Five Key Elements to Successful Embedded Teacher Professional Development

Five Key Elements to Successful Embedded Teacher Professional DevelopmentA recent Edutopia article – Teacher Development Research: Keys to Educator Success – explored ways districts and administrators can get the best from teachers and improve student learning. It defined teaching quality as “instruction that enables a wide range of students to learn,” which is to say that it needs to be able to reach all students and not just those who choose to participate in classroom learning.

One of the areas of best practices that the article explored, and one that certainly hits home with me, is that of job-embedded teacher professional development. It states five elements that are found in successful professional development programs:

Collaborative learning – If you follow our blog, you’ve undoubtedly read about the importance of collaboration in teacher professional development. Unfortunately today in many schools, collaboration is limited. In fact, the 2012 Met Life Teacher Survey painted a grim picture on teacher collaboration with more than six in ten teachers saying that time to collaborate with other teachers has decreased or stayed the same in 2012 as compared to 2011. With pressure on teachers and districts for education improvements mounting and implementation of the Common Core State Standards looming the need for teacher collaboration and professional development is imperative.

Links between curriculum, assessment, and professional-learning decisions in the context of teaching specific content – What teachers teach in the classroom needs to be based almost solely on the gap between what a student knows and their learning targets. Formative assessment, when combined with sound interim and summative assessment data, can arm teachers with the information they need to reach all students.

Active learning – Formative assessment here also makes sense. The day-to-day, minute-by-minute kind of assessment is needed to elicit evidence of student learning and move the learner forward. Formative assessment strategies and tactics can also help create classroom environments where students take control of their own learning.

Deeper knowledge of content and how to teach it – Sound professional development has to go beyond techniques, where teachers become subject matter experts.

Sustained learning, over multiple days and weeks – Teacher professional development needs to be ongoing, teacher-led, and collaborative for true success.

I think these five elements of teacher professional development are spot-on, and certainly elements that need to be part of any program aimed at success. Dylan Wiliam’s five elements for successful embedded teacher professional development dovetail nicely into the above five key elements:

1. Choice – Teachers are like students; they need and appreciate choice. Choice within a given framework or focus allows teachers to determine their personal priorities.

2. Flexibility – In addition to choice, teachers need to be allowed to make modifications to make the new learning work best in their own classroom environments.

3. Small Steps – Learning is incremental. It takes time to change practice and to be lasting it must become a part of the teacher’s routine. Professional development for teachers that allows them to practice, in small steps, supports this idea. As Carol Dweck  often states, by applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will get a lot better.

4. Support and 5. Accountability – Change in teaching practice is challenging and requires both support and accountability. Teacher Learning Communities provide teachers the opportunity to develop personal action plans, report back to the group what happened as a result of implementing those plans, and reflect and receive feedback (support) from colleagues who are working on the same changes in practice.

What key elements do you think need to be part of a successful teacher professional development program? Please share your thoughts below.


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