How many times have you sat through professional development set for the entire faculty that had little to nothing to do with the students in your classes? Or didn’t really pertain to where you are in your teaching career? Too many times, right? It’s frustrating and, unfortunately, somewhat predictable. Logically, it stands to reason there’s no way whole faculty professional development can consistently meet the needs of all teachers. Teachers new to the profession and/or new to a particular school generally have very different needs from those who have been teaching for over twenty years. And, obviously, our differing curriculums certainly warrant professional development specific to their unique topics.
There’s got to be a better way; a path to development as a professional that is more individualized, that lasts and isn’t necessarily a one hour, one off introducing some new thing we’re supposed to do in our classrooms…until next year, when there’s a new next thing to do.
I think it all starts with the word ‘professional’ in professional development. For one reason or another, I’m not sure educators are really seen as professionals like employees in other industries. And, perhaps because of this, we aren’t treated like professionals. To a certain extent, we deserve the ability to assess our development, notice where we need to grow, and the ability to go out and do just that. Imagine a world where a teacher notices a hole in their development and is able to find opportunities to fill that knowledge and/or skill gap. Amazing, right? How much more mentally involved would you be as a professional if you were given the ownership of your improvement? I know I would probably care a bit more.
But, where are these opportunities? There doesn’t seem to be a database of development opportunities for teachers to access, and this is one reason we are more reliant on administration for assistance in this area. I know, for me, social media provides many possibilities. I see different organizations develop programs of study and/or the ability to meet in person or virtually, usually as a group or cohort. Oftentimes, these consultants or companies are also able to provide a self-paced curriculum, which every teacher can appreciate. I think we’ve all been in situations where professional development feels more like a burden than an opportunity for growth. I’ve found that allowing an ample amount of time to work through the material with other like-minded teachers often both lightens the load of development and energizes one for the opportunity.
Below are two examples of professional development opportunities that fit the mold described above; the first geared towards teacher and student development at the middle and high school level and the second provides multiple options for elementary math and reading teachers.
This program provides twelve modules covering areas from ‘capturing student attention’ and ‘supporting executive functioning for all’ to ‘providing effective feedback’ and ‘understanding cognitive diversity for equity’. While a majority of the program is provided as asynchronous e-learning, there is also a component of live collaboration with other teachers in the cohort. This program can be used by individuals, small groups of teachers, or entire schools to improve instruction and student learning by cultivating a better understanding for how we learn. What makes the program even better is that it is not subject specific. So, whether you teach English Literature, Biology, U. S. History, or Calculus, all of the modules apply to your class and your students. Currently, COGx is offering a scholarship for their six module student program (Becoming A Sophisticated Learner) that aims to provide learners valuable information to better understand how they learn and research backed study tips to make their studies more efficient and effective.
Professional development through the IMPACT Lab provides online and self-paced competency-based micro-credentials in areas such as ‘effective instruction for inclusive classrooms’, elementary math: making sense of word problems’, ‘elementary literacy: strategies for struggling readers’, and ‘classroom management: foundations of positive behavioral interventions and support’. The IMPACT Lab utilizes tools and resources from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guides. It is estimated that each course takes about ten hours, with digital badges and an award of completion noting a number of hours earned. The courses are quite friendly on the wallet, too, costing $70.
I believe these sorts of professional development opportunities are probably the future of educator growth; individualized for their subject and relevant for their needs as a teacher. Add to this the self-paced nature so educators can really take the time to digest the information, incorporate it into their instruction, and see results, all while receiving feedback from instructors and working together with other teachers…I mean, what’s not to like and appreciate?
*I currently work as an advisor with COGx.