Is that a trick question, you ask?
Yes and no. We can all come up with the typical reasons that professional development is important; and of course, one of them is that a certain level of it is required. But when you go deeper, what are the driving forces behind the best practices in professional development?
In a 2017 report on what constitutes effective professional development, the Learning Policy Institute reviewed 35 studies that met their methodological criteria that linked the practice with student outcomes.
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“Teacher professional learning is of increasing interest as one way to support the increasingly complex skills students need to learn in preparation for further education and work in the 21st century,” the report says. “Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction. In turn, effective professional development is needed to help teachers learn and refine the pedagogies required to teach these skills.”
The report noted that some studies spotlighted professional development initiatives that didn’t seem to make a difference, and set out to discover the components of effective professional development, which it defined as “structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practices and improvements in student learning outcomes.” Some of those components, they determined, were:
“While some teachers are more naturally gifted than others, all effective teaching is the result of study, reflection, practice, and hard work,” says Learning Forward’s report on professional development. “A teacher can never know enough about how a student learns, what impedes the student’s learning, and how the teacher’s instruction can increase the student’s learning. Professional development is the only means for teachers to gain such knowledge. Whether students are high, low, or average achievers, they will learn more if their teachers regularly
engage in high-quality professional development.”
Does this mean that the only good professional development is in person, rather than online? Not at all. Online learning has evolved to include group discussion, projects and shared reports. Online professional development can meet a teacher’s need for continuing education while still providing the elements of best-practices models.
This is important for a couple of reasons. One, teachers are busy people, and often must fit their professional development courses into the pockets of time they have available. Two, self-direction allows a teacher to mold a course into the model he or she most needs in the classroom at that point in time.
“Unlike traditional professional development, self-directed professional development opens learning possibilities for educators in any place and at any time,” writes RethinkEd. “It allows educators to acquire a wide variety of skills and gain access to training outside the classroom at their own pace.”
Some of the reasons why self-directed courses actually offer more than traditional courses:
Dominican University of California’s Online Professional Learning Program (DominicanCAonline.com) offers hundreds of online professional development courses for teachers – and administration – at all levels.
A professional learning or continuing education program has to be flexible, comprehensive, and current, and we pride ourselves on all three. In addition to classes that expand your skills in teaching language arts, math, science, social studies and reading, we offer high-level classes about different aspects of teaching itself, such as:
“It’s an unfortunate reality that many schools are confined to only a few days of PD per year,” writes ActivelyLearn. “Teachers spend a handful of days in marathon-long sessions of workshops and meetings with the expectation that they can improve their practice in short, intensive bursts of learning. But this isn’t how learning happens.” The site suggests on-demand resources that can extend professional development beyond a day, including online courses.