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Learning Curves
February 1, 2018

Teaching Teachers – State of Professional Development

MHT Partners  | Education Investment Bank

Did you know an overwhelming majority of teachers believe professional development is ineffective in its current form? Studies show teachers consider professional development programs to be largely irrelevant and out of touch with the core focus of their work, which is to educate students. Teacher feedback suggests that programs are slow to adapt to the ever-changing nature of their profession, particularly when it comes to incorporating modern technology and learning tools in the classroom. Historically, teachers have been given little ability to personalize their professional development learning plan, which has ultimately resulted in many viewing professional development as nothing more than a compliance exercise.

Professional Development of the Past
Traditional professional development programs are comprised of a variety of programs including workshops, coaching, collaboration with other teachers and self-guided courses. While teachers and administrators generally agree about the characteristics of an effective professional development program, districts often are challenged with proper implementation. For instance, most teachers prefer coaching over other methods, but this method requires consistent evaluation from qualified individuals with enough classroom time to provide relevant and constructive feedback. In practice, teachers believe one-off classroom observations rarely amount to anything more than a written assessment of their performance. As a professional development tool, ongoing coaching is difficult to implement due to administrator time constraints, as they tend to direct their extra time toward teachers with performance issues.

Future of Professional Development
Researchers have spent a significant amount time studying professional development methods to determine the best path forward. In 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”) to establish priorities and design a new framework for effective professional learning methods. ESSA defines qualified professional development time based on the following criteria:

  • Sustained – Takes place over an extended period of time rather than being limited to a one-time event (such as traditional workshops)
  • Intensive – Focused on specific concepts
  • Collaborative – Involves several educators and/or coaches working together to gain an understanding of the topic at hand
  • Job-embedded – Occurs on a day-to-day basis as part of the normal job
  • Data-driven – Methods tied to actual data about the training needs of the participants
  • Classroom-focused – Relevant to the teaching process rather than being limited to theoretical concepts.

There is clear public consensus regarding the need to improve both the nature and effectiveness of professional development. ESSA provides a starting point for schools and districts as they seek new learning programs that meet these higher standards. To that end, we expect new players to emerge in the professional development market with solutions that are more pertinent, personalized, and productive for today’s teachers.

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