Putting the professional back in K12 professional development

How to give teachers a voice in their professional learning journey
By: | August 22, 2018

Personalized learning for students has long been a priority in K12 education, but for some reason, some districts haven’t applied this same approach to teachers.

For years, PD has been completely one-dimensional. Teachers sit in district- and state-mandated PowerPoint-driven seminars that fail to encourage collaboration or authentic engagement in the material.

Often, teachers leave feeling like what they have learned isn’t applicable to their teaching styles and classrooms—therefore no progress is made.

A recent study from Learning Forward indicated nearly 20 percent of teachers don’t have any input in their PD decisions.

If professional development is designed to improve the professional, then why is there a disconnect between the personal decision-making and professional learning?

Other industries have begun prioritizing professional development by offering a collaborative and personalized approach, improving the return on time and money invested and empowering employees to improve performance.

So why has education become one of the worst in class when it comes to professional training and advancement?

Fortunately, more districts and policymakers are beginning to make the connection between student performance and teacher development.

The more engaged teachers are in their own growth as educators, the better students will fare.

Ask the right question

The first step in creating a more collaborative and personalized approach to professional learning is to focus on the how, not the what.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what type of educational programs your district will provide, but to be successful here, you should first concentrate on how you want professional learning to work in your schools.

Step back and look at what the instructional evaluations point toward and what your data tell you.

Do you have a clear understanding of where teachers in your district are struggling? In which areas are they excelling? Once you can answer these questions you can begin to piece together how to focus efforts to improve instruction.

Encourage peer-to-peer observation and feedback

At the crux of effective PD is offering teachers relevant and applicable content. In other words, the content needs to be authentic to what that teacher needs to learn to improve instruction.

While teachers deserve a say in their professional learning, they often need guidance.

It’s human nature to want to focus on improving in areas we’re already good at, so inviting educators to unilaterally pick their own path of improvement could reinforce current strengths while failing to address existing gaps in instructional effectiveness.

Teachers should work alongside colleagues to get unbiased feedback. Peer observations provide a supportive environment for teachers to flesh out opportunities for reflection and improvement.

Stripping away the anxiety of an evaluation and positioning the exercise as a collaborative effort can break down defenses and get to the root of what type of content each teacher needs to better themselves and their classrooms.

I’ve seen this model in action and teachers have been receptive to feedback from their peers, likely because the advice is targeted and directly translates to topics that matter most instructionally.

Data delivers a personalized approach

Professional learning is only going to get better as teachers become more involved in the processes.

I predict that more teachers will begin using student assessment data to diagnose gaps as well as to identify areas of growth for themselves. A number of technology solutions are already coming together to link key student performance, educator effectiveness and professional learning data.

Now is the time to create personal and authentic development programs for your district that do more than check the proverbial box, but lead to improved instructional effectiveness.

Ron Huberman was the CEO and superintendent for Chicago Public Schools and now works with Chicago area law enforcement.