Professional development is the process of improving a teacher's knowledge, skills, and practices through ongoing training and education.
It is a critical component of a teacher's career development and helps them to stay up-to-date with the latest research and technological advancements in education.
Professional development opportunities provide teachers with new teaching strategies and techniques that help improve student learning.
It also helps them develop new skills and knowledge that help enhance career opportunities.
Professional development can be implemented in many ways such as, through workshops, online courses, or conferences.
In this guide, we’ll explore teacher professional development extensively. We’ll discuss how to make the most of it and how to implement it so it's beneficial to teachers and their students.
What Is Professional Development?
Professional development is the ongoing process of learning and acquiring new knowledge, skills, and competencies that enable an individual to enhance their professional performance and career prospects.
For educators, professional development opportunities can take many forms. For example, attending conferences, taking courses, participating in training programs, getting new certifications, and networking with colleagues in the field.
Teachers must engage in professional development to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in teacher practice, advancements, and best practices in education.
Teacher professional development seems like a waste of their already limited time due to the following reasons:
Focus on too many goals, which at times conflict with each other
It’s not relevant to teachers
It’s delivered in an ineffective style
Does not involve feedback or ongoing support for teachers
It’s associated with unrealistic expectations for implementation time
Effective professional development should be relevant, practical, and tailored to the educator’s specific needs and career goals. It should also align with their school or school district’s strategic goals and objectives.
Continuous professional learning benefits the educator as well as the students they teach by improving teaching methods, enhancing productivity, and boosting creativity.
Key Elements of Professional Development
The goal of any teacher professional development program should be to meet the needs of the individual teacher. It should also support their professional growth and improve students' performance. Let’s discuss the key elements of professional development.
Focus on content
Focus on content refers to the specific knowledge and skills that educators need to acquire in order to effectively teach their subject area or content.
Focus on content helps them deepen their understanding of the subject matter they teach. This helps them stay up-to-date with current research and best practices in their field and to develop new teaching methods.
Content-focused professional development also ensures the alignment of content with relevant standards, curricula, and assessment frameworks.
For example, if a school district has noted a decline in student performance in a particular subject, such as science, they could arrange for teachers to attend science-focused workshops, seminars, and courses.
Active learning is the process of engaging learners in activities that require them to interact with the content, other learners, and the instructor, instead of simply listening passively to lectures or presentations.
Active learning during professional development encourages educators to become more engaged in their own learning. It can be implemented by:
Collaborative learning where educators work together in groups to discuss and solve problems and learn from each other.
Inquiry-based learning where they engage in activities that encourage them to ask questions and analyze data.
Incorporating activities that encourage reflection and feedback from others and identify areas for improvement.
Collaboration enables teachers to work with colleagues from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This can help them gain new insights and a more diverse understanding of teaching and learning.
Sometimes, professional development can be a lonely and challenging experience. When teachers work together, they can encourage and support each other through difficult times, which helps them stay motivated and committed to their profession.
Furthermore, by working with colleagues from different schools or districts, teachers can build relationships that help them stay informed about the latest developments in education.
Effective practice involves the deliberate use of strategies that have been shown to improve student outcomes.
Staying up-to-date with the latest research and teaching practices.
Teachers reflecting on their lessons, analyzing student data, and seeking feedback from colleagues to identify areas for improvement.
Using evidence-based practices that have been shown to improve student outcomes assessment, such as providing feedback, and using differentiated instruction.
Teachers engaging in self-care to maintain their well-being and avoid burnout. This involves taking breaks, engaging in physical activity, and seeking support when needed.
Feedback and Reflection
Feedback and reflection are essential components of professional learning for teachers because they allow teachers to identify areas for improvement in their teaching style.
Feedback and reflection also promote self-awareness. Teachers who are self-aware are better able to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and to identify areas where they need to improve.
By reflecting on their practice and receiving feedback from others, teachers can set meaningful and achievable goals that support their ongoing career progression and student achievement.
Benefits of Professional Development
Professional development offers a wide range of benefits to teachers, students, and school districts in the following ways:
Improving student learning: By improving teaching practices, professional development leads to improved student outcomes, such as increased academic achievement and better preparation for college and careers.
