Guest blog by Becky Odajima, Director of Instruction and Learning in Midway ISD.
We know that teachers have been identified as the most influential factor in improving student achievement. We also know that teachers’ skills can be improved through professional development. However, did you know that a growing body of research presents findings that identify our most common method of professional development, the one time sit and get training, as the least likely method to improve teacher knowledge and practice? In school districts, we often spend a great deal of time identifying the programs or topics we will present to teachers to improve teaching and learning, but what about “how” we bring this information to teachers? What can we do to improve our professional development to truly impact teaching and learning in our district?
A 2017 report by Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, entitled “Effective Teacher Professional Development” reviewed 35 studies that demonstrated a positive connection between teacher professional development, teaching practices, and student outcomes. The study found that effective PD contained most if not all of these seven elements; being content-focused, incorporated active learning strategies, support collaboration, modeled strategies, provided access to an expert beyond the training, offered feedback or reflection time, and were sustained in duration. So how then do we incorporate these elements into District and Campus Professional Development?
Applying the Elements of Effective PD
In Midway ISD, we have incorporated these effective professional development elements into practice through our Professional Learning Communities (PLC) that are embedded within the school day. One example of this is a professional learning offering at Midway High School, called Tech & Teach Tuesday. Tech & Teach is devoted to improving teacher practice through professional development that utilizes research-based instructional strategies paired with digital learning tools. MHS teachers attend these Tech & Teach Tuesday sessions with their PLC content team one day a week.
Active learning strategies are best practice strategies for adults as well as students. Our professional development time incorporates as many hands-on and discussion activities as possible to allow teachers to interact with the information and share their own experiences. Our Tech & Teach units of study typically last three weeks. The first week in the series is a discussion of a best-practice strategy, and the second week is an opportunity to interact with digital learning tools. This approach allows teachers the opportunity to spend time experiencing new ideas and new tools that can be applied in their teaching practice.
Tech & Teach is offered in a way that promotes the application of new instructional strategies among peers who teach in the same content area. In the third week of our Tech & Teach unit, content teams meet to incorporate the skills they have learned with their current curriculum.
We believe collaboration is crucial in the learning to application process. Teams of teachers attend PLC together and have opportunities to collaborate on how strategies or tools fit what they are teaching at the time. Teachers can discuss instructional approaches as well as offer support to one another when one teacher may be more tech-savvy or experienced with a particular skill or strategy.
Teachers will try new things when they feel someone is available to provide support. At Midway High School, there are two Instructional Technologists on campus. When resources are available, teachers are not hesitant to ask the “expert,” a campus technologist, or sometimes their colleague, about instructional practices or tools.
Time for Reflection
We believe reflection pushes us to think deeply about the effectiveness of our practice and propels us into the continuous improvement mindset. In our Midway High School example, the final component of the Tech & Teach series concludes with a reflection piece and sharing of the products created by each PLC team via a digital portfolio.
Sustained in duration
Tech & Teach Tuesday is possible because we incorporate daily professional learning time for teachers through the PLC period at Midway High School. This time allows us to offer professional development throughout the school year and not merely on one occurrence at the beginning of the year. If this time is not available on each campus, think of ways to incorporate ongoing PD through faculty meetings or other digital mediums.
Research tells us that teachers are the most influential factor contributing to improved student achievement. The “what” and “how” we train our teachers will equip them with best-practice strategies for reaching students. We must consider the importance of teacher learning as we aspire to improve student learning and achievement.
AUTHOR BIO Becky Odajima is the Director of Innovation & Learning in Midway ISD. Follow her on Twitter @beckyotech.