Today's classrooms have more devices, more educational software, more opportunities to differentiate learning based on various student needs, and educators are under more pressure to do more, preferably as fast as possible, with excellent results.
With so much going on in terms of personalizing each student’s learning experience, there’s one thing that’s easy to overlook while chasing the best outcomes: the learning needs of teachers.
Yes, teachers are those who impart knowledge to their students, but if we want to have great teachers in the education system, we must consider the fact that the teachers themselves need to be the students from time to time.
They to get better at their job and juggle the new requirements that the modern classroom and educational technologies bestow upon us. Knowledgeable teachers are key to the success of any technological or pedagogical initiative in the classroom.
Professional development for teachers is supposed to do just that, and it does — at least in theory. In practice, many teachers could benefit more from their compulsory PD hours. Unfortunately, that’s a disease educational institutions from all around the world suffer from.
However, there is a silver lining. Professional development for teachers can offer the exact support that teachers need, as long as those in charge of creating and delivering it know exactly what to do.
Read more: How to succeed with online PD for teachers
Actionable advice for school leaders on how to create an effective teacher training program
Just as with any classroom, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successful PD for teachers; if there were, school leaders everywhere would not need to put so much effort into it. But some aspects should always be a part of it.
Define what teachers really need
Educational institutions of all shapes and sizes face plenty of problems daily. Specific teacher training can solve many of them, but remember that PD is not a universal remedy. Some issues are better dealt with in other ways. For instance, before enrolling teachers in a time management course, make sure their admin work is actually manageable within the expected time frame.
Teachers’ needs vary, so it's always good to start planning a PD program based on a training needs analysis. Gather all or just several faculty staff and ask them. Some may say they need to improve their digital literacy skills, with managing some new software or communicate better with parents, while others might suggest all sorts of issues “from the trenches” that you wouldn't have considered in the first place.
A PD program based on the real training needs of teachers is on the right track for success.
Be flexible with PD time
That training needs analysis can offer some intel on time constraints as well. With lesson planning, assessments, and lining up everything with school and federal standards and policies, all while juggling virtual and face-to-face classes, you know that teachers are busy. Adding mandatory PD hours on top of the regular school work without considering a teacher’s hectic schedule will only take you so far.
Sometimes it’s best to plan full PD days, with training courses and practical workshops and everyone in a single location. This should be a possibility once it’s safe to gather more people in one conference room again.
In the meantime, an online micro learning approach is the best option. Divide and conquer. Plan for short online learning sessions during the school week, or bundle a number of them during school breaks. With shorter modules focused on specific topics and plenty of time between sessions, teachers can test and implement the new ideas they get from training in their classroom.
Each student learns differently. Teachers know that, and so should you. Adult learners respond differently to different teaching methodologies and tools. The good news is that they know what works best for them, so you don’t have to guess; you just have to listen to them!
Some teachers are great with in-depth guides, others prefer more interaction and a hands-on approach, and all of them would like to access training at the time and place most convenient for them.
Consider differentiating the training material delivery and embracing a variety of educational content. Online courses offer almost endless possibilities. You can create the traditional in-depth guides and video content or gamified content, spice up presentations, hold webinars, and so much more.
Choose the right tech
Choosing the right tech tools can make a world of difference in teacher PD. The most important thing to have is a centralized hub for all activities, including online courses, discussion forums, webinars, and schedule events such as workshops.
Educators are currently under pressure to use any edtech tool that makes the virtual or hybrid learning environment efficient. What better way is there to boost their skills than using the same tech they teach with?
Are you planning to implement a 1:1 program with iPads or Chromebooks? Put one of those same devices in the hands of teachers during their training. Do you want them to know the school LMS inside out? Get them to experience it as learners during training.
If they know what it’s like to learn something with edtech, they’ll know how to teach better with that same edtech.
Establish a knowledge-sharing culture
Knowledge is power, but sharing knowledge is more powerful. Official PD programs for teachers come in set time frames. Even though you plan it throughout the year, you can’t possibly plan every learning instant a teacher will go through. Learning happens a lot in informal settings as well.
That’s why it is crucial to establish a knowledge-sharing culture within your school so that everyone can share what they know and benefit from what others share.
Many teachers interact daily through social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Pinterest or TikTok, sites like Reddit or Quora, online forums or chat rooms, etc. Some swear by their PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) or CoPs (Communities of Practice).
The truth is, these various online communities of teachers offer both tips and tricks on the teaching profession and also a veritable support system for the official teacher training.
Successful teacher PD is based on many variables. The ideas presented above — starting with a training needs analysis, taking into consideration the best time for PD, trying out various methodologies and content within the training courses, deciding on the right technologies to be used, and establishing a knowledge-sharing culture — are great ingredients for the recipe of success. However, this list is far from being exhaustive. Finding the complete one is a unique journey for each school leader.