Improving teaching practices: Professional development provides teachers with new techniques for teaching. It also presents opportunities to refine their existing practices.
Promoting a growth mindset: By emphasizing continuous learning and development, professional development encourages experimentation of new teaching strategies and provides opportunities for feedback and self-reflection.
Professional Development Models
There are various models to choose from when creating an effective teacher professional development program. Let’s discuss the different options and how each can be implemented for ultimate success.
Training in teacher professional development can take many forms. For example, workshops, seminars, courses, and online courses.
In a training model, teachers are provided with instruction on a specific topic or set of skills, such as training on new teaching strategies, assessment methods, or technology tools.
Training is an effective model because it provides them with specific, targeted instruction on skills or knowledge that they need to improve their practice.
Observation and assessment are models of teacher professional development that involve the use of feedback and evaluation to improve teaching practice.
In this model, teachers are observed and assessed by administrators, peers, or mentors. They’re given feedback on their teaching practice which helps them to identify areas for improvement.
Observation and assessment can be implemented in different ways:
Observing teachers in the classroom and providing feedback on their teaching practice.
Evaluating student work to assess their learning and provide feedback to teachers on the effectiveness of their teaching methods.
Use of a formal evaluation process to assess a teacher's teaching practice.
To be effective, observation and assessment should be conducted in a supportive and collaborative manner, to avoid situations where teachers don’t take some feedback positively.
Involvement in a development or improvement process
Involvement in a development or improvement process is a model of professional development where teachers work together to identify areas for improvement and develop and implement strategies to address those areas.
This process involves a deep analysis of student learning, with a focus on identifying areas where students struggle and developing strategies to address those challenges.
Teachers collect data on student performance, analyze that data, and then develop and implement strategies to improve student outcomes.
Study groups are a model of teacher professional development where small groups of teachers come together to study and discuss topics related to teaching practice.
In this model, teachers may read and discuss books or articles, share teaching strategies and resources, and engage in reflection and discussion.
It can be implemented in the following ways:
Professional learning communities with a focus on specific areas, such as literacy or mathematics.
Book clubs where a small group of teachers read and discuss books related to teaching practice.
Online communities such as discussion forums or social media groups where teachers connect and collaborate with colleagues from other school districts or around the world.
Individually guided activities
Individually guided activities (IGAs) are a model of professional development that prioritize the individual needs and goals of educators.
This model is a contrast to traditional models of professional learning, such as workshops or conferences, which are often less personalized.
IGAs involve a process of self-assessment and goal-setting. Educators identify their own areas of strength and weakness and set specific goals for improvement.
They then work with a mentor or coach to design and implement a plan for achieving those goals. The mentor provides guidance, feedback, and support throughout the process, but the teacher remains in control of their own learning.
Mentoring is a model of teacher PD where a more experienced educator provides guidance and support to a less experienced colleague.
Mentoring can take many different forms, but the basic idea is that the mentor helps the mentee to develop their skills through regular meetings, observations, and feedback.
Mentoring provides opportunities for ongoing feedback and support. The mentor can observe the mentee's practice and provide specific feedback and guidance for improvement. This helps the mentee develop more quickly than they might on their own.
Steps for an Efficient Professional Development
As mentioned, many teacher professional development programs are a waste of the teachers’ precious time. For effective professional development, policymakers must follow the steps we cover next.
1. Set the objective.
Setting the objective is the first step when developing a professional development program because it provides a clear direction for the program.
Objectives help to define what the program aims to achieve. For example:
What skills or knowledge will the participants gain?
How will the program benefit the participants and their students?
What problems at the school will the program solve?
When setting the objectives, ensure that the PD program addresses the needs and goals of your staff.
2. Be concise.
Once you’ve set the objectives, you must ensure that the program is concise. It being concise means that the program is focused, clear, and easy to understand.
Teachers have busy schedules and limited time, so it is important to focus on the most relevant information and deliver it in a straightforward manner.
