Most teachers are also passionate lifelong learners. In fact, courses and programs that provide opportunities for professional development for teachers are extremely important in the education field.
Motivated by intellectual curiosity and a desire to be the best educator they can be, many teachers also take professional development courses to help position themselves for salary advancement or to further their career goals.
So, what is teacher professional development and why is it so important?
Professional development for educators usually takes the form of either in-house, school district-sponsored training sessions or continuing education courses and programs, delivered on campus or online, under the auspices of a college or university.
Courses range from general topics that help educators stay on top of the newest standards and strategies, to specific subjects designed to help them enrich their teaching practice and improve classroom learning.
Unfortunately, enough educators have had an underwhelming experience with professional development that many do not hold the concept in high regard. According to a study cited in the Center for Public Education report “Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability,” there is no shortage of opportunity. Researchers found that 90 percent of teachers reported participating in professional development, but “most of those teachers also reported that it was totally useless.” That is why the emphasis must be on effective professional development.
Why Teacher Professional Development is Important
The field of education is constantly changing. So it makes sense that teachers must embrace the idea of being lifelong learners as well.
Professional development describes programs that enable educators to improve their own teaching — both by learning new teaching styles, tips and techniques, as well as subject areas; and by interacting with expert instructors and experienced educators in the program of their choice.
Federal, state and local educational organizations all place a high value on ongoing professional development for teachers. And it’s easy to understand why. For one, there is research to indicate that teacher professional development can enhance student comprehension and achievement, according to a tolerance.org report titled “Teaching Teachers: PD To Improve Student Achievement.”
Here are several of the perceived and proven benefits of quality professional development programs for teachers:
- Enables teachers to hone specific skills and learn new ones.
- Provides new strategies for educators.
- Can enhance student learning.
- Encourages the success of new teachers.
- Is an opportunity for teachers to go in-depth on specific topics.
- Promotes a professional growth mindset.
- Can be used to meet salary advancement requirements.
- Creates better planning and organizational skills.
- Keeps educators engaged, motivated and positive.
The Learning Policy Institute authored a report in which it defines effective teacher professional development as “structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practices and improvements in student learning outcomes.”
10 Strategies for Effective, Engaging Teacher Professional Development
Ranging from in-school workshops during so-called professional development days to in-depth courses and programs taught by college-level instructors in a university classroom or online setting, professional development programs for teachers can range from obligatory to inspiring.
So what are some ways to ensure that such programs deliver the most bang for the buck — for teachers, for their school districts and, most important, for students? Here’s a closer look at several strategies aimed at ensuring that teacher professional development efforts are as effective as possible.
- Focus on honing classroom teaching skills: This goes to the heart of the idea that one of the most important purposes of teacher professional development is to enhance student learning. There are many teacher professional development courses created specifically to help working teachers improve their practice, ranging from programs for Beginning Teachers (example: Introduction to Instructional Design for Educators) to courses on Classroom Teaching Techniques (example: Using Inquiry, Discussion and Experience to Develop Critical Thinkers and Inspire Lifelong Learning)
- Use it to develop subject matter expertise: Helping teachers gain advanced expertise in key academic areas, especially those that track with their personal and professional interests, can pay dividends in student achievement as well as teacher engagement and satisfaction. For example: A teacher who takes an in-depth course on the interconnectedness of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics is likely to return to their classroom with a fresh head of STEAM.
- Provide strategies for overcoming specific challenges in the classroom: Teacher development programs on such important topics as Bullying Prevention and Classroom Management provide valuable insight and perspective into aspects of the educational experience that can help set the stage for optimal learning.
- Encourage added value through networking and collaboration: Meaningful interactions with expert instructors and experienced fellow educators are another valuable aspect of the professional development experience. In online teacher professional development courses, for example, peers often come from other parts of the country and can bring new and unique perspectives to familiar topics.
- Consider different formats: While in-depth professional development courses and one-off workshops are two of the most common formats for teacher professional development, there is a range of other models as well. From “unconferences” and lab classrooms to creating professional learning communities (PLCs), education blogger Jennifer Gonzalez examines nine different models in a post titled “OMG Becky. Professional Development is Getting So Much Better!”
- Don’t forget technology: The transformative impact of technology in education is vitally important, but occasionally overlooked. Though some teachers are resistant to technology, others may be surprised to discover that it can enhance their ability to help students thrive in the digital age. Examples of technology-themed professional development courses for educators include: The Tech Savvy Teacher, STEAM: Supporting Creativity for Innovation and Digital Literacies for the 21st Century Classroom.
- Keep it simple and specific: Picking one or two things to focus on, rather than seven or eight, is an example of addition by subtraction. Whether you’re a teacher in search of the ideal professional development courses or representing a school or district that provides formal training for educators, specific in-depth training is more likely to yield actionable classroom “takeaways” than programming that is too broad in scope.
- Make it ongoing: For school districts, professional development training is most effective when paired with ongoing support and evaluation from administrators, including opportunities to review and learn from what worked and what did not. For teachers seeking ongoing professional development opportunities outside their district — the world is your oyster in terms of choosing topics that track with your interests. Regarding opportunities for ongoing, in-depth study, the professional development departments at some universities offer educators the option of completing certificate programs, multi-course programs of study that demonstrate the mastery of a specific subject area or body of knowledge.
- Create opportunities for feedback and discussion: Many school districts do a solid job at developing systems for providing teachers with helpful feedback and for determining whether professional development initiatives are having an effect on student achievement. Teachers can also get feedback independently by cultivating connections with fellow teachers in their district and by using online professional development courses to develop new connections with educators from other locales.
- Actually put new training to work in the classroom: Much like a guidebook that gets written and then put on the shelf, teacher professional development is only effective when educators put what they’ve learned to use in their teaching. Of course, this means it is essential that PD training be interesting and relevant but, just as important, that teachers commit to continuing the work in the classroom.
Popular Topics for Teacher Professional Development Courses
Topics for professional development courses run the gamut from Common Core Standards to Introduction to Coding for Educators. Differentiated Instruction, Adolescent Literacy and Closing the Achievement Gap, are among those cited by Teacher.org.
The University of San Diego, which offers hundreds of high-quality professional development courses for educators through its Division of Professional and Continuing Education, lists the following courses as among its most popular:
Teacher Professional Development FAQs
What is teacher professional development?
Teacher professional development typically refers to programs focused on continuing education effort for educators. The goal is to provide teachers with opportunities to continue to improve their skills and learn new strategies and techniques, thereby leading to better student outcomes in the classroom.
Can teacher professional development courses be used for salary advancement?
Yes. Many school districts provide financial incentives for teachers who continue their professional growth by offering salary step increases for completing professional development programs. Note: The requirements for obtaining such salary increases vary widely; therefore, it is important to seek pre-approval from your school district to ensure that courses taken for salary advancement will fulfill district requirements.
Do some states require teachers to complete professional development training to maintain their licenses?
Specific requirements for license renewal vary greatly from state to state, with most states requiring some amount of continuing professional development training be completed by teachers to maintain their licenses, according to teachtomorrow.org. (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are among the exceptions.)
Are there different formats for teacher professional development?
Yes. Teacher professional development is often thought of as in-school training programs administered by the individual school or district, either on designated teacher development days during the school year or in the summer. Educational conferences and workshops can sometimes count as professional development. Additionally, educators can find a world of professional development opportunities in online and on-campus courses offered through an accredited college or university.