It’s nearing the end of the school year, which always makes me reflective. It’s also a time when those of us in education start thinking about next year and what we would like to do differently. Since my lens on education is about helping teachers via professional learning, it seems like a good time to reflect on the state of professional learning, too.
Published in 2014, the Gates Foundation’s study, Teachers Know Best, shared teachers’ views on professional development. One of the findings was this: “Of the $18 billion spent annually on professional development, only $3 billion is delivered by external providers.” What surfaced in the survey (from Corwin, the National Education Association, and Learning Forward) of over 6,300 US teachers included findings that: 1) while data might be used to plan the professional learning, not much of it was used to assess its effectiveness; 2) teacher voice (at a deep level) was missing in decisions that leadership made about professional learning; and 3) adequate time was missing during the school day to follow up on and implement the new professional learning.
For example, one piece of data from the Gates survey is that 80 percent of teachers said they participated in workshops—the most common form of professional development—for an average of 20 hours per year. During the 2017 calendar year, 357,649 educators participated in onsite professional learning opportunities (primarily workshops).
While workshops are a traditional format, there are lots of new ways for teachers to learn – formally and informally.
Expansion of Online Resources
There is a lot of talk these days about expanding one’s Professional Learning Network (PLN) and the digital tools to do that. We’ve made Googling a verb—whether for people or resource material. Educator uses of social media have expanded not only for students and work in the classroom, but also for expansion of their PLN. Twitter and Twitter chats, along with podcasts and Voxer, are useful tools for getting quick support when things happen in the classroom—whether it is management, the classroom environment, a question, an idea, a celebration to share, or a need for a collaborator. Some organizations are turning to the use of micro credentials and offering badges for professional learning. Over at edWeb, they report that every week they average 3,800 live attendees and 3,100 on-demand views of their professional development content.
Gaining from Collaboration
Like the real estate mantra of location, location, location, educators use of and involvement in collaboration can’t be touted enough. There is synergy with more than one mind thinking about a topic or question. Educators are turning to each other and social media to:
- Share experiences
- Give and get feedback
- Contribute and expand on ideas
- Develop possibilities
- See solutions (mini-action research)
- Have 24/7 access
One of the most energizing hashtags (at least to me!) on Twitter is #ObserveMe. This simple strategy of posting a sign, an invitation, for colleagues to come in and provide learning-focused feedback is a great way to expand your collaboration. Examples of invitations include asking for feedback on how well students engage with each in other in respectful discussion or how the teacher can set up problems, so students become engaged and not overwhelmed.
With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), federal law now sets forth ideas about professional learning for educators. Influenced by the educators’ professional learning organization, Learning Forward, this law defines quality professional learning and encourages the development of learning systems to support educators. The seemingly simple call-outs for quality professional learning in ESSA include: sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused. As already discussed with PLNs (which aren’t exclusively online) and the ideas about collaboration, quick access to people and information is critical in supporting professional learning. Using these criteria, schools and districts can begin to look at the systems that are currently in place to support professional learning for all educators.
One side note: current certification rules aren’t much different than they were 40 years ago. How can a teacher be certified in one state and not in another? Moving across state lines means there may be challenges to becoming a licensed professional in the new state, requiring time and money for exams or extra course work. This means that ideas for professional learning, what that learning means, and how it translates to supporting educators are important considerations for future planning about professional learning.
What’s the state of professional learning in your school or district? Have you found new ways to collaborate and learn from other teachers this year? Tell us about it on Twitter!