A group of educators sits together in a classroom, ready to begin a session that will help them invigorate their teaching, implement best pedagogical practices, and meet their licensing requirements.
The group consists of millennials, baby boomers, and everyone in between. They are there to learn about the newest learning management system. Some of the participants blaze forward, experimenting with how to facilitate online collaborative projects, while others get stuck figuring out how to log in.
All participants — those who are quick to grasp the new technology, and those who are struggling with the basics — are frustrated. The training is not differentiated; despite the widespread emphasis on differentiating for students, the same standard is not applied to teachers.
This type of professional development does more to frustrate than to enhance educators’ strategies for engaging students. There are, however, three approaches to professional development that ease frustration and accomplish their stated goal: helping teachers develop professionally.
Budget cuts mean there are fewer funds available to send teachers to national conferences or to invite consultants to conduct professional development sessions. Districts, therefore, are looking to their own faculty and administrators — and taking advantage of their expertise. The money saved on conferences or outside consultants is instead used toward providing the resources for these professional development trainings — at a lower cost — and toward enabling teachers to take advantage of what they learn in these sessions. When teachers learn from their own peers, it is more likely that the strategies discussed within the sessions will actually be implemented in the classroom, since all parties are familiar with what kind of support both the teachers and students in the district need. In addition, the educators who lead these trainings remain available to provide ongoing guidance and support for their colleagues.
Teachers no longer have to rely on face-to-face professional development sessions. If they aren’t getting what they need from their districts, they can turn to online communities and resources for support. Teachers can join communities on Twitter, exchanging information and ideas with colleagues from across the country and the world. (They can also join the weekly Tuesday noontime #Edchat discussion, a forum co-created by influential educator and Noodle Expert Shelly Sanchez Terrell.)
SlackEDU similarly connects educators with one another and provides a forum for the exchange of professional development tools. Teachers Pay Teachers is an online marketplace where educators can exchange resources. Kyte Learning offers an online professional development tool that allows teachers and administrators to train themselves with current educational technology by viewing video demonstrations made by other educators. And the Teaching Channel has a library of more than 1,000 videos on pedagogy and practice, resources that enable teachers to view different models of effective classroom instruction.
Increasingly, districts and states are starting to count digital learning experiences, such as webinars or online coursework, as credit hours toward professional development. Some districts may even want to offer credit for Twitter chats — as long as a transcript is submitted — because they are evidence of actual engagement instead of the usual sign-in sheet that only indicates that a teacher was sitting in a particular room, quite possibly engaged in lesson planning, grading, or grocery list–writing.
Conferences and professional learning events are becoming less formal and more teacher-centered. EdCamp is a series of teacher-coordinated and teacher-led education conferences. Individual EdCamps are organized by local educators and are designed to allow participants to share their expertise with one another, rather than having one expert run the show while attendees sit passively in the audience. A recent event, EdCamp Toms River, inspired by the maker movement, brought together educators, artists, community members, and students to collaborate in a project-based, hands-on environment .
Professional development is crucial for the implementation of new programs, resources, and services in schools. Ever adept at finding new ways to do more with less, teachers are successfully connecting with one another and pursuing professional growth opportunities at a low (or no) cost to their districts.