What is the most effective and best professional development (PD) for teachers? This is a complex question, one that I have been trying to answer in my fifteen years in education.
When I was teaching, I was thrilled to have built-in time for professional development each week. My two favorite initiatives involved units and educational research. Both were completed in teams over time and gave me the freedom to create meaningful materials for my classroom in a collaborative and supportive environment. This type of PD was perfect for me, but other teachers HATED it, wanting more direction: "Tell me what I need to do, and I will complete the task."
After being on both sides of the PD equation (as a learner and presenter), I believe that the definition of effective PD will vary according to each teacher, just like in the classroom, where individual learners shape lessons. As adult learners who have extensively studied learning (and are so busy there is scarcely time to breathe), teachers will have strong opinions about what constitutes effective PD.
In addition to the different learning styles and opinions, another difficult part of planning PD is the disconnect between what teachers want for PD and the research about what constitutes effective PD (check out this report about effective PD from the Center for Public Education). For example: The typical model of "workshop PD" is ineffective for most teachers.
Here are my own five tips for the best teacher professional development.
1. Create a long-term plan based on teacher needs. Before doing any PD, survey teachers to find out what support and learning is needed to meet classroom, school, and district goals for student performance. Based on these findings, a group of school stakeholders should create a long-term plan for PD.
2. Differentiate PD. PD is most effective when tailored to the learning preferences, grade-level and discipline of teachers. Use flexible grouping strategies to provide a variety of options for teachers, build choice into tasks, and provide a mix of activities for different learner characteristics.
3. Model effective instruction. I've attended many workshops about effective instruction that have been lecture-driven and boring. When creating effective PD, it is important to model meaningful teaching and learning for attendees. This can be especially powerful when teachers are experiencing some of the skills they will be using in the classroom.
4. Provide resources to support teachers. An organized packet is helpful, as are coaches and easily accessible resources. Put the resources in the same place, whether it be Google Drive, a shared server, or a teacher-only website. Support teachers in their quest to connect with each other by providing time for peer observations, training on Twitter, and by providing structures for meaningful conversations.
5. Modify future PD based on teacher feedback. Listen to teachers as they give feedback on what is working and what should be changed.
I hope that you can use of modify these ideas for use in your own school! I am thrilled to be attending my first EdCamp this summer, which is a completely different model of PD. I will be sure to share my impressions.