Seven Strategies to Make Professional Learning Effective

Teachers become teachers because they are motivated to help children learn! Every teacher can tell you that they have plenty of opportunity to hone their craft and improve their practice. For some it is learning new content to teach, for others it is developing better classroom management support, for many it is learning the new rapidly developing techniques and technologies.

However, every educator can also tell stories of the useless professional learning sessions they sat through that weren’t related to their scope of practice. Recent research shows that current professional learning practices in schools are time consuming, not budget friendly, and are ineffective. Teachers want to learn and schools are providing professional learning opportunities, the process needs to shift into effectiveness.

Here are 7 Strategies, provided by the Learning Policy Institute, to make professional learning effective and meaningful. Quality Professional Learning:

  1. Is content focused: PD that focuses on teaching strategies associated with specific curriculum content supports teacher learning within teachers’ classroom contexts. This element includes an intentional focus on discipline-specific curriculum development and pedagogies in areas such as mathematics, science, or literacy.
  2. Incorporates active learning:  Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students.
  3. Supports collaboration: High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district.
  4. Uses models of effective practice: Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like. Teachers may view models that include lesson plans, unit plans, sample student work, observations of peer teachers, and video or written cases of teaching.
  5. Provides coaching and expert support: Coaching and expert support involve the sharing of expertise about content and evidence-based practices, focused directly on teachers’ individual needs.
  6. Offers feedback and reflection: High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice.
  7. Is of sustained duration: Effective PD provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice

Do a little self-check and ask yourself: Does your professional learning incorporate all of these practices? What could you do to move the needle on your professional learning? Every teacher wants to get better, and these strategies can make that happen!

Shifting the Professional Learning Model to Improve Teacher Retention

An extraordinary shift is upon us in the field of education. Students are accessing information and demonstrating their capacity to learn differently. They are learning and using skill sets far different from past generations to prepare for life outside of the classroom. Indeed the fast-pace of change regularly revolutionizes the skills needed for adult success. The landscape for students is changing , and the landscape of what we ask of educators who teach and prepare students for the world and the workforce is also changing.

Our collective expectations of teachers extend way beyond organizing lessons and measuring student performance. We expect teachers to cater to individual student needs, use different learning techniques, incorporate technology and cater to the social and emotional needs of students.

These expectations are common threads for teachers who vary in practice and disposition. They also make the teaching profession much more difficult. Although teachers do a great job helping students succeed, the intricate demands and lack of professional development on the job has led to a decrease in the amount of teachers who choose to remain in the profession after their first five years.

Why do teachers leave the profession?

There are a variety of reasons for natural attrition in jobs including relocation, family matters, different schedules, salaries or distaste for management. The decision to leave for others stems from issues or concerns they feel cannot be resolved. According to the National Education Association, this includes:

    • A lack of support
    • Unfair demands and mandates
    • A lack of assistance with student discipline
    • Underfunded programs and low salaries
  • A lack of influence or respect at work

 

The National Center for Education Statistics identified 7.7% of teachers left the profession at the end of the 2012-13 school year with this number on the rise. The same study found that 46% of those who left the profession said opportunities for professional development in their new position outside of education were better. Although the answer seems simple, increasing the quality and access to professional development for teachers continues to be a challenge .

How do we retain more quality teachers?

Many districts are responding to this data and other statistics by reshaping the professional learning experience. Professional development is also becoming more relevant, personalized and useful. When translated on a larger scale, districts can use research to not only to improve teaching practices, but to increase teacher retention and buy-in for the profession. Developing custom professional development options for teachers with different skills, levels of experience and areas of interest can help increase teacher commitment to learning communities and help them take an interest in giving back to those communities.

Taking professional learning to the next level

Educators should always have a choice in how and what they choose to learn. This can include classroom modeling and access to different learning activities, platforms and online learning communities. Social media channels such as Twitter can also be a great tool for encouraging discussion among educators. Other methods to engage teachers in professional learning opportunities can include summer learning institutes and year-long campaigns to help them find joy in implementing new practices.

Of course some teachers still enjoy learning in a traditional lecture environment, but the important thing to consider is their right to choose the most accommodating option for them.

A common framework to keep in mind is one developed by  , which follows four stages:

  • Engagement – Ensures teachers have buy-in to what they are learning.
  • Learning – The environment content is delivered in, which helps move teachers from knowledge acquisition to application.
  • Support – Ongoing refinement of skills into successful practices that lead to improvement in teaching and student learning.
  • Measurement – The data collection on the teacher’s practice or commonly known as educator evaluations.

This four-stage framework can be applied to any professional learning opportunity and will help keep teachers on track when they embark on their own learning path. The hope is that with enough reflection on the benefits of more opportunities for teachers, we’ll start to encourage the best educators to stay in the profession with more support and room to grow.