“Don’t call it professional development—call it professional learning.”
Jill Abbott, senior vice president and managing director at SIIA made this statement in a recent edWebinar.
Additional panelists Jeff Mao, CEO of Edmoxie; Bruce Umpstead, director of state programs at IMS Global Learning Consortium; and Ilya Zeldin, founder, and CEO of 2gnoMe, recommended that educational leaders take a deep breath and recognize that there is a crisis happening in our districts.
There are vast quantities of people who could be the best teachers ever, yet they don’t want to be in the profession. It is not easy for teachers to thrive and grow when teacher professional learning is irrelevant, generic, and unsustainable.
A familiar comment from teachers regarding district or school-wide professional learning is, “Well, we’re just going to ride this one out because it is going to change in two years or when we get a new administrator.” The panelists suggest that if “we can get the professional learning piece done collaboratively with teachers, not at teachers, maybe we can retain and recruit highly qualified engaging and innovative educators.”
Effective models of professional learning
The first goal of effective teacher professional learning models is understanding who teachers are and their needs. This approach can enable administrators to differentiate to meet the needs of all their teachers.
Professional learning opportunities need to be designed with agency, fidelity, contextual learning, relevancy, and sustainability.
When given agency, teachers understand the what, why, and how to genuinely embrace what they are learning and put those skills to use in their classroom instruction.
Challenges of professional learning
Professional learning, defined as one-hit wonders with hour-long speaker presentations and all-day workshops, leaves teachers unequipped to implement best practices and personalized learning opportunities for their students. The challenge for school and district leaders recognizes that this model is professional development and not professional learning.
Professional learning opportunities include establishing knowledge bases, developing skills, instilling trust, and believing in the process, and, most importantly, allowing time for practice. The biggest challenge for leaders is integrating all the puzzle pieces into authentic learning experiences that support teachers in making changes that impact student learning.
Technology and professional learning
Whether face-to-face, virtual, or both, technology has the potential to personalize professional learning for teachers. It gives voice and choice to the learners in learning through meaningful, relevant, driven by interests, and self-initiated.
Connecting to individuals in and outside the district through webinars, voice chats, or phone calls lends itself to teacher agency. This gives teachers the capacity to choose and voice versus canned and generic professional development programming where one size does not fit all.
The bottom line is if we as school and district leaders are asking our teachers to recognize and personalize learning for the students, isn’t it about time to do the same thing for them?