Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. – John Cotton Dana
Choosing the right professional development for each stage of a teaching career is a big deal. In the field of education, we know that professional development (PD) is a necessary part of teacher success and overall student achievement. Research clearly shows that teaching quality is strongly correlated with student achievement.1 To provide quality teaching, educators need to have strong skills in many areas. Unfortunately, there are quite a few areas not addressed in teacher preparatory programs. Offering professional development, in the right way at the right time, is a way to fill in gaps and help teachers remain current in an ever-changing field.
But what makes a professional development program a good one? While there are common themes to successful PD, such as collaborative and sustained learning, it’s important to step back and consider where your teachers are in their journey as educators. Your first-year teacher is in a much different stage than your seasoned veteran who has been on staff for 15 years. Both require professional development, but their specific needs are vastly different. Consider the following stages of the educator’s journey as you plan professional development for the school year.
Stage 1: Survival – The First Five
The first five years are the most vulnerable for teachers, as 40% do not make it past this benchmark.2 You should consider this stage as the one that will require the most attention. Two important ideas to consider at this stage are e-learning and sustained learning.
First, e-learning typically allows the learner to access new information in smaller, digestible bits. For our millennial generation, a subtype of e-learning, m-learning or mobile learning, is preferred. These teachers want information that is accessible through mobile devices anytime, anywhere. A benefit of e-learning is that it can offer the learner coursework through micro-learning modules, often lasting no more than 15 minutes per course. This type of PD is less overwhelming and easy to offer in a manner that’s sustainable over a period of time.
Next, sustainability is important for this vulnerable group of educators. Asking folks who have such a steep learning curve to sit in a 2-day classroom style conference and then go back to their classrooms to implement from there, with no follow-up, is overwhelming. Create sustained learning for your teachers by offering PD over time, preferably throughout the school year. Coaching and mentoring are great examples of how professional development can be sustained over time.
Stage 2: Rinse, Repeat and Renew – Years 6-15
By year six, not only has the teacher passed the Survival stage, but they now feel confident in their abilities to lead a classroom. At this point, teachers know what to anticipate month to month and experience has shaped their teaching styles. That said, they still need professional development just as much as their novice colleagues. These teachers are the core of your faculty and keeping them refreshed and renewed is critical to retaining them.
One type of professional development that is digestible for this stage is the full day or even multiple day conference. Now that this group of educators has experiences to draw from, it is more reasonable to ask them to sit in a room and learn a new literacy or math program. At this stage, it is also motivating to be out of the classroom for a few days, learning something new and interacting with colleagues.
Since these teachers are leaders, give them three questions to consider and report back on after they complete the course. For example, ask them to write down their biggest take-away, what they will immediately implement in their lessons, and what they would like to learn more about now that they have attended this conference. Preparing teachers ahead of time will help them see the value of their time at this event, and will keep them considering how to carry this newfound information to their classrooms.
Stage 3: Sergeant Major or Mastery Level – Years 15+
Here are your true veterans. The folks that have stuck with the profession for a solid chunk of their lives and will likely continue to stick with it. Do they really still need professional development? Yes! This group is most vulnerable when it comes to adoption of changes in school culture and to keeping things fresh for their students. The best way to approach this group is to involve them in the process of selecting coursework and in developing colleagues in stages one and two.
The worst thing an administrator can do is send a seasoned teacher to an irrelevant workshop. There may be times when state or district mandated subjects become part of all teachers’ professional development. But there are also opportunities for choice. Ask your seasoned veteran what he wants to learn about this year. See if a group of collaborators want to attend an event together. Collaborative learning is not just for students, adult learners benefit just as much.3 Offering choice and collaboration will increase teacher buy-in and keep your faculty happier and more engaged.
Seasoned educators are also great for district leaders to lean on to assist with professional development for less seasoned teachers. While some training on leadership and mentoring will be necessary to equip veterans to work with newer teachers, the opportunity to share experiences and be part of the overall school professional development plan is empowering and will inevitably foster positivity within the school culture if handled properly.
Here’s the bottom line: Educators love learning. Being strategic with how professional development is offered this year will increase chances of teacher adoption and successful implementation of newly acquired skills.