Five Principles of Professional Development for Teachers
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: The duration of professional development must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation problem.
Teachers should not expect “one and done” trainings to accomplish lasting change. Yet, that is often what is provided in terms of 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.
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: There must be support for a teacher during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice.
Running along the same lines, it may be up to you 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: Teachers’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage teachers 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: Modeling has been found to be highly effective 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. But some teachers do not have access to such coaching. Again, an online search should also help in this regard.
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: The content presented to teachers shouldn’t be generic, but instead specific to the discipline or grade level.
Although every training should be targeted to the audience, it can sometimes be hard to find content so granular as to fit every classroom. You shouldn’t have to struggle to make any training applicable to your work.
Implementation Tip: If you’re having trouble connecting the dots during a training, speak up or reach out to the trainer at a later time. Ask how those general principles can be applied to specific disciplines or content.”
We’ve all had trainings that left us energized and more confident in our teaching practice. We’ve also had some that left us confused. In the case of the latter, there are resources and strategies for teachers to use to close the gap and get their time’s worth out of the professional development process.