Developing and Delivering Effective Professional Development for Educators
Being an educational technology trainer and an educator for more than a decade, I have had a fair share of training and professional development sessions both on giving and receiving end. Recently, I found myself sitting in a conference room along with 200+ educators for one day workshop.
Almost everyone present there came armed with a crisp diary, a pen, an iPad, a smartphone or a laptop and of course, a few entered with a favorite coffee mug. Some educators had flown in from far and reached a day early to get started on time for the early morning workshop. Some had traveled for a few hours to be there just on time and some were still trickling in the conference room even after the workshop had started.
There were school leaders, experienced teachers, new teachers and even some interns hoping to become educators. We were a diverse group of educators with one goal: learn from the workshop, take the learning back to our respective schools and implement the best teaching and learning practices to enhance student performance.
At the end of the day, as I flipped through my untouched diary and an unused iPad, I could not help but wonder:
- Did I learn anything in this workshop?
- Is the time, effort and money spent on the workshop making me a better educator?
The answer to both of these questions was unfortunately negative.
Recent educational research studies indicate “One Shot Professional Development” does not bring change to classroom instruction, implementation, and student performance. The key to effective classrooms seems to be at the grassroots level i.e. effective professional development for teachers. So what do we as educational leaders, need to do to make professional development effective for educators?
Here are a few tried and tested strategies to develop and deliver effective Professional Development (PD) for teachers:
1. Differentiation and Personalization: As educators, we all try our best to cater to different learning styles of our students. However, when it comes to our own learning this basic principle of modern education seems to take a back seat. While planning for PD for educators, give teachers a choice for choosing their own field of interest and level of expertise they are comfortable with such as beginner, intermediate and advanced learners.
For example, on teacher training days “Teacher A” must have a choice to choose an advanced session for English Essay Writing but a beginner session for technology integration.
2. Suitable Timing: In today’s highly dynamic educational landscape, a multitude of strategies, tools, technology, and resources are shared by educators and for educators on a daily basis. However, for effective and engaging PD, when teachers make an effort attending a training session; they should be provided with an opportunity to be present both physically and mentally with complete focus. One must respect and understand boundaries of professional and personal time.
For successful outcomes, plan teacher PD sessions avoiding holidays, weekends, extended school days and reporting/ assessment cycles. Having devoted teacher training days/teacher INSET days dotted throughout the school calendar helps teachers to focus without worrying about juggling between day to day classroom management and personal commitments.
3. High Usability: Remember teacher time is precious and seems to be shrinking every single day for various reasons. A highly effective PD should enable teachers to create classroom content and implement practical strategies in the classroom right away.
4. Workshop Series: Moving away from one shot PD, many schools around the world are focusing on staggered PD. This is a series of focused workshops that are held by a guest speaker or a member of staff on a regular interval for deeper learning on the topic. A few weeks break between workshop helps teachers to plan the classroom content, try out strategies learned in the workshop, receive feedback from peers and students and finally fine-tune the content suitable to the needs of their students.
5. Discover in-House Talent: Teachers are the best resources for any school. Many teachers with just a bit of help can deliver incredibly practical training sessions full of experience-based strategies that have been successfully tried and tested in a classroom. Discovering in-house talent benefits staff by getting their skills and expertise recognized and at the same time helps the organization by having someone who understands training needs, knows the staff and customizes the content accordingly.
For Example: In one of my previous schools, I figured out teachers who were good at using technology and were willing to share their experience with using technology in their classroom. They were assigned “Tech Champions” titles and worked as the first point of contact for any tech related query.
6. On-Site PD: Once every two weeks, having a member of staff lead just a short 30-minute session about a popular strategy which has worked in the classroom has been a very popular PD model in many schools. These training sessions have always been received well by the educators as it is short, it is useful, it is onsite and it always has a glamorous name ranging from Maker Monday, Tech Tuesday, Wonderful Wednesday, Thriving Thursday or Fab Friday.
Another popular in-house PD for teachers comes from Teacher Slam, a quick 5-minute success strategy for the classroom. The Teacher Slam takes place at the beginning of any large meeting. It helps teachers to get recognized in front of their colleagues (along with maybe a bar of chocolate) and also sets the tone for productive discussions during the meetings.
7. Focused PD with Mentor/Coach: Many schools offer PD aligning with school’s vision and mission. Teacher PD which fits into these long-term vision yields effective results for the whole organization, students, and the staff.
For example, a few years back “Integrating Technology” into the curriculum was the focus for my school. Therefore, class teachers and I co-planned all cross-curricular projects together for the two academic years. Being a tech coach/ mentor, I lead and modeled these linked lessons for the students where teachers observed the techniques and strategies for tech integration.
8. Extended PD Opportunities: Many times educators feel that they are being pushed into training sessions which they hardly find useful. On the other hand, a few feel deprived of the PD opportunities of their interest due to budget and time commitment issues. To tackle such issues, allocating teachers resources a fixed amount of funds and with time allowance in terms of PD days is becoming popular PD model with many schools.
For example, in one of the school’s I worked earlier, each teacher received about USD 1500 as professional development fund each year. Keeping in mind best pedagogical practices, with this money the educator was empowered to explore PD opportunities via face to face, online or hybrid training. For some selected sessions, even a provision was made where teachers could take a few days off during the school days.
In this age of digital transformation, educators may choose from the plethora of online MOOCs which are a convenient and no-travel option. Most of these MOOCs are free and are led by top professors from reputed global universities. However, educators may also choose to opt for college credit option or Certificate of Completion with nominal fees. Some of these self-paced paced content providers for educators are: Udemy, Future Learn, edX, Coursera, iTunes U, and Youtube for teachers
9. Reporting Mechanism: Reflection on the learning during and after the professional development sessions is an important reporting mechanism. Sharing strategies about what was learned and how it impacts enhancement of pedagogical practices can be a very rewarding experience. Educators can share their learning via a blog, school-based learning environment or during one of the in-house training sessions such as Tech Tuesday, Tech Slam or teacher training days.
10. Ambience: Last but not least, a comfortable environment can foster effective learnings and its retention for further use for educators. Making 200 people seat in a cramped and an uncomfortable space is rarely productive. Although the main focus of any professional development session is on teaching and learning, workshop ambiance, especially in a face to face environment, is an essential factor for success.
One must have hands-on activities with regular breaks to refresh mind and body by avoiding monotony and information overload. Coffee breaks and lunch breaks also provide opportunities for an educator to develop their professional network and have meaningful interactions in an informal environment.
If space permits, banquet style (a numbered round center table with a chair placed around) seating arrangements with a maximum of 8 to 10 candidates effectively engage all the participants of the group. It is also a good idea to provide water and maybe a bowl of candies/ mints to refresh the brain trying to absorb all the information being presented. Banquet style seating is both comfortable and productive as it allows you to pre-plan sitting arrangements and have grouping list published keeping in mind the topic and learning outcome. For this purpose, one can create a mixed grouping, subject area grouping, specialization grouping and of course free seating.
Hoping these guidelines can support school leaders and educators to provide professional development opportunities which empower educators to create content, model best practices, connect with a wider educational community and continually keep improving on them by received feedback and feedforward to benefit the students in every way possible.