The dreaded professional development for teachers comes every year. All teachers feel frustrated by it at some point. Teachers are required to take part in professional development at the school, district, or national level. It is a part of the requirements for licensure in each state and the requirements for the number of professional development hours for teachers vary from state to state.
The problem isn’t that educators do not want to grow professionally. Instead, the issues arise from a few different areas. Attending professional development often requires teachers to either be away from the classroom, which means making plans for a substitute that may or may not actually be carried out, or taking time out of their spring/summer/fall breaks. Even when professional development takes place during non-instructional time, during prep-periods or before/after school, teachers have to give up working on some other pressing things, such as lesson planning, to attend these sessions.
All educators need professional development. In fact, all professionals need development no matter what field they are in. It is how we go from Good to Great! It is how we keep up with all of the new opportunities to reach students in new ways. Without professional development for teachers, we fall into the trap of doing things the exact same way for years and years. No one wants a doctor who refuses to learn new techniques or an accountant who refuses to learn the new tax laws. All professionals have to take time away from their “work” to learn new things. The key to loving professional development is in the “WHY”.
All professional development for teachers needs to be rooted in “WHY”. As Simon Sinek explains in, “Start with Why”, people buy into why we do things not what we do or how we do it. If teachers understand why a particular professional development session is important, they will be willing to hear what it is and how to implement it in their classroom. Without understanding why it is important, teachers are often frustrated with the time they will spend away from their classroom and other duties.
In order for teachers to buy into the “WHY” behind the professional development, administrators need to take a few things into account. All professional development for teachers should come from a need. That need should be determined based on data. This data should come from assessments, observations, and teacher surveys.
By analyzing data, administrators can begin to get a picture of the type of professional development needed for teachers. Leaders should include teachers in the assessment data analysis. For help in doing this, take a look at the book Driven by Data by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo.
Administrators can work with teachers to look at state standardized test scores from the current year. They should dig into that data to determine specific areas in need of improvement and determine a root cause for that need. For instance, if a school noticed that written responses were an area in need of improvement, they may determine that a root cause for that comes from the school’s lack of a structured system to teach the writing process or response to literature. Perhaps each teacher is teaching this differently and it left to teachers to find resources to do so. This may be one indicator that writing may be an area in which professional development is needed for teachers. The team should also be sure to look at longitudinal data to determine trends. Was there a sudden dip in scores? Have the scores been slowly declining over the years in a particular area? Have scores remained stagnant in a certain area?
Leaders should also look at teacher-created common formative assessments to gather additional data. Standardized test scores are one small piece of data. They are useful, but they are not the holy grail. We also need to look at the assessments used in classrooms throughout the year. How are students performing on the instruction provided in the classroom? If teachers do not have common formative assessments for each unit of study and do not use that assessment data to have regular data meetings with their team, this is a place to start with professional development. For more information on curriculum mapping including common formative assessments, read Rigorous Curriculum Design by Larry Ainsworth.
Finally, the leadership team should look at any research-based national normed assessments that are given. These are typically referred to as benchmark tests. Teachers administer these three times a year, usually in the fall, winter, and spring. These assessments not only give you good data on student progress; they can also help the leadership team see trends across classrooms. This data can be used to determine which teachers may need additional support through professional development.
In order to collect strong data to drive professional development for teachers, leaders need to conduct regular walk-throughs in classrooms. The observation feedback cycle that is outlined in Leverage Leadership is firmly rooted in research. The author has research to show that teachers who are supported by the observation feedback cycle grow more professionally in one year than teachers without the observation feedback cycle do in 20 years!
The observation feedback cycle consists of leaders (principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, etc.) conducting weekly 10-15 minute observations of each teacher. During the observation, leaders are looking for what is going well and one key area that needs improvement. Leaders then conduct short face-to-face feedback sessions with the teacher to give them a “bite-sized” action step for the teacher to work on before the next observation. These small action items week after week lead to big improvements in classroom instruction.
While leaders are supporting teachers’ growth through the observation feedback cycle, they are also collecting data on what professional development is needed. They are providing individual professional development support, much like an intervention, but also looking for grade level or schoolwide trends to plan whole group professional development for teachers, much like Tier I whole-group instruction in the classroom.
The final piece of data to take into account when planning professional development is teacher surveys. It is important for leaders to regularly, at least once a year, survey their staff.
Administrators can create surveys that ask teachers questions about their comfort level in particular areas. By using data from the above areas of assessments and observations, leaders can hone in on specific areas to get additional insight into teachers’ needs. For instance, if we stick with our example about writing being an area of weakness on assessments and we notice through classroom observations that writing instruction varies greatly from classroom to classroom, some of our survey questions should be about writing. We could ask questions like, “Rate your confidence in your ability to teach writing to students.” Or we could ask a short response question such as, “When it comes to teaching writing, describe the support you feel that would be most useful to you.”
Surveys can be given to the entire teaching staff or can be modified for different groups. The purpose is to gather one additional piece of data that gives you more specific insight in order to make an informed decision about future professional development for educators.
What to Do with the Data
By triangulating the data above, administrators can determine meaningful professional development topics, the amount of time that should be spent on professional development for teachers, and a year-long professional development calendar. By setting a professional development calendar in the spring for the next school year, administrators can share the “WHY” with teachers early and begin to get buy-in.
Leaders can share the data above with teachers during staff meetings so that they know the focus of professional development for the following school year. This will enable those who are go-getters to start doing some individual research and will allow those that are hesitant about change to begin to get comfortable about the upcoming professional development.
Additionally, leaders within the same school district can share their findings with one another to determine if district-wide professional development for teachers on the same topic is needed. This can help administrators use professional development money to have a broader impact. District-wide professional development can also build buy-in, vertical alignment between buildings, and a sense of shared purpose.
No one wants their time to be wasted. When professional development is poorly planned, teachers dread the time they spend outside of their classrooms. However, by looking carefully at data from assessments, observations, and surveys administrators can plan meaningful professional development that teachers will not only see value in, but will grow from.
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