As the demands on teachers continue to evolve and the role of technology grows, it would seem that teachers’ professional development should be a priority in every school system. However, insider opinions suggest that there is a disconnect between the tools and preparation teachers need for their professional futures and the tools and preparation they are being given.
Research collected by the Boston Consulting Group for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows that as few as 29 percent of teachers report that they are “highly satisfied with current professional development offerings.” The foundation’s research further highlights necessary concern surrounding professional development by summarizing findings such as:
“Large majorities of teachers do not believe that professional development is helping them prepare for the changing nature of their jobs, including using technology and digital learning tools, analyzing student data to differentiate instruction, and implementing the Common Core State Standards and other standards.”
There are many factors that might be to blame for teachers’ dissatisfaction with professional development opportunities. One of the major downfalls of today’s PD initiatives is direction. Professional development is often treated like ”training” rather than an opportunity for learning – and while the difference might seem trivial, it’s really monumental. Too often when PD is treated like training, new skills are introduced in isolation, and are seemingly unrelated to the educational vision. By leveraging frameworks such as TPACK, schools can ensure that skills are not developed in isolation, but rather are integrated into a holistic approach that arms teachers with knowledge, develops new skills, and assists in transforming the learning environment.
Much like the current shifts in our classrooms, a “one to many” approach for professional development comes with many of the same shortfalls. Never before has education had this variety of skillsets, knowledge, and diversity both professionally and culturally – and that shouldn’t go without acknowledgement. School systems see everything ranging from newly minted teachers fresh out of college, to professionals entering education after gaining real-world experience, to seasoned, veteran teachers. The mix of professionals results in varied perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses, not to mention factors such as facilities with different frameworks, tools, and technologies. Educational leaders can’t espouse the power of personalized, relevant, and useful learning in the classroom if they are unable to provide similar experiences for their teachers, nor can teachers be expected to embrace these new learning environments if they unable to implement it in their own learning and development.
It’s imperative that teachers have personal goals, and that their goals are woven into the broader vision of professional growth initiatives. Setting their sights on growth that could impact their futures keeps teachers engrained in lifelong learning. If professional development is not strategic and aligned to the educational vision, it can easily reduce faculty buy-in, waste resources, and erode institutional goodwill.
Despite the gaps between teachers and school systems regarding professional development, there are a plethora of newer social and platform-based learning, engagement, and support tools available. Some of today’s teachers gravitate toward Twitter, which is a helpful, real-time public resource for knowledge, ideas, and fellowship. Its active and self-serve nature means it can be catered to fit specific needs, but it also can be too public and somewhat daunting. Other teachers tend to prefer connecting to closed networks, because they are more personal, inclusive, and support a guided approach. Some tools that were originally meant for students, such as Edmodo, have evolved to offer teacher-specific communities, too.
While the mere existence of these tools is a win, few teachers go beyond the professional development being offered at their respective schools to pursue them. While technology tools can help professional development ideas flourish, schools’ focus and teachers’ participation need to be present for success. Schools should consider integrating these new digital tools into PD plans as a way to encourage teacher participation and create a development-oriented community.
Professional development is about lifelong learning. Technology can help, but without forward-thinking vision and worthwhile learning opportunities, professional development isn’t helpful, productive, or even inspirational. In order to create successful PD programs, schools should engage teachers in conversation and build on their feedback. By asking the right questions, personalizing efforts, and learning together, schools – and teachers – can contribute to stronger learning environments and better overall outcomes.
“Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development” The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. December 2014.
“Intel Engage” Intel. 2015.