Teachers crave professional development, but the delivery must be inspiring, pertinent and applicable. Dull and required "sit-and-get" professional development is no more fun for teachers than a droning lecture on Mesopotamia is for students. In either scenario, the prominent question on all learners’ minds is, ultimately, “How does this apply to me?”
If PD opportunities lack relevance and application, resulting in a lack of change and improvement in the classroom, time and money are wasted.
As with students, however, technology is adding a new wrinkle to the way teachers learn. But while tech is making professional learning more personalized and pertinent, district coordinators must ensure that the distance it can allow doesn't prevent opportunities for interaction and collaboration in the process.
Successfully capitalizing on these expanding opportunities, however, can improve the experience exponentially, as these three methods have shown.
Taking a cue from the blended learning model, PD is being offered to teachers in the same format. Through personalized, blended approaches, teachers can decide how and when to complete professional development programs on topics that relate to them.
The idea is to let teachers tell the district what they want and need, not the other way around, said Michele Eaton, director of virtual and blended learning for Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana.
Eaton classifies her first try at providing personalized PD as failures, however.
“My first attempt didn’t go so well because I was doing professional development to the teachers, not with them,” she said, adding that personalized learning, for both students and teachers, is all about voice and choice.
In her second attempt at implementing the plan, Eaton got the choice part right, but the voluntary participation didn’t change. “It didn’t move the needle because I was giving them a choice, but not a voice,” she said. “I still owned it. It wasn’t their system.”
When Eaton transferred ownership of the program to the teachers, she saw total buy-in. She asked them what they wanted and how they wanted it presented and when. Just like blended learning for students, teachers were able to select some online programs and some small group, in-person training sessions. They designed the timelines and the check-ins, tailoring their professional curriculum to what they needed.
“They shifted everything,” she said. After that, the voluntary participation skyrocketed.
“When creating professional development, you always should think about buy-in,” she said. “If you implement something they want and need, the buy-in is built in. It’s not being done to them. Now, the professional development is just as much theirs as it is mine.”
It’s one thing to listen to a session on how to react to a defiant student while sitting in an auditorium with other like-minded educators. But taking that sage advice and applying it to a real-world student meltdown in real-life surroundings is a whole different challenge.
A new bug-in-the-ear approach aims to solve that problem by having instructors, or coaches, give teachers and paraprofessionals advice through an earpiece as they watch a situation occur in real time.
The coaches provide training by watching a teacher in the classroom in real-time via small robotic cameras, providing feedback through a subtle in-ear device, much like quarterbacks have in NFL games. The instant feedback is relevant and applicable.
The program was developed by University of Washington College of Education associate professor Kathleen Artman Meeker and Nancy Rosenberg, UW Applied Behavior Analysis program director. The approach is most pertinent when teachers need specific feedback for an ongoing issue.
“Bug-in-ear coaching provides an opportunity for the coach to watch closely and problem-solve with the teacher in real-time,” Meeker said. “It might be useful when a teacher is practicing new behavior support strategies for an individual learner, for example.”
Because the training is specific but remote, it can be used to bring coaches and teachers together who would otherwise be impeded by distance or traffic.
“In an era of teacher shortages, this is an important way to help make sure that teachers get support in remote, rural or under-resourced areas,” she said, adding the technology is affordable and often \available at most schools. “A bluetooth earpiece and a tablet are all you need to get started. If you can host a video call using the free software that's on many phones and tablets, you can start bug-in-ear coaching.”
With tech-induced distance comes a need for closeness. That’s where micro PD comes in.
Time-crunched teachers may not feel they have time for hours of PD instruction, but 10 minutes of pertinent, weekly learning works. It’s consistent, dependable and can be applied in the classroom that very day. Not a one-and-done, micro PD also allows for follow-up questions.
The brainchild of Michael Gaskell, principal of Hammarskjold Middle School in New Jersey, these bite-sized lessons enhance teachers’ toolboxes while giving them a chance to connect with their peers. This creates an environment of bonding and support.
“Ironically, the idea came out of a 'mini-lesson' idea I used on morning announcements with students,” Gaskell said. “If I could do a school-wide mini-lesson, why not offer something similar to the faculty?”
These brief sessions make the teachers feel more energized about teaching, more connected and more supported. And that’s critical, Gaskell said.
“Research is clear that time spent supporting individuals helps them grow and feel more connected in their work,” he said. “That’s important when their work involves entering a classroom to teach children. Teachers like micro PD and use it in their own mini-lesson opportunities in class.”
Gaskell uses surveys to gauge what’s working and what’s not. The mini PD sessions have proven to be a hit.
“My staff loves this,” he said. “They like that it’s a quick snapshot opportunity, and it’s motivating and inspiring. Teachers need support in a world of negative messages, just like we all do.”