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Six Ways Your District Can Offer More Effective Professional Development

Michael Nutter

June 13, 2020

Your district may understand the importance of professional development — but if PD offerings aren’t up-to-date, interactive, and customized, they may not be as effective as you think.

As technology becomes an integral part of how we teach and learn, investing in professional development for educators becomes more important than ever. Districts have long understood that professional development for educators has the potential to bring significant benefits, including improved student learning outcomes and teacher retention rates. But as it becomes popular for educators to incorporate technology into their curricula to provide a 21st-century learning experience, professional development is also critical to fostering a more up-to-date understanding of new platforms and approaches.

Despite the tangible benefits that quality professional development programs can bring, not all district-led efforts produce the same results. According to a survey by the Hechinger Report,  only 30 percent of teachers improve substantially through district-led professional development programs. Poor outcomes for PD initiatives are also reflected in low teacher satisfaction. According to a set of surveys and interviews conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Boston Consulting Group, just 29 percent of teachers are satisfied with current professional development offerings.

Strategies to Improve Professional Development

Far from indicating that professional development is not worthwhile, these studies point to a widespread need for better professional development offerings for educators. Fortunately, there are many measures districts can and should take to make their professional development programs more effective.

1. Offer support during the implementation phase.

Whether it’s new subject material or a platform for online education, mastering new skills and techniques to share with students takes time. Providing educators the resources they need beyond the span of a seminar or a course can make a remarkable difference.

Ensure that teachers have ample resources available — be it learning videos, access to credentialed experts, peer collaboration groups, or regular feedback from an instructional coach — to support them as they introduce new techniques and technologies to the classroom.

2. Experiment with micro-teaching.

Micro-teaching is an established teacher-training method that involves creating a video of a lesson, accompanied by a debriefing afterward. Under guidance, the teacher presents and records a mini-lesson conducted to a small group. After the lesson, the group analyzes the teacher’s methods and provides both constructive criticism and positive reinforcement.

Many teachers find reviewing their lessons on video to be an effective self-assessment tool, as it provides them a vehicle for better understanding their own strengths and weaknesses. Especially as distance learning becomes the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating short video lessons can also be an effective way to conduct online lessons while keeping students engaged.

3. Offer active learning opportunities.

Students tend to learn better when they engage with the material through discussion, practice, and application. The same pedagogical models can be applied to help educators tackle new skills.

In active learning PD models, teachers gain hands-on experience by developing, practicing, and experimenting with new teaching strategies and methods. Teachers participate in the learning activities they might design for students and immerse themselves in a similar peer-to-peer environment.

Active learning can increase a teacher’s familiarity and comfort with new techniques and strategies, as well as ease the transition from a PD seminar or course to their own classrooms.

4. Ensure local buy-in and responsibility.

For PD initiatives to produce the desired outcomes, instructional practices must also align with local policies and goals. After investing time and effort into PD seminars and courses, teachers will need help bringing new practices to the classroom and aligning them with broader learning goals.

Districts can help ensure the success of PD initiatives by appointing a designated teacher (or group of teachers) to decide how new instructional practices can be best implemented — while considering the specific needs of their school. Effective implementation should also be supported by continuous assessment, feedback, and monitoring practices.

5. Provide customized feedback and training.

Professional development needs can vary depending on the school, department, or the unique approach of each individual teacher. Much like K-12 students, educators can also benefit greatly from customized learning opportunities and tailored feedback.

This is another area in which technology can play a significant role in personalizing education. Teachers can receive one-on-one, customized courses designed to address specific skills or subject areas. Districts may also wish to leverage new technologies that enable teachers to track and monitor their performance. Assessment platforms that track student progress over time, for instance, can help instructors assess what is and is not working.

6. Tailor your offerings to what your teachers need now.

Part of offering strong professional development is the ability to adapt to the changing needs of educators. These past months have highlighted a need for technology-oriented professional development in many districts, as seamless remote learning relies on educators and administrators mastering the tools they have at their disposal.

Virtual Professional Development with Vinson

At Vinson, we have rapidly adapted to the nation’s current education needs to offer virtual and blended-learning opportunities. Our new virtual PD offerings are led by certified experts from Google and Microsoft, and are designed to help educators master critical skills in tools like Google Classroom, Zoom, MS Office, and more. Whether you want to better support your district for the immediate remote learning future or simply promote valuable efficiency-boosting skills, Vinson can help. Reach out to us today to learn more.

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