Is your current professional development strategy akin to throwing spaghetti at the wall– trying everything and seeing what sticks? Many districts are beginning to realize that online PD structures are inherently no better than in-person because we have brought the same practices and mindset that didn’t work in-person to online settings.
Maybe you’ve taken a different tack and decided to reduce or eliminate PD so as to not add one more thing to your already stressed-out teachers' plates. The problem here is that right now teachers actually do need help, a lot of it. They are struggling to engage students, to differentiate instruction to students at even more varied instructional levels, to facilitate remote, hybrid, and blended classrooms, to deliver formative assessments, and to maintain their emotional and physical well-being in the process.
There is a pathway to better professional development rooted in a simple, accessible, personalized, and empowering methodology.
- Simple - PD cannot feel like one more thing. We all know that teachers are already stretched too thin, with time as their most scarce resource. PD first needs to be simple for teachers to access and engage. This means an overall experience that is always available to them at their fingertips, easy-to-use, with relevant content and resources.
- Thoughtful - Too often, teachers leave PD uninspired to make real changes in their classrooms. Teachers do not shift and sustain new practices because they watched a video and took a one-time online assessment. The best PD occurs when teachers are supported throughout shifting to new mindsets, trying new practices, and learning from these attempts in a continuous, iterative fashion. This is the methodology of action research where teachers are in an ongoing mode of growth not limited to a singular PD event.
- Personalized - We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all learning for our students, so why do we do it for professional development? Teachers are in many ways the most important and first learners in our schools. They have varying needs just like our students and we must have structures to support them uniquely. This is where blended practices in PD can be helpful in bringing opportunities for unique time, place, pace, and path of learning. This type of PD allows teachers to experience what we want them to offer to their students and deepens their understanding of more engaging and equitable classrooms.
- Empowering - The most effective professional development empowers teachers to be agents of change, not the objects of it. Too often, professional development occurs to teachers as another compliance box they are required to check. This is one of many ways that teaching is deprofessionalized and even deflating. Teachers can engage as powerful agents and owners of their professional development by having choice in how they engage and in determining what content works for them. This type of PD allows them to implement PLCs and collaborative structures, gives them opportunities to design and lead PD, and feel supported through taking risks and trying new practices.
Now more than ever, our approach to PD cannot be throwing spaghetti at the wall, hoping it sticks. It also cannot be "no PD at all." Our teachers need critical support for themselves and for their students. As leaders, we have the responsibility to facilitate simple, thoughtful, personalized, and empowering professional development for our teachers.