A common cry from teachers across the world is for relevant professional development.
A 2014 Gates Foundation study shows only 29% of teachers satisfied with current teacher PD. Another 2015 study shows that only 30% of teachers improve substantially with PD. So, what we have doesn't seem to be working.
So, what can we do to improve teacher professional development?
[callout]This is a contribution to Cathy Rubin's Global Search for Education Top Global Teacher Blogger's Column. This month's question is about how to improve teacher professional development.[/callout]
1 – Model What is Being Taught
In my own experience, I remember sitting through a class on differentiated instruction. The “teacher” had more than 200 slides. She read them to us.
To further make this point, let's discuss what differentiation is. Think of it this way — Some students learn by seeing. Others learn by hearing. Others learn by doing. But no one learns one way. So, when you have many ways of teaching material, nearly every student learns better.
But during this class on differentiation, the teacher didn't differentiate with us. She lectured. She showed slides. We didn't act it out. We didn't see a movie. We didn't do any kinds of hands on activity. We didn't talk about it with the person next to us. All the content on differentiation was delivered in a non-differentiated way.
So, if differentiation works – do it. If project based learning works – do it. Model teaching what you're teaching if it works.
In my opinion, if you can't teach me about game based learning by using games, you're not qualified to teach game based learning.
Professional development should teach using the methods being taught.
2 – Commit to Personal Professional Development
Kaizen is a Japanese term for “continuous improvement.” Kaizen is a mindset. Organizations following Kaizen look at a system as a whole and make slow, small steps to improve.
My strategy of Kaizen innovation is that I “innovate like a turtle.”
Although I've been teaching in K12 for fifteen years, the last eleven have been transformational. Eleven years a go, I made a decision that changed my teaching. Coming back from GAETC 2015, I realized that I had been to the conference before but my classroom was unchanged. I had a list of fifty things and did none of them.
So, I decided to do two things:
A – List My Big 3. I would keep a list of the next three things I wanted to learn. Just three, no more. I would steadily learn about those things until I integrated them into my classroom. Sometimes, one of the three wasn't suitable, and I'd abandon it for something else.
B – Turtle Time. I take 15 minutes 2-3 times a week during my morning break to learn something new.
I'm dedicated to Kaizen, but that term is not one that excites me. By calling it turtle time, I acknowledge my commitment to slow, steady improvement. Forward progress is progress.
3 – Understand and Use Micro Teaching Practices
In John Hattie's updated ranking of effect sizes on student achievement, microteaching is near the top. Microteaching is
“a video recording of a lesson with a debriefing. The lesson is reviewed to improve the teaching and learning experience.”
Most teachers have a device that can record video. If we use our phones to record small portions of our lessons, we can use microteaching to improve. Certainly, there is a method of improving through microteaching.
Personally, I learn so much when I record my own teaching and watch it later. (I use a Swivl and my iPhone. The device follows and focuses on me around the room.)
4 – Use Student Feedback to Shape Learning with Just in Time Learning Strategies
Formative assessment can help teachers understand how students are learning. Formative assessment is a snapshot of how knowledge is forming in a student's mind. Instead of asking one student what they know, you can ask the whole class.
The point that can make all the difference. But what does a teacher do when students aren't learning? When a teacher realizes students aren't learning is perhaps when the greatest professional development could happen. There are several strategies a teacher could use today, however, each of them has limitations and reasons teachers don't. Perhaps if we understand these, we can work together to improve just-in-time learning strategies for teachers.
An Instructional Coach
The business world has “life coaches.” Education does have “instructional coaches.” Unfortunately, in some schools, these instructional coaches also have administrative responsibility.
To understand a common problem with instructional coaching, let's look at the business world for a moment. For example, in the business community, a life coach is typically not someone in your chain of command. The person doesn't have the ability to evaluate you. The “life coach's” job is to help the person. Often a life coach doesn't even work for the company of the person they are coaching.
In the education world, instructional coaches can be called by a teacher for help. However, if the coach is helping a teacher improve in an area, that needs to be confidential. If, however, the instructional coach makes a beeline to the principal, let's see what could happen. Let's say the coach told the principal,
“Mrs. Jones has me helping her with a classroom management problem.”
Now, suddenly the principal thinks Mrs. Jones has a huge problem.
