5 Principles of Professional Development for Teachers
In modern day, one-time workshops, campaigns and seminars are insufficient professional development (PD) strategies for building teachers’ capacity to develop student knowledge and nurture higher order skills. This is according to a 2013 report by Gulamhussein for the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.
Effective PD programs exhibit a unique set of characteristics and follow a strict set of principles that school leaders can follow to create meaningful learning experiences for their teachers.
The first principle requires the duration of professional development for teachers to be meaningful and progressive. This provides adequate time for them to learn a new strategy and tackle the challenges associated with its implementation.
Professional development, when allocated adequate time (long durations) yields greater results in terms of advancing teacher practice and maximizing student learning. Ideally, prolonged PD sessions should include practice times that allow teachers to implement new strategies in learning environments.
In a one study that analyzed the impact of a science-oriented PD program in teachers’ practice, the researchers discovered that teachers who had clocked 80 hours or more of PD had a higher likelihood of applying the learned strategy and practice it in classroom environments compared to those whose training lasted less than 80 hours.
Such findings validate the research premise that the process through which teachers acquire and master new teaching skills is time-consuming. A 1997 research by French revealed that in some PD approaches teachers may require up to 50 hours of combined instruction, practice and coaching in order for them to master, and later implement a new teaching strategy in class.
The second principle directs that teachers must receive support during the implementation stage in order to mitigate on the emerging challenges associated with changing classroom practice.
It is not enough to prolong the professional development process for teachers and then stop there. A significant portion of this time should be dedicated to supporting teachers as they implement new strategies in classrooms. The transition process is not smooth. It will often yield frustrations that may impede the capacity of teachers to teach effectively. Support during the implementation stage helps teachers to maneuver through the frustrations.
According to research, teachers receiving support during the implementation stage tend to persevere in changing their teaching practices. A 2003 study by Truesdale investigated the differences between teachers who received PD through a workshop, and those that underwent coaching during the implementation stage. Truesdale’s research revealed that coached teachers were able to transfer the new teaching skill to their students successfully, while those with no coaching gradually lost interest in the new skill, eventually abandoning it.
Other studies have yielded similar results, ultimately emphasizing the need to complement the workshops and PD approaches with adequate teacher support during the implementation stage.
The third principle holds that teachers’ initial exposure to a new concept should not be passive. It should actively engage them in the learning process through varying professional development approaches, so that they (teachers) can derive the sense out of the new practice taught.
Ideally, a teacher’s learning process should be similar to that of a student: he/she must first understand a new concept prior to its application. This initial stage in learning requires comprehensive understanding of the theory before it is implemented. Therefore, the introduction of new practices to teachers requires keen attention.
Conventional workshops are inefficient in trying to change the current teaching practices. They’re equally ineffective in trying to teach new concepts and evidence-based research. This observation stems from the fact that many of these workshops engage teachers passively, where they only get to listen. Learning is only effective if teachers can participate actively and try to derive meaning out the information provided.
In a 2005 study by Roy, learning activities such as readings, open-ended discussions and brainstorming on the ideas provided, role playing performances, live modeling, and visiting classrooms for observation and discussion of different teaching methodologies, provide some of the varied ways that professional development sessions can actively involve teachers in learning new concepts.
Modelling is a highly effective tool in helping teachers comprehend new teaching techniques.
As discussed earlier, many active learning practices aid teachers in understanding different concepts, theories, and evidence-based practices. Modeling is one of those activities, and it involves an expert demonstrating the new practice to learners.
Modeling is, however, very unique because it is not only particularly successful in helping teachers understand and apply a new concept, but it also leaves them open to the idea of adopting it (the concept). This has been proven through a 2007 study by Penuel et al., among others.
In practice for instance, an expert (veteran) teacher may decide to teach the concept of horizontal communication by allowing students to demonstrate it amongst themselves. During such modeling, the teacher who is learning the new skill observes the process. This approach is in contrast to the learning teacher simply hearing about horizontal communication and not seeing it in action. Modeling creates an avenue for teacher to observe how a new concept can be implemented successfully in a real classroom.
The fifth principle holds that the learning content issued to teachers should not be generic. Instead, it should be sensitive and specific to the discipline being taught (for middle and high school teachers), and grade-level for elementary school teachers.
During the initial training days, most Districts offer a general staff-wide training, with the assumption that the generic concepts taught will be of equal benefit to all teachers. Classroom management is one of the popular generic contents. It is true that some general principles apply to all teachers. However, these principles are more meaningful and effective when taught in relation to their manifestation in the different contents taught by a teacher. Such principles are also overshadowed by useful and discipline-specific content.
Several studies, including one by Blank, de las Alas and Smith in 2007, show that professional development that focuses on discipline-specific concepts and skill have a positive correlation with improvements in teacher practice and student learning. According to a 2009 research by Darling-Hammond et al., even teachers agree that when it comes to professional development, their top priority is learning as much as they can about the content they teach, thus recognizing the power of content-specific training.
Darling-Hammond, L., Chung Wei, R., Andree, A., & Richardson, N. (2009). Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council
Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. Center for Public Education. National School Boards Association.
Truesdale, W. T. (2003). The Implementation of Peer Coaching On the Transferability of Staff Development to Classroom Practice in Two Selected Chicago Public Elementary Schools. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64 (11), 3923. (University Microfilms No. 3112185)