Keys to Improving Teacher Professional Development

Dr. Benjamin Washington
Dr. Benjamin Washington
High school assistant principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
Group of teachers sitting and talking at a table together looking at a laptop.

Self improvement is continuous for teachers and their professional development (PD) needs. The result of professional learning benefits the teacher and students in multiple areas including curriculum and instruction, differentiation, and self-reflection. Effective professional development enhances the teacher’s skills and adds value to the school as a whole. When it comes to the growth and development of teachers there needs to be a system of feedback, team collaboration, and personal and professional growth goals. Teacher professional development supports active learning, collaboration with peers, and models best practices in the field. Knowing this highlights the importance of professional development, but also the keys to improving teacher professional development.

Why is Professional Development Important?

The school is a place of learning for both the student and adults. Professional development increases the knowledge and practices of the adults and results in skills transfer between adults and students. Students come to the classroom with a range of ability and skill levels. Some students may be high, low, or average achievers when it comes to learning, but there is still a need to address these multiple learning levels. Access to high-quality and continuous professional development gives teachers the tools to enhance their teaching and impact students at all achievement levels.

When educators are able to learn, their students learn more. Continuous PD adds new knowledge to the teacher’s skill set and deepens the competency of the areas where the teacher is already productive. In order to enhance PD and the betterment of teachers and their skills, it is important to analyze the keys to improving teacher professional development. Realizing how to improve teacher professional development will not only improve the teacher but the student as well.

Keys to Improving Teacher Professional Development

In order to improve teacher professional development, the strategies need to be research-based, reflective, and provide a platform for the PD to be applied in the classroom setting. Far too often, teachers feel that their professional development falls into the “one size fits all” category.

Differentiation of content delivery for teachers is important in professional learning environments. Just as students need individualized instruction and content delivery, the same is true for teachers. The key to improving teacher professional development is centered on finding focused and individual PD that enhances the skills of that teacher. Additionally, setting specific goals for the teacher and their development plays a pivotal role in improving teacher PD.

Focus on Feedback and Reflection

To improve professional development for teachers, there must be clear focus on the groups attending and what their needs are. Furthermore, there must be a platform for feedback and reflection. In order to monitor and adjust teaching strategies and delivery, educators often ask for feedback from their students. Gathering student feedback from students is instrumental in teachers changing their instructional strategies. Formative and summative assessments given to students from teachers can give teachers feedback on their students’ performance, but also on how well the instructor is delivering content and fostering academic growth.

The same is true for presenters and coaches who are facilitating professional development to teachers. Gathering feedback from teachers allows for the PD to be tailored specific to the needs of the teacher and also showcases which elements of the PD were useful and effective. To gather feedback from teachers, a variety of platforms can be used including surveys, focus groups, and discussions.

Model Best Practices

Research-based and application-based practices serve as a model for teachers to enhance their personal learning and teaching strategies. When there are effective strategies being implemented, students are at a direct benefit. This must go further than providing PowerPoint slides or review the results of successful practices. Effective best practices must be modeled for educators so that the learning can be optimized.

For example, if the topic at a PD is classroom management, the redirection and reinforcement strategies should be shown. This could be done by a teacher leader showing other colleagues how to move around the classroom to keep close proximity to a talkative student. Another way this can be modeled is by having teachers practice scenarios in which students are given positive reinforcement through verbal and non-verbal cues.

Set Relevant Goals

For both teachers and students, goal setting is a priority when it comes to growth in specific areas. To improve professional development for teachers, goal setting must be a part of that process, too. When facilitating PD, the goals need to be specific to the audience. For the facilitator, the goal could be to make PD more engaging for teachers. If the PD is for social studies teachers the goal may be to find ways for teachers to have students understand and apply more rigorous concepts. In the area of English, the goal may be how to use close reading strategies to help students master literary analysis skills.

Whether the goal is for a specific group of teachers or for a school-wide initiative, the goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. The concept of a SMART Goal can add precision and clarity to the improvement of teacher PD.

Make it Interactive

Students learn with hands-on and interactive learning. Oftentimes, students express their need for project-based learning, group discussions, and hands-on activities. Similarly, this is true with teachers. Teachers express the need to collaborate with their peers, have interactive discussions, and model best practices in a reflective environment. Professional conferences, and school-level PD both have the opportunity to make learning interactive by using multiple platforms to deliver content.

When gathering feedback from teachers, the facilitators can collect data and perspectives on which forms of PD delivery fostered the most engagement and interactivity. To improve teacher PD, focusing on reflection, modeling best practices, and having specific goals in an interactive environment will show improvement in the teacher and success for the student.

*Updated March 2021
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