Five Principles of Professional Development for Teachers
Teachers come to the profession with a variety of education experiences and professional backgrounds—not to mention the enormous array of innate skills and traits that make every person unique. If schools want teachers to be lifelong learners (as they encourage all students to be), then administrators and technology providers owe it to them to provide readily accessible, ongoing professional learning that addresses their individual challenges, interests, strengths, and expertise.
One of the overarching goals of professional development is to help teachers bridge the gap between theory and practice. However, a frequent challenge that teachers and facilitators face is the understanding and familiarity necessary to actually bring new concepts into the classroom demands much more time and effort than traditional professional development sessions require.
Gathering every teacher in a room for one day and offering strategies with the intention of universal classroom application doesn’t work anymore—“one size fits all” is no longer an effective option. Instead, attention must be paid to the broader context of each teacher’s classroom world. The subject(s) they teach, the technology they utilize, as well as the ages and specific challenges of their students, all must be considered.
Recently, the Center for Public Education released some guidance on effective professional development in the age of high-stakes accountability. Within that guidance, there are five guiding principles that should govern any professional development program.
Although the guide is intended for those who organize professional development for teachers rather than the teachers themselves, educators will find the principles useful as they undertake any measure to grow as a teacher.
Principle 1: Professional Development Must Be Ongoing
The duration of professional development must be significant and ongoing – “one and done” trainings do not lead to lasting change. Educators need time to use, adjust, and revisit the learnings to further customize the application and process for their students.
Still, “one and done” trainings are what is often provided as formal professional development. If that is the case and you believe the content will improve your practice, you should take it upon yourself to deepen, reinforce, and practice the new concept. Have touch points through the year with peers to provide shifting levels of support and context as understanding and application grows.
Implementation Tip: Organize a peer group to help one another study and perhaps observe the concepts in action. If that is not possible, take some video of yourself practicing the skills and review yourself critically, preferably against exemplary content you may find online.
Principle 2: Teachers Should Receive Support During Implementation Stages
There must be support for teachers during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice, more so than the product. School administrators should provide opportunities for active learning, which can include:
- Collaborative decision-making with administrators
- Collective construction of programs with understanding of district and school needs
- Inquiry-based ideas to discover unique these unique needs
- Varied and timely delivery methods both virtual and face to face
- Built in support systems that provides a multitude of avenues for that support
- Context-specific process unique to grade and subject which allows for collective participation of teachers from the same school, grade or subject and empower them through peer collaboration
- Andragogical instruction
Running along the same lines, it may be up to you as an educator to find the right support to move forward with your practice. A search on social media should find teachers who are interested in similar concepts.
Implementation Tip: Don’t be afraid to make it known that you would like to have the new skills included in your regular, annual observation.
Principle 3: Professional Development Should Not Be Passive
Teachers’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive. Rather, it is more effective when teachers are engaged through varied approaches so they can participate actively in making sense of a new practice.
Just as teachers seek ways to promote active learning in their classrooms, so too should professional development. “Sit and get” trainings have been proven to be significantly less effective than active trainings in which teachers are expected to practice new skills.
Implementation Tip: If active opportunities are not provided, don’t be afraid to organize your own practices before any true growth is to be measured. Activities can include readings, role playing, open-ended discussion, live modeling, and classroom visits.
Principle 4: Concrete Examples and Modelling Are Highly Effective
Modelling is important in helping teachers understand a new practice. Instructional coaches are great models of educational skills and can often be recruited to demonstrate new strategies with your own classes.
Technology can also give teachers access to the relevant professional development in the medium and timeline that serves them best. Webinars, virtual or self-directed professional development and online learning communities mean different learning styles and on-demand support is available to teachers on their schedules.
Implementation Tip: Request to observe anyone more skilled in the concept. If no one is available at your school site, see if you can trade videos with an off-site teacher.
Principle 5: Content Needs To Be Specific To Discipline and Grade Level
One size does not fit all when it comes to teacher professional development. Avoid content that is generic. School administrators should also provide collaborative homogenous instruction as it increases the success rates as well as the sharing of best practices.
Implementation Tip: If you’re struggling during a training, speak up or reach out to the trainer later. Ask how those general principles can be applied to specific disciplines or content.
Teacher Professional Development Is a Process
Professional development in its purest form will always focus on deepening teacher’s knowledge and pedagogical skills. It provides time and opportunity for practice, research, reflection, and application. It revisits skills that have already been taught and addresses any changes in best practices for putting them to use.
A key element that is frequently overlooked is effective professional development is founded on collaboration. Teachers often feel isolated in the classroom; professional development is the perfect opportunity to come together to share challenges, solve problems, and ask questions peer-to-peer. These challenges are constantly evolving, so it’s vital that professional development formats are flexible enough to change and grow along with teachers’ needs.
However, it must be acknowledged that implementing these personalized approaches to professional development is no easy task. Beyond the challenge of scaling these models to work for all teachers, administrators also must think about logistics like scheduling, staffing, and stipulations in teachers’ contracts. Still, the benefits to teachers in terms of job satisfaction and their effectiveness in the classroom make it worth the effort.