Learning to Teach Teachers Like Teachers
The summer before I started my first year of teaching my district sent me an email with all of the required professional development that I had to attend before August of that year. My original thought was that all of the college courses I had taken to obtain my teaching certificate and these required development sessions surely would offer completely different experiences. I was excited and eager to start LEARNING what this new chapter was going to be like.
The first session I attended ended and I remember feeling confused as to what I had just experienced. It was face paced and covered content that did not pertain to me AT ALL. At this point in my career I was a 5th grade Writing teacher and my district had just sent me to a STEM session. When questioned about being in the wrong grouping I was told STEM applies to all subject areas and I was indeed in the correct spot. What my administration failed to realize was that I didn’t need this type of professional development. What I NEEDED was guidance on classroom management strategies, motivating writers, bulking up lesson plans.
My professional development plan was the same as all other teachers in the district. 20 year teaching veteran? Same. New to the field? Same. I started the year lost, confused, and relying on my mentor teacher to bridge the gaps of college and career. My district fell short on recognizing what I needed and wanted as a new teacher. We all need and want the same things our students do. Motivation, encouragement, support and a general sense of excitement that we can then transfer back into our classroom.
Professional development is seen by the majority of teachers as more of an obligation and a thorn in the side. One does not simply attend by choice. It’s seen as a day that is supposed to be filled with enrichment and learning but almost always ends up feeling like a waste of time. A day stolen from my classroom of unfinished tasks and lessons to be planned. Dittoing thoughts and critiques are echoed by fellow educators and administrators across the nation.
If we care enough to dig deeper into why professional development isn’t a success in our districts, we would find that it all boils down to how it’s presented and to what extent our teachers are involved. For professional development to be effective, it must be more teacher-specific. Making this relevant to our classroom, students, and educator concerns will produce lasting effects in our system.
Once again, we know there needs to be a change, and this ball is much easier to get rolling when compared to our entire education system. As a professional, I am developed enough. What I do need more of is related learning in collaboration with fellow teachers in my district. I’m proposing a change from developing our teachers to helping them learn. So how do we do it?
The Why– As an educator, I want to learn new things and become a better teacher. There is always room for improvement. So many of our teachers recognize the ineffectiveness of professional development. Teachers in my district are used to a “sit and get” model of professional learning. This in itself does not effectively change behavior or increase student achievement (Harapnuik, 2018). Giving, followed by little to nothing else, is not a way to help others learn new things and motivate them to be better than the day before. Changing the way we grow professionally, changes the way we teach.
The What– Moving from professional development to professional learning is not confusing or difficult if we take the time to identify the difference between the two. Professional development is usually a workshop or lecture where teachers are given handouts (if they’re lucky) and sit through a presentation that most likely does not pertain to them. This workshop or lecture is followed by no ongoing support for implementation. Professional learning is an interactive and collaborative workshop or inservice. The biggest difference is the ongoing support in professional learning. This is crucial for effective learning and implementation.
The How– The change comes from delivery. Gone are the days of filling in the slide printouts and sitting through a powerpoint read aloud. Teachers are individuals that think, teach, and learn differently and have different needs. We need to prioritize those differences and reach all teachers. Offering choices of extended professional learning and active collaboration shows our teachers that we see them and respect their needs.
There’s always room for improvement and learning. When teachers are asked to attend professional learning, they need to know that ongoing support is part of that. Teachers cannot be expected to attend a session, absorb it all in the time allotted and suddenly become experts in that area. In order to see that professional learning is making a change, our teachers need to know that the support is included. This is no longer a one and done.
Support during implementation. You’ve given me the handouts and maybe even a class set of this activity. What else do you have to offer? So many great pieces are left on the shelf because of the lack of support for implementation in the classroom. If I do not understand how to best use your handouts in an effective way with my students and there is zero follow up for implementation, on the shelf they will sit. Teachers need to know that there is support with new strategies and techniques.
Active Engagement is such a crucial part of professional learning. Put your piece in my hands and let me explore. Have me move and collaborate with teachers of my grade level, content or years of experience. The newest coolest Google App you’re showing would be wonderful to have my students utilize. The problem lies in the fact that teachers lose interest in the presentation and aren’t engaged enough to take this back to their students.
Modeling these strategies gives you more bang for your buck. If we can see it modeled for implementation, the buy in is solidified. Best practice in a classroom of students is to model those behaviors and expectations. It works for adults too!
Differentiate to make it relevant to the teachers you are trying to reach.. There’s not a single aspect of teaching that should model a one size fits all. Best practice with our students is to meet them where they are. All students are different learners and teachers should be seen the same. We do not all require the same things.
Duarte, N. [Stanford Graduate School of Business]. (2013b, February 19). Nancy Duarte: How to create better visual presentations [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so9EJoQJc-0
Dwayne Harapnuik. (2021b, April 17). EDLD 5389 introduction [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4Zr3u6D3OU