Ministries of Education, University Faculties of Education, Schools, take note: more than half of teachers felt they needed professional development to be more effective, according to the OECD TALIS results from Creating Effective Teaching and Learning Environments.
While this may not seem surprising, the hardest issues to grapple with relate to actually improving teacher practice. In these survey results, teachers in most countries report using traditional practices aimed at transmitting knowledge in structured settings much more often than they use student-oriented practices, such as adapting teaching to individual student needs. Teachers use enhanced learning activities that require a deeper cognitive activation of students associated with what many people refer to as 21st century learning skills.
If teacher professional development is crucial to improving student-centered education and school improvement, what are the hallmarks of effective teacher professional development? How do we maximize optimal return on investment with limited budgets to weigh cost versus benefits?
Here are some hallmarks of effective teacher professional development that can help put teacher (and student) learning at the heart of professional learning and set you up for success.
Hallmark 1: Needs Assessment
Use data and school improvement inquiry processes for an ongoing inquiry and knowledge-building cycle, focused on identifying and building teachers’ capacity. Start with your students and these key questions: what knowledge and skills do our students need to meet curricula and other goals? What kinds of knowledge skills are needed if teachers are to address their students’ learning needs? What knowledge and skills do we as professionals need to meet the learning needs of our students? How do we personalize students’ learning?
Hallmark 2: Content Focus
To personalize teacher learning to what will best support classroom context, professional development needs to be precise and focus on specific curriculum content with focus around discipline-specific curriculum and pedagogies.
Hallmark 3: Build in Assessment and Evaluation of Professional Development Outcomes
Build shared understandings by co-creating goals, outcomes, and success criteria about professional development that are then co-evaluated later for input about initiatives and project success. This will inform the next educational steps to support the improvement-assessment cycle.
Hallmark 4: Modeled, Interactive, Practical Teacher Learning
Teachers will advocate for professional development that includes modelling, a hands-on practical model so that teachers can experience best practices through interactive learning involving examination of sample student work, observations of peer teachers, video and written cases and scenarios for teaching.
Hallmark 5: Sustained Focus
A sustained focus on supporting teachers in applying new knowledge and skills involves a long–range commitment to changes in classroom practices. With adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies, you maximize impact on increasing success for all students. Approaches can vary from Skype coaching follow-up, to 1-on-1 mentoring, to teacher action research.
By Debbie Davidson
As Director of International Partnerships, Debbie brings over 25 years experience working in professional development to Curriculum Services Canada (CSC). Her previous teaching life at a range of levels supports Ministries of Education, University Faculties of Education, and schools in making connections between challenges, priorities and tailored outcomes-based solutions in curriculum design, teacher training, resource development.