The Importance of Professional Development in the 21st Century

Dr. Benjamin Washington
Dr. Benjamin Washington
High school assistant principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
Group of colleagues discussing issues at a conference table.

Professional development (PD) in the 21st century is important to the growth and development of the contemporary educator. Today’s educational realm is full of multiple perspectives, technologies, and opportunities for students and educational leaders. The goal of professional development for educators is to go beyond maintenance and to create sustainability and professional longevity.

As students today continue to change and evolve in the areas of technology and access to information, the core values of being firm, fair, and consistent with their learning remains true. For teachers, effective PD in the 21st century comes from realizing this and finding ways to enhance teaching and learning strategies.

In education it is vital to know the importance of data-driven instruction to ensure students are learning effectively and teachers are providing engaging and rigorous instruction. Access to engaging, rigorous, and relevant PD for teachers is equally as important to develop, as is a consistent approach to training and development. Instructional practices of the 21st century must have components of technology, global learning, and the potential to impact a diverse range of learning styles. When looking at 21st-century PD for teachers and administrators, the goals of the training must be tailored to the specific needs of the educator.

Why is 21st-Century Professional Development Important?

Acquiring and utilizing professional development in the 21st century is essential for three key reasons: we must keep learning relevant, create teacher leaders, and add knowledge to the current body of research in education. Educators are life-longer learners who make an impact on the students and communities they serve. The impact made with students is a direct outcome of access to engaging, rigorous, and relevant PD.

Absence of access to quality professional development results in a reduction of the impact teachers are likely to have during students’ instructional time and less equipped educators to effectively serve their communities. 21st-century PD comes in many different forms and has many avenues. It is crucial in order to increase competent and practical educators and increase understanding of personal teaching and leadership practices.

For teachers, PD allows for instructors to keep up to date on curriculum standards and the latest teaching strategies. When it comes to school-wide initiatives, PD increases the skill sets of individuals, and as a result, increases the overall value of the department and grade-level teams. Due to the need for continuous professional development, there are many models and methods of PD including graduate education programs, professional conferences, online training courses, and school and district-wide PD cohorts.

Embrace Reflective Practice

Professional development in the 21st century gives educators the tools and skills to stay modern with the needs of students and allows them to plan ahead for changing trends in education. In order to realize areas of strength and areas that need attention for growth, reflective practice is necessary.

Reflecting on practices for the 21st-century educator involves reflecting on the best practices in curriculum and instruction. This also involves reflecting on strategies that are most effective in increasing student and faculty performance. Taking courses in graduate programs or pursuing a full degree gives knowledge to the graduate student and allows for reflective practice in their day-to-day educational roles.

Graduate programs are one of the most common forms of professional development. This can include taking courses to enhance a teaching certificate or pursuing a masters or doctoral degree. The skills, research, and applications of graduate school all influence the curriculum, instruction, and overall effectiveness of the practitioner. While learning in their degree programs, the educational leaders are able to learn reflective practices that help the educator apply what they have learned at their school or organization.

Rely on and Collaborate with Colleagues

Successful professional development in the 21st century in education involves collaboration, expansion of knowledge, and increasing expectations for learning outcomes. Effective professional development comes from collaboration with other colleagues.

One form of PD that relies on collaboration with colleagues is the professional conference. This allows for educators to learn best practices from each other and share lessons and knowledge that is specific to their field of education.These conferences are often held by education associations that have specific members, goals, and collaboration opportunities for the learning consortiums. These professional groups and conferences can be national or on a statewide basis.

Examples of educational associations that hold national conferences are the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The National Education Association (NEA), The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), to name a few. Examples of a localized state organization are the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA) and California Teachers Association (CTA). Professional conferences with colleagues foster a sense of community and allow for networking with other educational leaders.

Use Coaching and Mentoring for Growth

Instructional coaches are present in many school districts. For professional development of staff, instructional coaches provide a resource for curriculum, mentorship, and addressing school culture and climate. The return on investment with coaching and mentoring teachers is stability at the school. Along with stability, coaching allows for highly qualified teachers to collaborate with others and mentor new teachers. Administrators and teachers alike need effective coaching and mentoring in order to provide the best opportunities for personal growth and of their peers. Coaching and mentoring can be on an individual basis but also can be facilitated in a group setting. An example of this can be found in PD cohorts and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Establishing PLCs is another way to create an environment for mentoring and coaching for growth. Within PLC’s are groups of teachers with diverse skills that build consensus around growth with student outcomes. During PLC meetings, members share knowledge, strategize to improve on goals, and facilitate professional development. This is also a time when teachers use data to analyze priority areas with students’ learning and also showcase technology resources for growth. As knowledge is shared, educators can take their best practices back into the classroom and throughout the school.

Utilize Technology Resources to Build Knowledge

Due to the changing dynamics of instructional delivery, it is important to have an understanding of technology resources for educators. Professional development in the 21st century is beneficial in the areas of technology. Resources such as Grammarly, Schoology, Kahoot, and Flipgrid are just a few resources that help teachers deliver content and emphasize collaboration with both teachers and students.

Utilizing technology during PD also has the same effect with the participants. These same technology resources allow for information to be shared and knowledge to be built in the specific development areas. The value of professional development in the 21st century comes from the investments and outcomes of educators and students, as well as the communities that are impacted by the betterment of the educational leaders.

*Updated February 2021
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