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Professional Learning

How to Go Beyond Seat Time in Professional Development

When teachers have opportunities to earn renewal credits through self-directed PD, they often find the learning more engaging.

May 13, 2021
Phynart Studio / iStock

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This old, well-known quote still gets its fair share of use as a motivational tool designed to inspire teachers. Comically enough, its meaning sometimes becomes lost when it comes to engaging our adult learners (yes, I’m talking about professional development). Being in the learner’s seat—regardless of age—doesn’t change what good pedagogy looks like. Taking that a step further, we would even say that as adults, many aren’t necessarily looking to be told or be taught, but rather to drive their own learning. Many teachers naturally engage in quality self-directed learning that is personalized and relevant to their practice. That’s involvement at its finest. But do we recognize it?

As former teachers who now design professional learning with the Educators’ Lab, my colleagues and I have been a bit shaken by how few opportunities we give teachers to get credit for their own self-directed learning. It’s why we created initiatives like TeacherHacks and Educator Innovation Labs—so we could attempt to give teachers renewal hours and/or continuing education units (CEUs) for working on their own great ideas for the classroom. It’s been an uphill battle. As we’ve applied to run these sort of open-ended workshops, we continuously run into this conundrum of seat hours. Personal and professional growth is often only validated by hours literally spent in a seat. This seems unfair, given the amount of time that teachers organically spend getting inspiration, coaching one another, and actively working to implement new ideas in the classroom.

It’s led us to wonder if the time is ripe to rethink how we give continuing education credits or renewal hours. Covid-19 has caused so many of us to look at education with new eyes and reflect on what truly counts. Teachers have been leading this charge, going out of their way to grow and learn—all to improve outcomes for their students. It would seem only natural to nurture this good practice by recognizing and validating efforts through renewal credit.

We know that states have varying requirements for administering CEUs or renewal credits, but sometimes it’s just about getting creative and having a little trust. We would never demand more seat hours for children as a sign of quality learning. We invite you to get creative with us as we explore what it might look like to reimagine how we get and give credit for professional growth. 

4 Potential Ways to Get Renewal Hours Beyond Seat Hours

1. Submit a collaboration log. You never know when inspiration will strike, so why only get credit for time spent in a seat? Let teachers track time spent collaborating (think Twitter, edcamps, Clubhouse, etc.). They can write a brief reflection of what they’ve learned from the experience and how they brought these ideas into the classroom. The log might include the following:

  • Date/time spent: 3/25—1 hour
  • Professional learning source: Clubhouse—Project-Based Learning (PBL) Room
  • What you learned: New techniques for giving feedback
  • How this helped in the classroom: Implemented feedback scales with categories to make it easier for students to give and receive meaningful feedback on their projects

2. Submit a portfolio in return for credit. Use team or workshop time for collaboration, but let teachers get credit for that time by encouraging them to implement ideas. You can use PBL-style organizers to let teachers design their project and then an implementation journal to document the experience and provide evidence. Here’s an example project organizer and implementation log.

3. Provide more in-house opportunities for informal learning and provide certificates. There are sometimes ways to look internally at how you can provide recertification hours. In some states, principals just need to sign off on initiatives that they or their staff have designed and print a certificate. This would provide the freedom to try out all sorts of formats:

  • Chart time spent on peer observation
  • Run your own inquiry-based professional learning to solve a school-wide challenge
  • Run an edcamp-style staff meeting to learn from one another

If you want to try these in-house opportunities, pitch it to administration and see if you can get their stamp of approval.

4. Craft your PD challenge the same way you would a wellness challenge. Some districts now have wellness challenges where teachers scan a QR code and check off challenges they’ve completed in exchange for points. Once a certain number of points is reached, teachers tend to receive some sort of financial reward. What if we used this same process to help teachers gain recertification hours?

For instance:

  • 5 points—Joining a Voxer book study group
  • 5 points—Keeping a reflection journal
  • 3 points—Writing an education blog
  • 2 points—Integrating a new tool
  • 1 point—Participating in a Twitter chat

These, of course, are just a few of the ways we might begin to reimagine professional learning. In the same way that remote learning has changed how teachers go about teaching, we may need to rethink how we best go about supporting teachers. Teachers have used countless methodologies to adapt and evolve to best serve the needs of their students. It’s time to give them credit for all the extra hours they spend on this growth—because in the end, it’s all for the students. And, if it’s beneficial for students, why not teachers?

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