There is a costly problem with the way school districts currently implement professional development programs for teachers. The solution? We need relevant, personalized PD.
Ask anyone about their favorite K-12 teacher, and they’ll likely have no problem recalling that teacher’s name, teaching style, and classroom decor — years or even decades later. The impact of a great teacher can influence countless facets of a student’s life. In fact, research has shown that a good teacher can improve lifetime earnings by up to $250,000 for each of their students.
Clearly, schools need to invest in their teachers — and most already are. In public K-12 districts, annual professional development (PD) spending ranges from $500 to $18,000 per teacher. But studies have shown that nearly half of this money is wasted, meaning teachers do not improve substantially from year to year — even though many have not yet mastered critical skills.
What’s going on here, and what can districts do to ensure that the money they spend on PD translates into meaningful improvement that better supports students?
The traditional PD workshop model — in which educators attend regular one-off, in-person training seminars — fails educators on several fronts. The traditional PD model does not consider teacher voice, it does not sufficiently demand active engagement with the material, it fails to provide continuous support beyond the day of training, and changing initiatives demonstrate a lack of consistent goals or vision.
A recent brief from The Learning Counsel points to this widespread lack of flexibility and personalization in PD programs, saying, “We expect teachers to personalize learning for every student in the classroom, yet we cannot provide the same when it comes to their professional learning needs.” It is readily accepted that a one-size-fits-all, broad strokes approach is sloppy in the classroom, yet — whether they’re aware of it or not — districts often apply the same method to teacher development programs. What’s needed is personalized professional development and feedback mechanisms that enable teachers to learn on their own time, engage with the material, chart their progress, work toward specific goals, and ultimately, advance their careers.
Mastering new technology and implementing it in the classroom is one of the biggest challenges facing teachers today. According to a 2017 Learning Counsel survey, half of the teachers already use technology more than 25 percent of the day, and 46 percent of teachers spend between 4 and 10 or more hours per week building digital learning content. This data represents a huge shift from the classroom workflows of just five or ten years ago.
But the PD that’s currently being delivered is failing to address the need for technology training. An NCES survey of 42,000 teachers showed that 82 percent of teachers had some PD related to the content they teach, but makes no mention of professional learning in pedagogy, which would equip teachers with the skills they need to learn and work in the digital age.
For district administrators, adjusting to this shift will require soliciting feedback from teachers. What do teachers want to learn? What tools do teachers think will positively impact their classrooms? What learning formats do teachers prefer? Teachers know better than anyone what their students need. By elevating teacher voices, administrators will not only gain a more nuanced understanding of the PD methods that benefit students — but they’ll also cultivate buy-in from teachers who have more to gain from personalized PD.
Personalized PD allows teachers to learn on their own time, gain competencies that are immediately applicable to their classrooms, and ultimately facilitate greater student success. Using Hoonuit’s classroom-focused training courses, teachers and administrators can access engaging, accredited PD training programs that track and evaluate performance and milestones along the way.