Teacher development is one of the most critical factors in a school’s growth and overall healthiness. And it’s pretty easy to see why – when teachers learn new skills, so will their students. When they understand best practices, classrooms are more productive. It’s really easy to say that professional development is important.
But, all too often, professional development becomes a chore. It’s reduced to checking off list items and completing courses rather than retaining information that actually applies to the classrooms at your school. And it’s not always the fault of the teacher or instructor – it could have to do with the way your program is set up.
FACTS Education Solutions helps schools like yours build professional development programs that actually work. How do we do it? A lot of research, a ton of expertise, and a few ground rules. Here are some of the most important ones.
PD Ground Rule 1: Programs should be planned out, focused, and customized for teachers.
Before you launch (or re-launch) a professional development program, take a step back and consider the goals of the program. Most likely, those goals will include things like defining teacher career paths and improving classroom experiences for students.
As you introduce items to your plan, continue to check back. Is this item addressing those goals in some way? If not, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s invaluable – but it’s definitely worth consideration.
Finally, think about how the professional development items are actually being presented to teachers. As much as we love a good lecture, it may be time to move away from traditional presentations and one-size-fits all courses. One of the biggest reasons professional development sometimes feels chore-ish is because that’s the way it’s presented. Find ways to customize the experience for every teacher, and keep things engaging.
PD Ground Rule 2: Courses should include active, engaging content.
Development only happens when teachers are introduced to new ideas (or getting new perspectives on old ones). That means the content needs to challenge them. Drive them. It needs to be – well, interesting!
A good course will create opportunities for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other. Make it even more natural for teachers to turn to each other for advice. This not only makes for a more intriguing PD session – it helps better connect the school community and make a more lasting impact. Because of that, classrooms become even better.
PD Ground Rule 3: You need to address best practices (and identify which are most important for your school and teachers).
Ah, yes. Best practices. What would a professional development program be without them? These insights are often backed by plenty of research and trial/error, so they’re definitely worthwhile to include. But you still need to make sure they’re applicable to your teachers.
The lessons and content included in your program need to be quickly and easily implementable for your teachers. Keep in mind that routines and existing practices can be difficult to break. If you have teachers that are making significant changes to theirs, be patient, compassionate, and supportive.
There should be a level of flexibility – after all, each classroom and teacher are different. But you’ll still want to make sure they’re using the things they’ve learned. Best practices are there for a reason: They work. And they may work better than what you’re already doing.
PD Ground Rule 4: Good professional development involves coaching and mentorship.
We aren’t just talking about a course instructor here. We’re talking about someone who is dedicated to working with teachers. Someone who talks through issues and makes sure that the lessons they’ve learned actually translates to the classrooms they lead.
If you want to keep things in the organization, consider an administrator (ideally a former educator) or hiring a dedicated professional development lead. If that’s not in the budget, there are a number of programs that offer virtual and in-person coaching (including FACTS Ed).
PD Ground 5: At some level, you need a plan for what happens beyond the course’s end date.
Good professional development keeps teachers and other participants thinking. Great professional development helps guide those thoughts – even after the course is over. It needs to go beyond a single class or a few hours spent online.
To do this, consider assigning someone to keep people accountable for what they’ve learned. Make it an organization-wide effort to check in, ask questions, and continue conversations that were started in PD. If you’re an administrator, make sure you’re aware of recent PD efforts when doing walkthroughs.