In reality, however, every single teacher on staff has problems and areas to improve. Mrs. Jones is just the only one asking the instructional coach for help. Mrs. Jones may be one of the best teachers on staff, but she's penalized for getting help to improve her teaching.
Until schools make it ok to admit struggles and get confidential help, teachers will keep their personal pd needs private. Teachers won't ask for help even when student formative data shows they need it if their request for help is misunderstood or even worse – used against them.
Just In Time Resources
Many teachers use YouTube and other video services to search for help. For example, if they have a problem with Google Classroom, a video tutorial may do the trick.
However, with a few exceptions, edtech seems to dominate the teaching videos available on YouTube. It is hard to find answers for classroom problems like classroom management by searching YouTube.
Books, Videos, Courses, and Conferences
Teachers can find books, videos and courses to help them on an issue. However, typically curriculum directors or district officers determine how money is spent. Teachers have a difficult time getting money for individual opportunities. If they ask for it, they have to justify their need and may end up in the same situation they often have with some instructional coaches – they have to admit the problem they are trying to solve.
One problem with materials such as this is that classroom teaching is evolving so rapidly. So while a content creator may have a Ph.D., sometimes they may not be as relevant as a classroom teacher. Many teachers love Teachers Pay Teachers while others frown on the resources because they prefer traditional textbook companies.
Microcredits and Badges.
An emerging professional development “economy” of competency based micro credentials has teachers taking a new type of course. These small courses, for example, could have a teacher focusing on “checking for understanding.” They would take online instructional materials, but then involve peers and colleagues in a person submitting a demonstration of skill.
The fascinating aspect of micro-credentials is the melding of online and offline learning.
This area is evolving rapidly. So quickly, that the proliferation of badges has many calling for more rigor in the earning of badges. So, in this case, not all micro credentials or badges are created equal.
5 – Unconferences
If you've read this far, perhaps you can see why the teacher unconference is so popular. The most popular form of the unconference is the Edcamp, but many conferences are scheduling an “unconference” day with this same format.
At Edcamps across the world, teachers show up on a Saturday morning to an unconference location. It is free. Teachers self-organize into topics. If people want to learn something, they show up to the designated room. If a session doesn't meet their needs, they can leave and go to another one. Teachers can model and create and innovate together. Sometimes they bring gadgets or share lesson ideas. Many teachers love this environment.
However, some locations don't give teachers professional development credit for these valuable sessions. Understandably, some teachers hesitate to give up personal time without continuing education “credit.” Others like things to be more organized.
But on the whole, many innovators I know like unconferences and prefer them over any other method of professional development.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Personalized learning is the conversation in student learning today. It should be for teachers as well.
We know professional development as it has always existed isn't working. We also know that we must improve teacher knowledge and learning.
What many people don't know is that teachers don't have much time. I have had years with too many “duties.” Those are the years I didn't innovate. You can't innovate like a turtle when you're working like a dog.
So, first, we need to make sure that teachers have time to learn. Let's streamline paperwork. Let's remove non-teaching duties. Let's help teachers focus on teaching and learning about teaching.
Second, teachers must personally commit to learning. If we teachers are freed up to learn and use it to hang out in the teacher's lounge and bash students, we aren't innovating like a turtle – we're becoming toxic waste. As a teacher, it is my professional duty to level up and learn continuously.
And third, I think we need to let teachers have a major role in vetting and determining how they'll learn and what they'll do with their PD. We should give teachers the financial resources and the time to go to professional learning opportunities. While teacher shortages are a problem in many places, we can't shortchange teaching professionals and keep them from learning how to become better teachers. Effective professional development should be a priority.
If personalized learning works, perhaps it should start with teachers.
Let's learn. Let's become better teachers. And let's be part of the evolution of teacher professional development. It's about time.
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As an educator of 23 years, most of the professional development I attend lacks relevance to what I do in the classroom daily. As you stated, most of the time is spent reading slides or talking to us. There is no built-in time for modeling, practice, make ‘n takes, or discussion. It is very passive. There is no follow-up support. We are left to implement what was talked about without having anywhere to go to ask further questions or problem-solve. Due to this, I give up easily on things that might impact my classroom. I agree with giving teachers time for professional development. If you look around during one of these trainings, many of the attendees are on their computers, grading papers or answering emails, things there is already limited time to complete. Giving us time to learn how to become better at our craft is essential to the future of education.