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Professional Development in Context

Professional Development in Context

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students will analyze the various contexts for professional development.

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In this tutorial, we'll underscore the overall importance of professional development. And then we'll explore several professional development contexts. Let's get started.

Research tells us that effective teachers are one of the most influential factors in increasing student achievement. So this makes it incredibly important that teachers are provided with professional development opportunities throughout their career that are relevant and that help teachers to continuously improve not only their content knowledge, but also their repertoire of instructional skills.

So this term "professional development" really refers to all types of teacher training, which can happen in any number of contexts. It could be connected to district or site initiatives. It might be an element of teacher evaluation. It may be related to individual teacher goals or to PLC goals. And these PLC goals and even individual teacher goals tend to be connected back to site and district goals or initiatives.

Professional development might focus on technology skills or technology integration. It might focus on best practices in teaching. It might be aligned to specific standards or to individual school programs.

There are any number of topics or areas of focus for professional development. And so when we use that term, again, remember it's just being used to refer to all of these various teacher training opportunities. And so what we're going to do next is look at several different contexts in which professional development might occur.

Let's begin with district initiatives. You'll find that sometimes your professional development is going to be aligned with those overarching district initiatives, or the objectives of the strategic plan that the district has in place.

A best practice is to make sure that this professional development is differentiated so that it meets the various teacher needs across the district. A potential challenge here is that often this professional development that is aligned to district goals is going to be provided in a whole group environment just due to the large number of teachers that are going to need to be trained. And so you need to find a balance, then, of trying to maximize your resources and provide this district-wide training while still aiming for that differentiation to make sure that everyone's needs are met.

A recent example of a professional development initiative that was implemented district-wide is the transition to the Common Core State Standards. School districts in 48 of the 50 United States did, indeed, implement the Common Core State Standards. And so you can imagine the amount of professional development that needed to take place, then, in order to make that implementation successful.

Some professional development opportunities will originate at the school level. So this professional development would be aligned with site-based initiatives. What would happen in this case is that the school improvement team would review the school's data, and then might determine that the teachers in that particular building need training on a strategy or on an instructional method in order to support the student achievement goals that are being focused on at that school.

So once again, a best practice here would be to make sure that this professional development is differentiated to meet the needs of the various teachers in this building. Furthermore, another best practice is to make sure that you are monitoring the impact of this professional development on student achievement and on teacher practice.

The goal is that school-wide professional development should be implemented with fidelity. And it should aim to build capacity and to ensure the sustainability of school-wide initiatives.

Professional development may also occur in the context of teacher evaluation. In fact, many teacher evaluation models include creating a professional growth plan as an integral part of the model.

Usually, these professional growth plans are developed by the individual teachers based on the data and feedback they've received from their previous evaluations. So for example, a teacher may use their previous data and feedback to identify an instructional skill or strategy that they would like to strengthen. Or they might include a goal focused on learning a new instructional strategy.

In the context of teacher evaluation, the professional development plan is typically implemented at the start of the school year. And then progress towards reaching those professional development goals is tracked throughout the evaluation process as the year goes on.

If an evaluator determines that a teacher is not progressing effectively or is not demonstrating effectiveness, this may prompt the creation of what is called a "professional improvement plan." In a professional improvement plan, the teacher has significantly less voice and less choice than in a professional growth or development plan because the formulation of this plan really is guided by the evaluator and the data that they used to determine that the teacher was not demonstrating effectiveness.

So this plan may focus on one or more areas that are in need of improvement. And for example, the teacher might be required to attend some additional professional development opportunities in order to make progress towards remediating those identified areas.

Another commonly used professional development model in schools is the coaching model. Different models use different terms. But the term "coach" or "peer leader" or "instructional coach" just refers to the peer leader or another teacher who is observing the teacher and helping them to reflect on and improve their instructional practices. No matter what term is being used, coaches are not evaluators or administrators.

Professional development may also occur within the context of a PLC. A PLC may identify professional development needs for the teachers in that group based on student achievement data. For example, teachers in a mathematics PLC may see that data indicates that they need to increase math scores. And in order to do that, they are going to need further training on implementing multiple representations and on algebraic thinking.

So the PLC members not only identify their needs, but then engage in the professional development opportunities together as a group. They'll monitor their data together and provide the support and the critical feedback that are necessary as part of that professional development process.

Yet another possible context for professional development is teacher-led professional development. So not only can areas of need be identified at the school level by a school improvement team, individual teachers may also decide that they are interested in sharing their expertise with their colleagues.

So this may often occur in more informal professional development settings, like voluntary after-school sessions or "lunch and learns." But it can also happen in more official settings like ed camps or school-sanctioned "unconferences," where teachers volunteer to lead sessions that are focused on their areas of expertise so that they can share their skills and their knowledge with other teachers.

And one final context is teacher-determined professional development. So this is a little different than teacher-led. In this case, individual teachers might choose to simply pursue their own professional development experiences for the purpose of personal growth.

There are many different professional development options available online, including online coursework in general, or the more focused options in formal graduate classes, or even more informal learning situations, like social media groups and other opportunities in social media. Really, there are many different platforms that teachers can use to connect with like-minded individuals in order to engage in some ongoing professional development.

So with all of these possible contexts for professional development, here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Which of these contexts have you personally experienced? Are there any that you have not yet considered as possible avenues for the implementation of professional development?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Professional Development in Context"

(00:00 - 00:10) Introduction

(00:11 - 01:46) Importance of Professional Development

(01:47 - 03:10) District Initiatives

(03:11 - 04:20) School Initiatives

(04:21 - 06:16) Teacher Evaluation

(06:17 - 06:46) Coaching

(06:47 - 07:37) PLC

(07:38 - 08:32) Teacher-Led PD

(08:33 - 09:21) Teacher-Determined PD

(09:22 - 10:00) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

How Teachers Are Learning: Professional Development Remix

This blog post explores professional development resources for educators in the digital era.

Professional Learning Communities: Professional Development Strategies That Improve Instruction

This Annenberg Institute report explores the use of PLCs to improve teaching and learning.