Effective teaching is the most influential factor in improving student achievement. One of the best ways to ensure students are taught by effective educators is by providing high-quality professional learning that helps teachers continuously improve and perfect their craft to meet the needs of their students. For years, many states and districts have recognized the value of providing professional learning to their teachers, often offering and requiring participation in a variety of sessions or courses, but educators consistently report that these experiences provide little value and fail to impact their instruction.
In spring 2017, Educators for High Standards partnered with Learning Forward and Teach Plus, two of the leading educator advocacy organizations in the country, with the shared goal of highlighting and showcasing educators who are leading high-quality, aligned professional learning in their own schools or districts. We spent the summer talking with six educators from five states implementing innovative, aligned professional learning to better understand how they are designing and implementing learning experiences, and how it is impacting students and educators.
What we learned was not only instructive – showing how teachers crave high-quality, collaborative, teacher-led professional learning opportunities and are eager to implement new strategies in their classrooms – but also illustrated the importance of strong professional learning in the future of the teaching profession.
In this report we explore five important components that make for high-quality professional learning: CLASSROOM-FOCUSED, SUSTAINED, JOB-EMBEDDED, DATA-DRIVEN, and TEACHER-LED.
Veteran educators share their thoughts below on these five crucial components of high-quality, redefined professional learning. They detail how their professional learning experiences have transformed their teaching practices, their colleagues’ instruction, and ultimately, their students’ learning experience.
Hear what they have to say and share their experiences with your friends and followers.
Classroom-focused learning should center on effective instructional strategies to reach and present material to different types of learners. When educators are equipped with a toolbox of strategies and practices to meet the needs of multiple learning styles, they can more effectively reach all students. Building a deep well of instructional strategies also leads to strategies that can be used across multiple grade levels and content areas, which is beneficial for students and teachers.
Boston Public Schools veteran teacher Amanda Hathaway notes, “Every time a teacher learns a new strategy or addresses content in a new way , or connects with students in a different way, he or she changes the learning for the students in that classroom.”
Educators are looking for professional learning that meets their needs, and that can be successfully integrated into their instruction – rather than “sit and get,” one-off opportunities.
“When I first started teaching, professional development was a very standalone… and that one time was supposed to work miracles,” Laura Summers, a district coach in Colorado told us.
Providing opportunities for formative assessment and feedback when designing professional learning gives educators the opportunity to practice instruction, receive actionable feedback from peers, and master strategies, with ongoing support as needed – the linchpin in a well-designed professional learning system.
Educators praise job-embedded learning for the multiple benefits it offers, chief among them the ways in which it increases collaboration among teachers. However, only 25 percent of teachers report this type of learning taking place in their schools.
Hope Black, an Assistant Principal in Georgia, has created “a place where you can go and talk about what’s working and what’s not, and devise a plan to meet the needs of your students.” Granting educators time in their schedules to collaborate on new strategies or deliver content in a new way reduces the sense of isolation many feel, while providing opportunities to share best practices to increase student learning outcomes.
Whether it’s qualitative or quantitative, data help educators illustrate the impact of professional learning on their instruction.
For educators, quantitative data can and should go beyond assessment data. Laura Summers stressed the importance of a “measurement cycle,” in which educators gather data on student progress and reflect on it to make decisions about instruction moving forward. Combining student data and anecdotal feedback gives educators a more holistic picture of the effectiveness of their teaching practices.
When educators receive formative feedback on the professional learning they facilitate, and use it to reflect on and improve their future sessions or courses, they can ensure they are meeting the needs of participants, and use that feedback to improve the quality of professional learning.
When a classroom teacher facilitates professional learning, he or she can give authentic examples of classroom scenarios and specific instructional strategies, which makes the learning experience more meaningful for participants. “Districts spend a lot of money on professional development from consultants… and actually, all the teacher-led professional development has been the best professional development I’ve received,” says Lindsey Horowitz.
Teacher-led learning breaks down the confines of classroom walls and school buildings to share best practices, and, ultimately, give their students a better shot at success. Educators view teacher-led professional learning as a two-way street — when they facilitate professional learning they often learn as much from their colleagues as they impart.
Thank you to our partners in this work, Teach Plus and Learning Forward. They were instrumental in identifying these exceptional educators and are at the forefront of making high-quality professional learning a top priority for educators and policymakers.
We are especially grateful to our educators Hope Black, Candace Hines, Amanda Hathaway, Lindsey Horowitz, Sara Slowbe and Dr. Laura Summers, who tirelessly put students first in all of their professional endeavors.