5 Ways to Make Professional Learning More Effective

Ensuring Educators Have Relevant, Meaningful PD Experiences

Throughout their career, almost every educator will have some type of professional development (PD). While PD can vary by the state, district, and even school-level, recent research indicates that there are common trends in schools’ PD success and places where it may be falling short. Understanding these gaps is crucial to create effective PD programs that sharpen teachers’ skills and help lead to improved student outcomes

Recent trends in professional development

Research from the RAND Corporation, conducted during the 2021-22 school year, surveyed K–12 ELA, math, and science teachers. The research found that the most common form of PD was collaborative learning – such as work time with colleagues or more structured meetings. Workshops, trainings, and coaching were less common.

Teachers reported that when they are in PD, they usually use the time to focus on curriculum implementation, analyze student data, or create classroom materials. Essentially, PD time is often being used as focused working sessions. Given how much teachers and schools have on their plates, it’s understandable that PD time can feel like a good opportunity for educators to collaborate in small group working sessions.

Where professional development is lacking

However, the findings from the study indicate that there is a need for true professional learning and development. According to RAND, more than half of the teachers surveyed said that their PD doesn’t provide them with much access to expertise on:

  • subject matter knowledge
  • supporting English language learners or students with special learning needs
  • using required curriculum materials

So, how can districts fill these gaps?

1. Provide collaborative demonstrations and opportunities for hands-on learning.

Teachers want to hear from other educators. They want to learn what others are doing well, see those strategies in action, and know they can be implemented quickly and easily. Interactive workshops and training that involve active participation and practical exercises resonate with teachers. From there, they can practice these new strategies, receive immediate feedback from colleagues, and take time to refine their approach.

2. Focus on long-term development.

Helping teachers grow and develop their craft is not something that happens in a single training session. Like any skill, teaching strengthens over time. All educators can benefit from ongoing PD that allows them to continuously grow. Short-term workshops are valuable, but sustained learning opportunities, such as extended courses or mentorship programs, have a lasting impact.

3. Ensure PD is relevant and practical.

The most relevant PD is the kind that applies directly to educators’ classroom needs. For example, if a teacher has a large population of English language learners, give that teacher approaches to best support students. Ensuring teachers have the strategies necessary to meet diverse learning needs may require bringing in outside experts.

4. Offer choice and flexibility.

Many teachers appreciate the ability to choose development opportunities that align with their personal goals and their classrooms’ unique needs. Offering a range of options, from workshops to on-demand, online courses, allows them to tailor their learning experience.

5. Continuously assess your PD program.

Finally, to provide effective PD that is personalized to educators’ needs, it’s important to involve teachers in planning. Gather feedback and evaluate the impact of PD programs regularly. This will help ensure teachers are engaged, motivated, and equipped to create meaningful learning experiences for their students.

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