With increasing numbers of edtech devices, software and apps that are used in the classroom, various improvements to teaching methodologies, and overall significant efforts to personalize learning and boost the academic outcomes of students, it’s easy for school leaders to take for granted one link that can make or break the chain of success: teachers.
Educators can’t know it all and do it all by magic; they also need to learn.
They need to learn about differentiated instruction, flexible learning environments, how to make the most of the school LMS, educational apps, or even VR and drones. They need to learn how to be resourceful in their classrooms and how to forge relationships with like-minded people across the school board and across the world.
And they need all the support they can get in all of these endeavors.
Professional Development programs for teachers exist precisely because of that. But there are many factors that can negatively influence their impact. The fast pace of changes within the industry, the failure to align school objectives with teacher objectives or plain communication issues are just a few examples.
Overcoming these — and more — is no easy feat. But it’s not impossible either.
5 Steps to take for successful PD for teachers
School leaders who want to create and deliver successful PD for their teachers are in for a struggle. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to it, as teachers themselves would know. However, there are some aspects that should always be a part of teacher PD. Here are five of them:
Establish the basics
Every single journey begins with a first step. That first step in teacher PD is to look around and determine what you need in order for it to be good. Don’t just jump straight in. Prepare.
Depending on how large your organisation is, gather all teachers, or at least some representatives, and ask them what they think their training needs are. Not only that, listen to what they have to say. Their feedback at this step can really make a difference later on.
Then you need to decide on what tools to use. Since teachers have to work with edtech when teaching, why not use the same edtech for when they’re learning? Maybe you could use your school LMS to create training courses for teachers; that way, they’ll get more familiar with it and see what it’s like to use it as a student.
Last but not least, plan on when and where exactly teacher PD will happen: a few hours each week, a few days each month, a couple of weeks in the summertime? At school or outside of it? There is no one best answer to these questions, but it’s always good to plan teacher PD throughout the year.
Provide relevant courses
Relevant means different things to different people. The discussion you had with your teachers before you planned the PD program can offer some great suggestions on what kind of PD courses teachers need.
Of course, it’s always good to pinpoint some exact problems that might be solved by teacher training but remember that some things are better solved in other ways. For instance, before you set a course on time management as mandatory, make sure teachers can actually perform their admin work in the considered time frames.
To cover as many needs as possible, try to plan both courses about the latest findings in pedagogy or subject matters, and courses on edtech and how to make the most of it. The TPACK framework is a good starting point.
Diversify your delivery
Mixing things up is always worth it. The thing is, every one of the teachers that work in your school is different than the other — and they learn differently too. Just like their students, actually.
Diversifying your methods of training will only respond to more learning needs of teachers. There is more than one way to do that. You could diversify the courses format: face-to-face instruction, online courses, or try out a blended approach. Then, you could diversify the courses content: text-based guides, video content, interactive scenarios, gamified content, and so on.
There really are many ways in which you could diversify the delivery of a PD program, and that phase where you established the basics along with your teachers should have come with a few suggestions on how to do that exactly.
You can’t think of teacher PD as a one-time shot and then call it a day. Learning is almost like an organic process that happens within informal settings just as much as (or maybe even more than) it does during official training.
Teachers learn from one another and your organisation should support and nurture that. Offer your teachers as many chances to collaborate as possible. Encourage the formation of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) and Communities of Practice (CoPs) and other forms of teacher communities where they can exchange ideas, find a support system and improve their practice. You can do this with the edtech that you’re already using in your school or through social media.
If you support the communities in any kind you’ll find that these communities will support your teacher PD program.
Read more: Learning and growing as educators
Offer continuous support
Learning never stops. Neither should the professional development of teachers. If you expect them to constantly get better at what they do, then you should be prepared to constantly offer them support.
You want them to actually implement a 1:1 program in their classroom? To reorganize the furniture or buy new things so that they can set up flexible learning spaces for students? To do what they learn in the PD courses?
They need your support in getting all the necessary funds.
You want them to know the school LMS and other educational software like the palm of their hands?
They need you to get the most knowledgeable people (a dedicated team or person from the vendors) to give them the most on-point training to use those programs.
You get the point. Great PD for teachers happens continuously and so should your support for them.
Teaching teachers is paramount to the great performance of an educational institution. School leaders who are aware of this are already one step ahead. While designing successful PD programs for teachers means something different to everyone, establishing the basics from the very beginning, providing relevant courses, diversifying delivery, promoting collaboration and offering continuous support, are among the things every school leaders must consider if they want to ensure the program will have positive results.
A version of this post was originally published on The Educator Australia on January 20, 2020.
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and NEO. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author and educator.