George Lucas Educational Foundation

Meeting The Professional Development Needs of Teachers

Meeting The Professional Development Needs of Teachers

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Professional Development can be loaded words in Education. It can mean attending conferences and meeting with other teachers from across the Country, being exposed to new ideas, or it can be a one-size fits all training session that numbs the brain and crushes the soul. Professional development should be all about teachers and administrators engaging as learners themselves, and helping them grow as professionals in their field, learning about how to do their job even better, and make a difference in the lives of even the hard to reach children.

How do we make professional development more useful and engaging, and less like a dreaded chore? If you ask the same question using “student” instead of teacher, and ask how we can make the classroom a more engaging place for students, ideas seem endless. One of the key ways we can help PD become better is by differentiating the teacher learning, to more closely meet the needs of individuals and help them achieve their professional goals.

For example, a first year teacher may need much more help with classroom management and effective ways to differentiate lessons, where a more seasoned teacher might like more instruction on how to integrate technology into the classroom, in a way to serve the pedagogy and not distract from the underlying lesson goal.

At Ed Camps, sessions are posted and the participants are encouraged to attend sessions that look interesting, but to also use the “law of two feet” and leave a session that might not be what was expected and find something that will help, putting teachers in charge of their own learning. Many school districts are experimenting with PD days like this, and using talent from within the School and District to help teach colleagues. We have found sometimes that teacher-presenters like to share, but sometimes also find that their own educational needs are not met during these days.

How do you differentiate professional development in your school? How do you make sure your own professional development needs are met, even if the standard PD is “one size fits all”? What is your idea of perfect PD, that meets your needs, and helps you become a better professional?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

In our district we try to offer lots of choice in programming when it comes to PD. Our PD days at the beginning of the year are run conference-style, so people have choice in which sessions to attend, and are frequently given objectives that let them skip a session if it's something they already know how to do/use. We also offer regular bonus after school sessions that alternate between focused study of a tool and open sessions where people can learn about whatever they want.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator & Trainer, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI #GoogleET

Years ago I ran across a district that integrated not only teacher choice but the entire community into district PD days. Topics for sessions were floated and then instructors were found. Some were parents in the community (one was a person who designed artificial limbs). I also distinctly remember hearing that the school's head janitor also led a session though I do not recall the subject. Their PD days are dynamic, meaningful and inexpensive because the presenters are all volunteers. To this day I am impressed by the focus of the learning community and know that it starts at the very top - the initiative was literally driven by the superintendent. Even though the sessions were "sit & get" traditional learning (as opposed to learner-driven & hands-on) it remains to this day one of the most effective district PD programs I've ever seen.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

What I would really love to see is project and problem based learning make its way into PD! I would love for a grade level, for example, to get together, brainstorm and identify common challenges, and then design projects, reports to each other, things to try with kids, etc. focused around the identified areas and goals. Isn't that ideally how PD should work??

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

I'd like to see more schools and districts adopt the edcamp model. I know one Principal, Patrick Larkin, who offers voluntary edcamp PD sessions every week.

Edcamps work because as Laura talked about above, it starts with the teacher's learning goals in mind. It's an unconference -- led by teachers -- for teachers. By giving educators the power to take charge of their own learning is empowering and I find that you learn even more than just the initial questions you may have. When you're around a group of inspiring life-long learners, you learn WAY more than just what you think you need to learn.

To learn more about edcamps and how to adopt the model, check out the edcamp foundation:

Melanie Eisen's picture
Melanie Eisen
Assistant director of professional development, YUSP

A one and done does not work. Technology allows us to have amazing follow up opportunities to continue the conversation. Leaving a conference,I would feel energized, but then go back to my classroom with my kids and the sharing was done. We have to take advantage of the technology to ensure the conversations keep happening- What are ways others have found success in keeping the conversation going?

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Melanie!
I've found twitter and Facebook, but also here on Edutopia is a great way to keep in touch with new friends and stay energized. I also wish we made more time to have folks who do go to conferences like ISTE, ASCD or Edcamps and Educon, to name a few, to share highlights with their colleagues and help seed those ideas locally, but I'm not sure that happens as often as it should.

Cynthia Pilar's picture
Cynthia Pilar
doctoral student

It's been my experience that the more ownership we give teachers to the determination, development and implementation of their professional learning, the more engaged and positive they are about the experience. The experts are in the room - use data to discover the teachers having success with a new strategy or program and then tap them to share their learning with others. Too often prof devt is something that is "done" to teachers. Creating a true learning community where teachers identify their own needs and learning activities can be more meaningful and result in real implementation and improved classroom practice.

Sherene Kennedy's picture

I think data should drive professional development. The major complaint that is heard in my district is that the professional development days built in the schedule are meaningless. Oftentimes, it is a one size fits all activity where most participants walk away trying to find the relevance. Surveys are an excellent way to discover the areas of development needed. Hands on individualized activities based on teachers' needs will foster growth, improve practice, enhance teacher competence and promote student growth.

Cathie's picture

Data Driven Drive is the new age and everyone can benefit by joining. There are so many Teacher tools to help with instruction from professional development. I am so intrigue that there is a surplus of information to help increase data.

Fathoo's picture

Sure, Professional development should not be provided in a generic manner. It should be responsive to teachers' needs on the identified areas.

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