As the summer draws to a close, your calendar is likely packed with back-to-school events and classroom preparation. However, I’m going to challenge you to prioritize something else during this crazy time of year: YOUR PERSONALIZED PROFESSIONAL LEARNING PLAN.
And while other things might seem more important right now, the research proves otherwise. Just last month, the Center for American Progress released a report on the status of professional learning in U.S. schools. Sadly, the results were dismal. Only “a few studies” from an analysis of over 1,300 studies showed continuous growth and improved student outcomes as a result of a professional learning program.
That’s because the types of professional development offered to teachers are often poorly designed.
Research shows that effective professional development must:
Include 14 hours of ongoing support in a single topic area
Align with school goals, state and district standards and assessments, and other professional-learning activities
Focus on core content and modeling of teaching strategies for the content
Include opportunities for active learning of new teaching strategies
Provide the chance for teachers to collaborate
Include follow-up and continuous feedback
So, this school year, take back your professional learning with the following, easy-to-follow, three-step plan:
1. Identify a topic.
Find something that you are passionate about improving this year. Maybe it’s your guided reading instruction or your use of student-driven inquiry. Perhaps you’re interested in increasing the number of opportunities your students have for collaboration or Socratic discussion. Whatever you choose, clearly identify your topic and record it somewhere.
2. Find resources.
Gather as many resources as you can about your topic. Check Twitter, blogs, and other great teacher resources like The Teaching Channel and The Literacy Design Collaborative. Also ask colleagues or mentors to share their favorite resources with you. There is no “wrong way” to curate resources. If you need help curating resources, check out this recent SmartBlog on Education post.
3. Actively commit to 14 hours of learning and on-the-job experimentation.
The research shows that generating change in the classroom via professional-learning experiences requires at least 14 hours of extended, cohesive study. These 14 hours can include personal reading and reflection, job-embedded coaching, and actual classroom teaching with new strategies and ideas. Create a schedule for yourself that makes your professional learning plan a priority throughout the school year. Honoring your commitment will improve student outcomes — the ultimate goal of effective education!
Professional learning makes our classrooms better places for students. It should be one of our top priorities as we begin a new school year. Feel free to share your ideas and commitments in the comments below!
Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson) is a learner, leader and teacher. She is a the senior educational technology leader for BrightBytes and a founder of the Edcamp movement. Swanson is also author of “Professional Learning in the Digital Age,” a Google Certified Teacher, a Twitter teacher and an Edublog Award nominee.