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Professional Development in Context

Professional Development in Context

Author: Gino Sangiuliano

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

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Hello there, and welcome. Professional development for teachers, administrators, and support staff can be directly linked to student growth and achievement. In this lesson, we will take a close look at the many reasons for initiating various types of professional development. There are a lot of them. So let's get started

What is it that forces us to learn something? What is it that motivates us to learn something? Those two questions are similar but different. To illustrate the distinction between the two, I'll draw upon my experience as a parent. When my son was about 12 or 13 I forced him to learn how to mow the lawn. He wasn't happy about it, but he actually got pretty good at it. Now that he's a little older and has developed an interest in photography, he wants to learn how to take quality photographs.

My other son was struggling with math. This prompted us to get him a tutor. Finally, as a family, we wanted to go skiing. But to do so we needed to take some basic lessons. Learning is inspired by many reasons. So is professional development.

Let's review why professional development is so important in our field in the first place. We know that having an effective teacher is one of the greatest factors when it comes to increasing student achievement. For this reason, it's imperative that teachers are provided quality and relevant professional development throughout their careers.

It is that professional development that will lead to continuous improvement of content knowledge and instructional skills, both of which will make you a better educator. This can be done in many contexts. For example, it may be connected to a district or said initiative, for example, or curriculum shifts, perhaps teacher evaluation.

Professional development could be initiated because of an individual's teacher goal, or the goal of a professional learning community. It may be focused on skills such as technology integration, teaching better practices, alignment to standards or school programs, and many, many more. The term professional development is used to capture all of the professional training that teachers receive, and there are numerous contexts for them.

Let's take a look at some of the contexts we already mentioned, as well as some others. There are times that professional development will be provided to teachers directly by the district and in some cases are even embedded as part of the school calendar. In this case, the learning is meant to meet the objectives of the district's strategic plan or district initiatives. Of course, as is the case with all learning, best practice would be to differentiate the PD in order to meet the needs of the teachers of various grades and content that make up a district.

However, in many cases this type of professional development is not very personalized, and is provided in a larger setting to accommodate the number of teachers that need the training. This happened recently with the adoption of Common Core State Standards by the majority of the states. Many districts scrambled to provide their staffs with the necessary training needed to better understand and implement Common Core practices in their classrooms.

A more focused and manageable professional development may also originate at the school level. Often the case, professional development coming from the school level is initiated by something that has been revealed by the school improvement team as they look at the school's data. An example might be that the school is experiencing an unusually high number of behavior incidents or referrals during recess. In this case, perhaps the staff who was monitoring the children during that time may require training on how institute logical consequences.

As is the case with district initiatives, best practice would be that professional development is differentiated to meet the needs of the teachers in the building. Furthermore, in most cases the school improvement team or other school governing body will collect data and closely monitor the impact of the professional development, from both the teacher and the students' perspective. School-wide professional development is aimed at building capacity, implementing practice with fidelity, and to ensure that all students in the school benefit from effective strategies and instructional methods.

Another impetus for a teacher to develop a professional growth plan is evaluation. As a matter of fact, many if not most teacher evaluation models require teachers to develop professional growth plans.

These plans are often very comprehensive and developed by the teacher with the help of an administrator. They are based on data and feedback from their previous evaluations, or are generated from an interest in learning a new strategy, or strengthen and an existing one, and often include the development of SMART goals. Many schools not only allow, but encourage teachers to work collaboratively on the professional growth goals. These goals are generally updated annually, and monitored by the evaluator as part of a larger process.

It's a little different, however, if a teacher is required to create a professional improvement plan as a result of being found less than effective by their evaluator. In this case, the teacher has less autonomy and choice in building their plan, and may be required to attend professional development training to remediate specific areas of deficit. The drive behind an improvement plan is the data that was used to determine that they were ineffective in one or more areas. It may sound a little bit intimidating, but your administrator or evaluator wants you to succeed and will do everything they can to support you.

A common model used by many schools to help teachers with professional development is coaching. A coach can be a pair, a teacher leader, or a trained instructional coach whose main priority is to help others reflect and improve on their practice.

I was an induction coach for first year teachers and saw the benefits of this model firsthand. As a coach, I was not considered an administrator or an evaluator, which would have been counterproductive to my work with teachers. I was an observer, a confidant, a supporter, and an advisor. Coaches develop strong trusting relationships with the teachers that they work with. It's not necessarily all one-sided, however. As a coach, I learned a great deal from the educators that I worked with as well.

In situations like collaborative teams of teachers who work as a professional learning community, the determination may be that professional development in a particular area, based on the student achievement data they uncover, is needed. For example, a PLC may decide that they need to increase science scores, and that in order to do that they need to further train themselves in the Next Generation Science Standards.

The team then engages in collaborative professional learning, monitors their data, and provides support and critical feedback to one another. If you are part of a group doing this, it's great. But your administrator will want to know, so don't be bashful about sharing it with them.

In my opinion, a wonderful movement that has been happening across the country has resulted in teachers truly taking control of their professional development. Groups of educators come together to share their expertise and learn from one another at events like edcamps and unconferences. These are usually free, voluntary, and informal types of professional development.

But don't let that fool you. It really is the teachers that are teaching teachers. And the level of energy and motivation at these events is off the charts. On a smaller scale, school faculties often engage in lunch and learns, or after school sessions led by staff members. This type of learning is genuine and engaging.

The last type I want to mention is teacher determined. For some of you, by participating in these online lessons it may be simply because you have found something related to your field that you would like to learn more about. You can find other opportunities for a teacher determined professional development through graduate classes, or less formally, through social media platforms. The internet offers a wide array of platforms for teachers to connect with like-minded teachers to engage in ongoing professional growth. So look for them and take advantage of them.

So to summarize this lesson, we focused on the importance of professional development and specifically on the many contexts in which they are negotiated and occur. The ones we covered were district initiatives, school initiatives, teacher evaluation, coaching, PLCs, teacher led, and teacher determined.

And now for today's food for thought. Go through the list from the previous slide and ask yourself, which have you experienced. And also you'll want to reflect on how this new information can be applied. So check out the additional resources section that accompanied 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 so much for watching. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Professional Development in Context"

(00:00-00:18) Intro

(00:19-01:00) Learning

(01:01-02:07) Importance of PD

(02:08-02:56) District Initiatives

(02:57-03:58) School Initiatives

(03:59-05:15) Teacher Initiatives

(05:16-05:59) Coaching

(06:00-06:36) PLC

(06:37-07:17) Teacher Led PD

(07:18-07:46) Teacher Determined

(07:47-08:35) Summary/Food For Thought

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.