The Teacher Professional Development Controversy: Is It Just a Joke? Or More Effective Than Ever?
“I’m about as professionally developed as I need to be.”
Those are the actual sentiments about teacher professional development from Eddie B., a teacher turned comedian. He has a huge YouTube following of loyal teacher fans. Why? Because he gets to the heart of their pain through laughter.
It’s no secret that the workload for teachers has become increasingly difficult with demands that seem unrealistic to fulfill. This has led to teacher shortages across the entire country. But now, with the hybrid of remote / face-to-face learning, ramped-up safety precautions due to COVID-19, and a greater diversity in students’ needs to add to the mix…teacher professional development is more critical than ever.
And teachers are seeking better professional development programs as another school year is underway with COVID-19 safety practices in place. Let’s look at the goals of teacher PD.
Goals of Professional Development
According to research completed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, student achievement can improve by as much as 21 percentile points if “teachers receive substantial professional development.”
We’ll revisit “substantial” in a moment. But first, let’s look at some of the goals administrators.
They may seek teacher professional development that
- Trains teachers new technology
- Prepares teachers for leadership positions
- Creates awareness of different learning styles
- Gains a deeper understanding of subject material or standards to be taught
- Supports brand new teachers
- Reviews school procedures or learn new ones
- Learns time management and organizational skills
There is no doubt the value professional development provides teachers. So why has it caused teachers to cringe in the past?
PD Goals vs. Teacher Reality
According to an article from Education Week, What Do Teachers Really Want From Professional Development? Respect, by Sarah Schwartz, teachers’ needs haven’t been put first.
Here are some of their complaints:
- Courses cover skills mastered years ago.
- Courses are irrelevant to the subject they teach.
- They are not given the freedom to choose what courses they need.
PD like this, teachers say, doesn’t respect their experience, expertise, or time.
Let’s face it. Teachers want to be in their classrooms teaching. BUT…they also want to improve their teaching skills—especially now as they are having to adjust to their new world post Covid.
What Teachers Really Want from Professional Development
Last year teachers felt there was a lack of guidance. There was a mad dash to figure out how to move everything to remote learning and teaching suffered as a result. This caused confusion among students, teachers and parents. And teachers want to be better prepared this year.
According to the Wall Street Journal article, Help Us Get Better at Remote Instruction, NYC Public School Teachers Ask by By Leslie Brody and Katie Honan, teachers want direction on how to better implement online learning in these areas:
- Choosing the most important content for an online format
- Assessing students’ understanding over a screen
- Providing meaningful feedback when there is less direct interaction
- Pacing and developing tasks for learning offline
So, when that precious time is consumed with training that isn’t even applicable to them… Do you wonder why they might see it as a joke?
Even if professional development has been a priority for district leaders, their efforts are worthless if teachers see it as a waste of time. So, how do we change this? Put teachers in the driver’s seat of their professional learning path.
Professional Development Best Practices
How do we keep our teachers informed and up to date on the latest skills, tools, and ways of teaching?
As the pandemic swept across our nation at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, teachers had to make immediate changes to the way they traditionally taught.
There was a mad dash to take their technical skills to a new level, find out what programs offered solutions, and keep students engaged all without traditional face-to-face instruction.
According to Education Week, this is what teachers need now:
Teachers need “substantial” programs where they are getting specialized instruction that they need in specific areas. A “substantial” program would mean they are learning new ways of teaching, how to pivot in the wake of Covid-19, and filling learning gaps where they know they are lacking.
How District Leaders Can Meet the Professional Learning Needs of Their Teachers
For many years, administrators have expected teachers to provide differentiated instruction to their students. This means they are required to accommodate learners. They have to adjust their curriculum to make sense for the students by meeting them where they are. Shouldn’t the same be expected of the administrators when it comes to teacher professional development?
Not all teachers need the same professional development. By providing teachers the opportunity to pick and choose the courses they want and need, professional development becomes much more effective. If district leaders and administrators respect their teachers and want the very best for them, teacher driven professional learning is a win win.
Teachers know where their weaknesses lie, what courses would fill those gaps, and are fully capable of doing it on their own schedule. The teachers are accountable for their learning and as a result… In the driver’s seat. A concept that’s long overdue. And…that is no joke.
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