7 ways to maximize professional learning for schoolteachers

Take advantage of technology to help teachers advance

Effective professional development helps educators better address the rapidly evolving needs of students.

But with limited budgets and teacher time, how can PD be served up effectively, and integrated and tracked?

Education leaders share their best practices for ensuring that professional learning time is well-spent, focused, shared and rewarded.

1. Offer various formats. Just as technology can be used to serve up different courses to different students, it can be used similarly for professional development.

At Michigan Virtual, Ken Dirkin, director of online professional learning, offers courses across the spectrum, from face-to-face to online to a blend of both.

The nonprofit organization provides some 20,000 K12 educators with professional learning opportunities. Its PD for teachers focuses on better use of technology in the classroom, promoting online delivery and other topics.

Michigan Virtual offers plenty of hybrid delivery models that combine face-to-face with online instruction. “Some people need that very high-touch environment to learn well, and some people are more self-directed” Dirkin says. “So we try to give teachers different opportunities to learn.”

2. Involve teachers in training. One oft-heard complaint about PD is that it isn’t relevant. To make sure PD is valued, Chris Huckans, principal of Bishop Hall Charter School in Georgia, asks teachers to be involved in the training.

“We ask teachers who have created a niche around a particular subject to do our PD for us” Huckans said. “The most important thing is finding out what teachers want.”

3. Keep sessions short. At Bishop Hall, individual PD sessions are kept to about a half-hour, often after school. By recording sessions and making them available for playback, teacher time is optimized.

Teachers can access lessons in the LMS and call up a refresher from a class they liked. Teachers and trainers can also add content over time as a topic builds interest.

4. Build trust. At Calgary’s Bowness High School in Alberta, Canada, Assistant Principal Tracy Dalton stresses the importance of building a culture of trust with teachers. To do that, be sure to allow time for mistakes.

“We encourage teachers to try things without being called on the carpet if they don’t work” Dalton says. “We give them opportunities to improve their practice. It doesn’t have to work out perfectly. That’s how we learn.”

5. Mix PD with networking. Younger teachers especially often favor teamwork and collaboration. No matter how good the training, adding connection capabilities like chatting and file sharing always strengthens it.

“Teachers really like the anyplace, anytime delivery mechanism of online, but it needs to include a human touch component” Michigan Virtual’s Dirkin says. Professional learning coaches can connect and share resources, expertise and experiences.

6. Leadership support. Bishop Hall’s Huckans stresses the importance of securing adequate funding for PD. “Make sure resources are there, and that your leadership backs it.”

One way to persuade the superintendent and school board to support professional learning efforts is through metrics that show real results. Look for ways to measure success, such as an increase in student achievement.

7. Go where the learners are. Finally, Dirkin recommends reaching out to busy teachers in creative ways, such as with podcasts or short learning modules that can be viewed on a mobile device.

Dirkin sees a trend in finding new kinds of delivery methods to use in professional development.

The most effective PD programs combine many of the practices mentioned here. They’re scalable, they encourage networking and they use technology to serve learning when and where teachers can use it.

“Good PD inspires people” says Bowness High’s Dalton. “It creates consistency, and that helps teachers feel that the work is manageable.”

Linda L. Briggs has been writing about the intersection of technology and education for over 25 years, with a focus on government and education.

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