Professional learning is an integral part of school culture and developing staff. Even though we know professional learning is important, a 2013 report on professional development (PD) by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education noted that more than 90 percent of teachers report that professional learning is not helpful. We want PD to build teacher capacity and to be just as good as the lessons that teachers are creating for their students.
6 Suggestions for Better PD
1. Survey teachers: Prior to planning your PD, consider sending teachers a survey to gauge which topics they are interested in. This helps identify staff PD needs as well as areas where teachers want to grow. Leave space for an open-ended response for teachers to share ideas for potential PD topics. By being included in the process, teachers will have more buy-in regarding trainings. You’ll also have more information to guide what PD to offer based on teachers’ wants and needs.
2. Offer choice: Some PD may be mandatory to create a common understanding, whether it’s around systems and processes or adopting new curriculum. However, as part of your school’s professional learning plan, consider offering additional PD where teachers have the option to self-select topics aligned with their own personal professional learning goals. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed. Allowing teachers to choose what PD to attend based on their interests increases their motivation and can lead to more engagement among participants.
3. Offer opportunities for teachers to facilitate PD: Teacher-led PD is an opportunity for teachers to step into leadership without leaving the classroom. It’s a way for them to build capacity by sharing their expertise and growing their facilitation skills. Teachers are also the ones on the ground and in the classroom, so they are positioned to think of relevant and timely PD topics. Edcamp offers participant-driven PD and allows educators to collaboratively determine topics.
4. Acknowledge teachers’ well-being: Teachers are human and enter our collective learning space with their own set of challenges. Teaching is a multifaceted profession with highs and lows, and we owe it to our teachers to acknowledge the complexities of their day-to-day lives.
In order to show up for our students the biggest and best we can, teachers need to take care of themselves too: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Consider starting the training with a centering exercise, a journaling activity, a rose-and-thorn check-in, or sharing gratitude as a warm welcome. This helps set a positive tone, warms up teachers’ brain muscles, and builds community. Also be sure to give teachers permission to take care of themselves as they need, which may mean stepping out to take a call or knitting during the training.
5. Incorporate collaborative protocols and practice times: Teachers bring expertise and need to be respected for their experience. When we are planning professional learning, we want to incorporate collaborative learning protocols that promote active engagement so that teachers are involved in the learning process, not passive participants. This includes practice time with feedback, co-construction of knowledge, discussions, inquiry, problem solving, modeling, and self-reflection opportunities.
Some activity and discussion protocols that get teachers moving and learning alongside one another include jigsaws, reciprocal teaching, fishbowl discussions, chalk talks, carousels, idea shop, role-playing, practice time, and triangle-circle-square. Some of these protocols can work with your students as well.
6. Include extension activities: Adults learn better when they have control over their learning. After your training, include opportunities for teachers to extend their learning through curated resources in a platform of their choosing. Consider sharing a podcast, article, blog entry, or video related to the PD learning outcomes as a follow-up. For example, I recently attended a training on home visits, and the facilitator followed up with this article and this video. The extension activities allowed me to further process my learning on my own time as I was making sense of the practice in my own context.
By including teachers’ voice, choice, and active engagement, we can build their capacity. There are many benefits to strong professional learning. When teachers authentically learn, student achievement is increased. And strong professional learning leads to less teacher burnout.