We have barely completed one school year before we are planning for the next. Like other schools across the country, Midway High School in Waco, TX, is planning for back-to-school professional development in August and deciding on the goals and initiatives that will drive the next school year. Our focus tends to be on whatwill be delivered to teachers to enhance our school culture, curriculum, and instructional practices. But, what about howwe train our teachers? What elements make professional development effective and impactful?
The 2017 report Effective Teacher Professional Development by Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner identifies the practices of effective professional development, which our school has adopted to drive what we do for our teachers. The report reviewed 35 studies that demonstrated a positive connection between teacher professional development, teaching practices, and student outcomes. The study found that the seven elements of effective professional development: maintained content focus, incorporated active learning strategies, supported collaboration, modeled strategies, provided access to an expert beyond the training, offered feedback or reflection time, and were sustained in duration.
Applying Effective Professional Development Elements
At Midway High School our approach to apply the elements of effective professional development occurs primarily through our Professional Learning Community (PLC) that is embedded in the school day. One day a week, during the PLC time, we offer Tech & Teach Tuesday. Tech & Teach is devoted to professional learning and is focused on research-based instructional strategies that are paired with instructional technology tools. Teachers attend these PLC sessions with their content team.
We believe that active learning strategies are the best approach for adults as well as students. Tech & Teach incorporates as many hands-on and discussion-based activities as possible to allow teachers to interact with the information and share their own experiences. The first week in each three-week series is a discussion of a best-practices strategy, and the second week is an opportunity to interact with instructional technology tools. Teach & Tech allows teachers the opportunity to spend time experiencing the ideas and tools that complement one another and can be incorporated in their classroom.
Tech & Teach is offered in a way that promotes teacher discussion, interaction, and then application of new instructional strategies. Content teams have dedicated time within each professional development series to meet independently and align the strategies they most recently learned with a technology tool.
We believe collaboration is crucial in the learning to application process. Teams of content teachers attend PLC together and have opportunities to discuss how strategies or tools fit what they are teaching at the time. Meeting with their PLC every day provides the teacher time and an environment of collegial practice. Teachers can discuss instructional approaches as well as offer support to one another when one teacher may be more 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 we are very fortunate to have two instructional technologists on our campus. Teachers are not hesitant to ask the expert—a campus technologist or sometimes their colleague—about teaching practices or tools.
Time for Reflection
We feel reflection encourages us to think deeply about the effectiveness of our practice and pushes us into the continuous improvement mindset. The third week of each Tech & Teach series concludes with a reflection piece and sharing of the content team created products via a digital portfolio.
Sustained in Duration
Tech & Teach Tuesday is possible because we encourage daily professional learning time for teachers through a PLC period. If this time is not available at your campus, think of ways to incorporate ongoing professional development 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” of training our teachers will equip them with best-practice strategies for reaching students. We must consider the importance of teacher learning as the demands increase in preparing students to be knowledgeable, global learners.
Are you satisfied with the professional development you provide to teachers? How many of these best-practice elements can you incorporate next year to influence the effectiveness of professional development on your campus?
Becky Odajima, EdD, is the associate principal at Midway High School in Waco, TX. Midway High School serves over 2400 students. Odajima is the 2018 Texas Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @beckyotech.
PHOTO CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Sarah Collins, Instructional Technologist, works with the Languages Other than English (LOTE) PLC team as they learn about managing student collaboration with Apple Classroom.