learning into their practice.
This type of PD does not occur in a traditional, stand-alone workshop. Rather, learning best happens in an ongoing and job-embedded format including opportunities such as video or written case studies, peer observations, model classrooms, and one-on-one coaching.
Through these structures, teachers develop a better understanding of what best practices look like in the context of their classroom. The Eduplanet21 PLUS Authors share many best practices and real-world examples in their Professional Learning Institutes.
Supports collaboration –Another powerful model for professional learning happens in a collaborative setting. When teachers have the opportunity to reflect and explore with colleagues, social capital is built. A driving force in teacher collaboration is a professional learning community (PLC). Providing time and space for teachers to meet and participate in recurring cycles of inquiry around student learning is proven to impact student outcomes.
During these cycles of inquiry, teachers examine data, set learning goals, and implement, monitor, and adjust new learning practices to meet the needs of all learners. Through this process, teachers can experience what is working and what is not in the context of student learning.
PLCs are easily created within Eduplanet21’s professional learning platform. Participants are encouraged to engage with others in their institute - and have opportunities for global collaboration with other Eduplanet21 customers.
Sustained with time for reflection and feedback – Finally, effective professional development is rooted in continuous learning over time. Learning is enhanced through feedback loops which provide avenues for reflection, checks for understanding, and are specific and non-evaluative. It is critical to create a safe space for teachers to grapple with new learning, as they positively impact their teaching practice.
Eduplanet21 calls their institutes “living, breathing learning communities.” Through the established structure, participants can return to the topics to see “what’s new” and continue their engagement with one another.
The role of a thought leader is to share their expertise and research, exposing us to new ideas, and different ways of thinking, perhaps challenging the status quo. Thanks to technology and the internet, the ability to collaborate with others across the globe is now a reality.
Whether it be through social media, webinars, podcasts, or online events, thought leaders are creating pathways that can be leveraged for professional learning. With Eduplanet21’s PLUS Institutes, schools and districts have access to many educational thought leaders including Carol Tomlinson, Jay McTighe, Bena Kallick, Krista Leh, Mike Anderson, and more. With Allie Rodman's Personalized Professional Learning Institute, school and district leaders can learn how to create and maintain a more purposeful approach to professional learning.
Teachers who build a career in education spend over three decades engaged in the practice of teaching, During that time, they interact with hundreds of students. To positively impact teaching and learning over time, teachers must be provided with opportunities for high-quality professional development that is sustained and embedded in the context of student learning. The result will be robust and effective communities of practice in which both the students and the adults continue to learn and grow.
If you are interested in how Eduplanet21 can be your partner in delivering professional learning from thought leaders on an easy-to-use platform, please contact us.
Dr. Lori Stollar has served as a Director of Curriculum & Technology, a Professional Development Specialist, adjunct professor, and high school social studies teacher. She recently retired after having served 35 years in public education.
Lori is passionate about helping teachers and school leaders positively impact student learning. Her research interests are in professional learning communities, collective teacher efficacy, and classroom instruction.
1 Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., Garder, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional
Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
2 Nolan, J.F., & Hoover, L.A., (2010). Teacher supervision and evaluation: Theory into
practice (3rd ed.) John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
3 Leana, C.R. (2011). The missing link in school reform. Stanford Social Innovation
Review. Fall 2011. DOI: 10.48558/t2gn-2980