According to a recent study conducted by the Gates Foundation, $18 billion is spent annually on teacher professional development. The average teacher spends anywhere from 68-89 hours in professional learning a year. However, only 29% of teachers are highly satisfied with their professional development. In other words, only $6 billion is truly spent effectively. From this data, I think it’s safe to say that the traditional model of PD is wasting districts’ time and resources.
Most of the professional development that teachers receive is some combination of boring, irrelevant, or one-time only. As a former teacher, I can attest to the fact that most of the PD I attended was of poor quality. I sat through many sit-and-get lectures and inapplicable seminars and, while I hate to admit it, I often brought papers to grade because I felt that was a more valuable use of my time. But every so often, I would have one transformative PD - interactive, practical, relevant, timely - that challenged my thinking, equipped me with new tools and strategies, and ultimately made me a better educator. This is the sort of PD that all teachers want but so rarely receive. Read on for three ways that districts can rethink professional learning.
Tip #1: Provide relevant differentiated experiences for teachers.
The widespread adoption of classroom technology for blended learning has had a tremendous impact on students all over the US. We’ve known for decades that differentiating content for students based on their level of performance has a massive impact on academic outcomes. Today, due to new funding initiatives and the growing availability of durable, intuitive devices, many districts have leveraged technology to differentiate instruction, allowing teachers to meet both high performing and high needs students at their individual learning levels.
But why aren’t more districts differentiating for teachers as well as students? Ranging from the master-teacher to the tech-integrator to the novice to the traditionalist, and everywhere in between, teachers come to the profession with a variety of experiences and professional abilities as well as a vast array of innate skills and traits that make them all unique. If we want our teachers to also be lifelong learners, then we owe them access to professional learning that addresses their individual challenges, unique interests and strengths, and expertise. In order to continue growing and learning, teachers need to be engaged by and find meaning in the content covered in their PD. Allowing teachers to choose a PD topic relevant to their needs and interests will help them achieve instructional goals and empower them to be the best that they can be for our kids.
Tip #2: Encourage professional learning through technology.
Many districts find that scheduling teacher personalized professional development at scale is nearly impossible. Because of constraints around the logistics of scheduling, finding substitutes, and honoring contractual agreements, many districts resort to one-size-fits-all teacher professional development. That means one presenter lecturing 30 teachers on a topic that may or may not be aligned to individual teacher needs.
However, technology can give teachers access to more relevant professional learning opportunities that they can complete on their own time. Webinars, microcredentials, virtual PD, Twitter chats, and online professional learning communities mean that personalized, self-directed PD is at teachers’ fingertips. Just as teachers use technology to flip their classrooms, districts can use technology to flip teacher professional development. The right technology will allow rich learning to occur at any time.
Tip #3: Shift the paradigm to competency-based professional development.
As mentioned above, the average teacher spends about 70 hours a year in professional development. In traditional PD models, rather than receiving credit for what they learn or how they apply their new knowledge, teachers get credit for merely showing up to the session.
Recently, microcredentials and digital badges have entered onto the professional learning scene. These platforms shift the professional development paradigm from seat-based recognition to competency-based recognition. To earn microcredentials, teachers must use evidence, artifacts, and reflection to actually demonstrate the skills in which they are competent once they have learned them. This approach necessarily shifts teacher learning from passive to active and impacts the rigor of professional development. Microcredentials allow teachers to choose specific professional competencies that are meaningful to them and display their mastery of these competencies in various platforms and forums. Many districts already using microcredentials also note that teachers engage in the microcredentialing process collaboratively, increasing success rates and the sharing of best practices.