We suggest choosing only one or two instructional practices to practice for every school year. This is because it takes time to implement a strategy and each PD should have dozens of hours allocated for instruction, coaching, and practice.
A concise program ensures that teachers are gaining the skills that are most valuable to them and their students. This will help to improve teaching quality and student outcomes.
3. Motivate teachers to collaborate.
Collaboration provides opportunities for educators to engage in interactive learning experiences that enhance their teaching skills.
Active learning is the acquisition of knowledge through participation. Collaboration helps to facilitate this process by promoting discussion, sharing of ideas, and peer feedback.
You can achieve this by grouping the teachers in smaller groups and ensuring that all learnings in the professional development program have practical examples of how they can be implemented in the classroom.
4. Make your PD applicable.
Professional development should be relevant and directly applicable to the teachers' daily practice.
Teachers are more likely to be motivated by a program that’s easy to implement. The immediate practice of the different learnings is a crucial factor in the program's success.
Ensure that teachers are guided with activities and lesson plans they can implement in the next one or two weeks.
5. Coach and mentor your teachers.
Coaching and mentoring during teacher professional learning provides individualized support that’s tailored to the specific needs of the teacher.
All teachers must have access to coaching and mentorship during professional development and during implementation. This is because some may have difficulties implementing certain strategies and they may need help.
Mentors and coaches could visit classrooms and offer non-evaluative feedback on the areas of focus to ensure the success of the program.
Effective Professional Development and Learning Organizations
Professional learning communities (PLCs) are groups of educators who collaborate to improve their teaching practices and enhance student learning.
PLCs provide a platform for educators to collaborate and learn from one another. They also offer a promise for initiating and maintaining the structures needed for effective teacher professional development.
The following are the core values of professional learning communities:
Focus on results
Willingness to experiment
Shared mission, vision, and values
Commitment to continuous improvement
Working together to improve teaching practices will help build strong relationships among educators and create a culture of shared responsibility for student success.
Educators can develop the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve the four principles of effective professional development, which include:
Focus on learning and learners
Small changes guided by a grand vision
Ongoing, embedded professional learning
Emphasis on individual and organizational change
Policy and Practice in Professional Development
Developing the appropriate policies can help incentivize professional development for teachers.
Policymakers can achieve this in the following ways:
Adopting standards for professional development to guide the design, funding, and evaluation of professional learning provided to educators.
Supporting teacher PD by redesigning the use of school time to increase opportunities for professional learning.
States and school districts can integrate professional learning into their Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA) school improvement initiatives.
Tactics for Effective Professional Development
There are several tactics that can be applied to ensure efficiency in professional development. For example:
Divide teachers up into groups based on grade level or subject area: During training, ensure that teachers in the training session have something in common to ensure that their experiences are relatable and they can share ideas.
Make sure it’s a topic that feeds into your school’s overall educational goals: Ensure that all training is aligned with your school's strategic goals for both staff and students.
Start peer coaching activities: Encourage teachers in the PD program to coach and give feedback to each other to promote collaboration and engagement.
Pair teachers up to develop an interdisciplinary teaching activity: By doing this, you’ll ensure that teachers in the program actively participate in their own professional learning and connect with their fellow educators.
Encourage collaboration to foster motivation to participate in the program: Have teachers who prefer to work collaboratively brainstorm with colleagues for subject-specific ways to introduce technology into the classroom.
Organize educators into learning teams based on their proximity to issues, and assign each a topic with a goal: This will ensure teachers interact and share their perspectives on different issues, which can help them relate with students from various backgrounds.
Make Your Professional Development Effective
Teachers aren’t big fans of professional development because it rarely leads to real change or improvement.
It’s important that professional development is effective for teachers to find it worth their limited time and to actually benefit the students.
Schools and districts can ensure teachers get high-quality professional development sessions that are tailored to the teachers’ needs.
SimpleK12 is an online professional development resource for teachers. It’s designed to ensure that teachers are actively involved and offers time and location convenience due to online access.
We encourage all decision-makers to explore SimpleK12 and make professional development more engaging, effective and valuable for your teachers.
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