Making professional development an impactful cycle of learning

Well-planned professional development fosters a solution-seeking mindset for teachers and administrators
By: | Issue: February, 2018 | Thought Leadership
January 17, 2018

How closely is professional development linked to student achievement?

Professionalism expects learning to be in the collective. We should think of our own learning and growth as part of a mutually beneficial ongoing professional development process. A big part of that idea is that we share and become more transparent in our practice as educators.

The best type of professional development exists within a constant cycle of learning around the essential learning standards and units of study we teach throughout the school year. Going to a conference can be really valuable, but only if we come back and apply that new knowledge in every cycle of student learning. I often ask teachers and administrators, “What impact did your work have this unit, this week, this month, this semester?” or “How did you know your work effort has had an impact on student learning?” If those types of collective teacher team discussions are happening, then the professional development process definitely impacts student learning.

What does effective professional development look like?

Effective professional development includes several components. It’s well-planned and ongoing. Teachers and administrators know in advance the details of the professional development plan for the school year. That plan also has to align with evidence of the current reality for teacher knowledge and growth as well as evidence—or lack of current evidence—for student learning. High-quality professional development provides space and time for teachers to reflect on current practices and then take action together to see whether their effort made a difference in actual student learning.

Another important aspect of effective professional development is the professional learning community process, an umbrella that helps teachers and teacher teams examine the impact of their professional development. An effective professional development program will also illustrate or highlight the part of the school’s vision for instruction and assessment and intervention that is being honored. Professional development cannot be random and unfocused. There needs to be coherence to the effort. If all professional development activities are connected to the vision for the professional work of the school, then coherence in the teacher growth process can be served.

How do school and district leaders impact professional development?

A positive impact occurs when they help orchestrate, organize, provide the time and actually teach part of the professional development. I’m a big fan of school district and school site professional development being led by people who are in central office or school site leadership positions. Leadership credibility is enhanced when school leaders help train and provide insight to team leaders and instructional coaches. Essentially, good administrators never stop teaching.

Talk about professional development through the prism of happiness, engagement, alliances, risk-taking and thought, which is from your book, HEART!: Fully Forming Your Professional Life as a Teacher and Leader.

When I wrote the book, I really wanted to get at the cultural elements of happiness in the workplace and becoming fully engaged in our professional work and life. I wanted each letter of the word “HEART” to stand for a different element of our work.

• “Happiness” is about passion, purpose and a positive impact in education.

• “Engagement” explores the research for overcoming the lack of being fully engaged in our daily work life. Only about one-third of all teachers and leaders fall into that category.

• “Alliances” asks readers to be open to forming alliances with their fellow educators so they can collaborate effectively, as an essential element of their professional development.

• “Risk-taking” demonstrates why teachers should engage in vision-focused risk-taking to create sustainable change in their schools.

• Finally, “Thought” focuses on the knowledge capacity educators should have to fulfill the heart of the teaching profession.

There are educational thought leaders as well as other organizational voices in the book. I have also included spaces in the book to reflect and write your own story. Many schools are currently using it as a way to engage in meaningful discussions about their workplace culture as well as to reconnect their staff to the meaning and the purpose of our work as K12 educators.

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