For years I have heard the groans, moans, and sighs of classroom teachers, when they have heard the words PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. The idea of teaching and managing the unique personalities of students for hours within a school day, and then to be forced to close the day with a training, in-service, or workshop is not appealing to most teachers. To make professional learning opportunities more appealing, three guiding principles should be considered: relevance, engagement, and opportunities for ongoing support.
The first question that is commonly posed by classroom teachers is “How does this professional development workshop apply to me as a teacher?” If teachers are unable to see how they fit within the equation, then physically they are present, but mentally they are disengaged. The fact of the matter is that all professional learning opportunities do not apply to all educators. For instance, preschool teachers would likely not find relevance in a workshop about the upcoming state-mandated test for 3rd-8th graders. Despite the fact that this population of teachers understand that they provide the fundamental skills that set the tone for the subsequent grades, they look for training that they can implement immediately. If training of any sort does not result in immediate outcomes that influence student learning, student achievement, and the quality of teaching, then teachers experience a lack of interest and rightfully so.
In addition to relevance, professional learning opportunities should also allow teachers to participate in learning engagements. These learning engagements should be developed to allow time for teachers to actually receive guided, shared, and/or independent practice in instructional practices that are modeled by the facilitator. During this time, the facilitator is afforded the opportunity to observe and to provide supportive feedback to classroom teachers, while the teachers are able to learn alongside their colleagues and to pose questions for clarification.
Lastly, it is also necessary that opportunities for ongoing support be integrated as a part of the professional development opportunity. Too often teachers receive a form of “drive-by training”, which is simply a superficial level of training yet, they are still expected to implement it with fidelity. Without ongoing support, teachers are left to implement the information that they gained from professional learning opportunities on their own. They must rely on the information that they can recall and to depend on their fellow colleagues for support and direction. However, for a sufficient amount of support, teachers seek support from other instructional support staff such as instructional coaches or curriculum coordinators. These individuals possess specialized knowledge and have the availability that gives them the opportunity to provide the type of support that teachers seek after receiving professional training.
Professional learning opportunities that work must be teacher-centered and integrate adult-learning theories just as classroom instruction is geared toward student-centeredness and child development theories. The effectiveness of these opportunities must be grounded in the idea that staff developers and facilitators design workshops that will leave a positive impression upon teachers and that easily transfer into their classroom instruction.