Professional Development (or PD as it is often called) is a term thrown around loosely in educational institutions. It is a very broad term that typically describes a meeting/training/conference/class where teachers are developing themselves professionally or learning something new to help them be a better teacher in the classroom. Even after a 15 year career in education I still wonder: What does PD really mean? How is it being delivered? What is the goal of PD? And is it effective? If so, what makes PD effective? In my graduate coursework this quarter we are looking closely at professional development, especially through the lens of incorporating technology into the classroom and are focusing on the following ISTE Standard for Coaches:
Professional Development and Program Evaluation
Performance Indicator B: Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment (ISTE, 2017).
For this module in my program I am guided by this question: How should we design professional development that utilizes educational technology? In response to this triggering question, I wanted to look more closely at how we can utilize teacher expertise and experience when planning and delivering professional development. So often, we recruit the “experts” to teach the teachers or bring in the newest curriculum or learning tool. While I believe it is important that an institution’s professional development vision and program is well-rounded and includes different types of learning experiences, I do believe that most schools do not fully utilize and capture the expertise and knowledge that their own teachers possess (and are usually willing to share if given the opportunity).
I found a great resource, “Teacher-Led Learning: A Key Part of a Balanced PD Diet” by Jeffrey Carpenter and Tim Green, on the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) website that really captured what I was thinking and helped me understand this issue more clearly. This article summarized an issue of many current PD practices well: “Bring up the topic of professional development (PD) around teachers, and you may well encounter a few sighs, eye rolls, or other expressions of frustration. Busy teachers, who themselves are responsible for structuring effective learning environments, understandably have little patience for ineffective PD (Carpenter & Green, 2018).” The authors go on to give some really valid points on how teacher-led professional development has the potential to be very valuable and empowering. I really appreciated that the article also listed some challenges of Teacher-Led PD.
Below are the benefits that teacher-led learning can bring to professional development as discussed in the article by Carpenter and Green (2018) and my thoughts on these benefits.
Relevant– Teachers who are currently in the classroom understand exactly what teachers want and need to learn. Education curriculum and standards shift so quickly and schools are unique, so sometimes in order to receive the most current and applicable learning teachers need to be helping with the planning and delivery.
Situated- Teachers know exactly what is happening in their school and what the needs for professional development are in their particular classrooms. When teachers lead professional learning can be differentiated and more teachers are able to receive what they need to be successful in meeting student needs.
Empowering-When teachers feel that their voice matters (to not just kids in their classroom) and that they are experts, they feel more confident and are able to model and encourage that confidence in their classrooms. Also, when teachers see another teacher leading and being successful in that role they are more likely to volunteer to lead themselves. Empowerment is a domino effect in this situation and everyone benefits.
In addition to these benefits above, when reflecting on this topic I came up with three additional benefits of teacher-led learning for professional development.
Differentiated- Often professional development has a high price tag so it is difficult to provide differentiated options for teachers. But when teachers lead the cost for the district is less and more learning options can be provided. One of the best PD experiences I have ever had was when my district had a day called “Tech Fest”. It was for the whole district and at least 10-15 different teachers were presenting sessions. There were 3 sessions and during each session there were at least 5 options of classes to attend. This PD was several years ago and I still use something I learned from each of those sessions in my teaching because I was able to choose precisely what I needed for my own professional growth.
Builds Community-When teachers are involved in professional learning there is a sense of sharing and collaborating. Often after a PD training there is no follow-up, but when teachers lead there can be both formal and informal follow-up because the teachers who are leading the learning and the same people working alongside those who desire follow-up. Community is strengthened when teachers spend more time engaging with teachers both in their school and in other schools in the district.
Less Expensive- Districts have very limited budgets and when money is spent on one thing, there is something else likely equally important that cannot be purchased. When teachers help lead PD the cost for the district is less expensive freeing up funds to be used in other ways.
I think the the title of the article (Teacher-Led Learning: A Key Part of a Balanced PD Diet, Carpenter and Brown, 2018)) that I have referenced says it all. Just like a well-balanced diet is important for people, a healthy balance when it comes to PD is key. And having teachers plan and lead professional development should be a solid component of the PD planning and curriculum. Because when teachers lead, the benefits are numerous. Teachers are empowered, districts save money, and teachers gain knowledge and skills that will improve student success in their classrooms.
Carpenter, J & Green, T. (2018). “Teacher-Led Learning: A Key Part of a Balanced PD Diet”. (Retrieved on 2018, January 12) on ascd.org at:
ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2019, January 12) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches