Ongoing professional development is a crucial way for anyone to stay on top of the latest trends and changes in their industry. The same goes for K-12 teachers, but over the past few years, they’ve had to navigate sudden changes in teaching modalities for themselves and their students, leaving many feeling burned out.
A recent survey commissioned by D2L was completed by nearly 1,000 people, including teachers and administrators across the United States. It found that there were four main areas that districts could focus on in order to improve professional development. Those were:
- hybrid methods
- enhanced communication
In our recent webinar, Transforming K-12 Teacher PD, we spoke to three experts in the space about taking action on improving teacher PD given their unique and personal experiences in education today. This article will sum up some of their thoughts on how to make PD more accessible and impactful for K-12 teachers.
Personalizing Professional Development for Teachers
The reality is that any district’s needs could differ from another’s, depending on what its teachers, students and communities have going on at a given time.
“I think one of the things we really need to focus on in order to implement personalized professional development is really surveying what our teachers need,” says Terrence Hill, principal at Green Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi. “Many times, we automatically assume that teachers hit the ground running and want this or need this.”
But understanding what teachers truly need can only be done one way: by asking them.
Alex Prinstein is a senior manager of product development at the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning. Her approach to product development relies heavily on getting input from users.
“We kind of have this approach where nothing’s ever final. So, if we’re hearing from our users, we need this, or we didn’t like the way this assignment worked, we’re always open to going back and revising,” she says.
“We’ve borrowed a lot of these approaches from the tech field, actually: thinking about this idea of fast cycle iteration and constantly going back into your work and being willing to make changes based on feedback from your user.”
So, make sure you ask questions, listen to the answers and keep repeating the process.
Personalizing PD to Avoid Burnout
This is not breaking news: Teachers already have a lot on their plates. That warrants the question of whether adding professional development requirements to their workload could increase feelings of burnout.
“I think it’s kind of, at best, redundant and, at worst, probably patronizing to expect that what teachers need is to sit in a seat and listen to a presenter when they’re thinking about a million other things,” says Prinstein.
The solution may lie in using technology to offer professional development to teachers whenever they need it.
“I think what we learned here was that we could leverage a learning management system to personalize learning,” says Jennifer Harriton-Wilson, head of the education technology department at Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES in New York. “That really helped our teachers get the support when they needed it and at the time that they needed it, as opposed to at a predetermined, you know, Wednesday at 3 o’clock.”
That follows a broader trend that D2L research has uncovered. One of the biggest barriers to taking professional development that employees face is a real or perceived lack of time, either at work or at home. Thus, PD opportunities that are offered more flexibly are more likely to be taken up than those that are less flexible.
Changing the Culture Around Teacher PD
The school system has had to adapt quickly and holistically over the past few years, when many schools were forced into a sudden evolution from in-person learning to online learning and then blended learning environments. That means everyone had to learn a lot very quickly, which may have left some people with a bad taste in their mouths around professional learning.
When it comes to changing the culture around professional development in K-12 schools, it’s important to remember that learning needs to happen at all levels.
“It starts with making sure that building-level administrators get the personalized professional development that they need in order to make sure that the teachers have what they need in order to be a success for our students,” says Hill.
He says that teaching administrators about blended learning pedagogy can help them advocate and ensure that teachers, in turn, get the resources they need. Ultimately, this helps connect professional development to the main goal: high-quality teaching and learning.
A culture shift around PD can take time, but Harriton-Wilson says that technology can expedite the process.
“We have to recognize that it’s not going to happen overnight and that it does need to have that kind of trickledown effect,” she says. “I do think that things can happen a lot faster based on what we’ve seen happen in the past, because of how you can leverage technology.”
Hear More Best Practices in the On-Demand Webinar
Check out the full webinar to learn more about how to modernize systems to support personalized learning pathways and how to leverage flexible, teacher-centered learning.
Chase Banger is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. An award-winning journalist and former communications specialist, he has a passion for helping people through education.
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