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The Future of Professional Development is Self-Directed Learning

By: Matthew X. Joseph, Tech & Learning
09 Dec 2021
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The Future of Professional Development is Self-Directed Learning

Professional development for teachers has never been more important than it is today. Rising teacher shortages, addressing student equity and diversity, and escalating concerns about school safety and climate have made it vitalfor for effective PD. The best PD provides consistent, relevant, and actionable assistance to educators. 

This growing need is coming when the time to facilitate PD is diminishing, yet demands on educators are growing. If we learned anything from the past two years in our field, it is that flexibility is a must. So, as we look forward to creating a future of effective and impactful PD, we have to ask ourselves, “What will that look like?” We can start by shifting our mindset from “professional development” to “professional learning.”  

The future of professional learning does not always have to include the newest technology, but it is a framework of choice matched with need. We can’t expect teachers to learn it all in a sit-and-get 60-minute or half-day session. The future of professional learning will include a menu of options based on educators’ needs as adult learners and the needs of their students.

Educators want choices in professional learning, so offering “one size fits all” PD does not work. The scope of professional learning can be limitless. It can be a podcast an educator or staff listen to on the commute to work. It can be a blog educators read at a staff meeting. It can be the professional learning network you follow on Twitter or other social media channels. It can be a late-start Tuesday (or any day) where your district brings people together regularly to learn. For PD to be effective, the experiences need to move toward active learning. It is crucial to outline and implement an ongoing practice that involves self-reflection on academic mastery, professional needs, and student needs. 

School district leaders can tap into online and cloud PD offerings to scale their offerings more quickly and make it easier for educators to advance. Teachers can read articles, use social media to find new ideas, attend webinars, or watch YouTube videos to figure out the latest tech. Consider offering one-hour of PD that can be accessed in person, virtually, or on demand.

Tech & Learning Magazine offers a wealth of resources on their “PD Hub.” Articles include:

  • 5 Teaching Lessons from Ted Lasso - For teachers, Ted Lasso is a good reminder of just how far positivity, curiosity, kindness, and caring can go toward inspiring and leading students.
  • Best Tools for Teachers - What you need to know to get started with digital teaching tools such as Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Kahoot!, Minecraft Education, and much more.
  • How to Become a Google-Certified Teacher - The Google Certified Educator program offers the chance for teachers to gain practical PD while earning a badge to demonstrate their edtech expertise.
  • 5 Edtech Books Every Teacher Should Read - These edtech books support professional learning for teachers in all academic areas and grade levels
  • Top Edtech Lesson Plans - Specific lesson plans designed to provide a template for implementing popular digital tools such as Flipgrid, Wakelet, and Google Earth into your instruction and classroom

Another future professional learning trend is building highly effective teams of educators who collaborate on their PD. We learned during the pandemic that teaching methods can pivot quickly. Having a team with a high level of collaboration will create even more highly effective teachers. These ongoing collegial collaborations can take place anytime, whether it’s during common planning time, interdisciplinary team time, or departmental content time. What do they have in common? PD teams offer choice, are teacher-led, tied to their day-to-day work, and provide a flexible agenda. For example, when high school math teachers get together to look at their students’ performance on a particular test and reflect on their practice, they can better identify what tools and training is working. THAT is professional learning. 

After teaching for almost two years in the online world, teachers have also learned to flex their trial-and-error instruction skills in a brick-and-mortar learning environment. As a result, school district leaders are encouraging their teachers to take risks in the classroom. This starts with professional learning and modeling by district leaders. School district leaders should research what’s new and relevant in education and provide a series of related professional learning opportunities. The content should not focus on what teachers have learned, but how this content can be implemented. Encourage educators to implement what they learn, share this learning with their colleagues, and extend this new learning in their career to make students more successful. If we give educators a choice in professional learning, we also need to hold teachers accountable to ensure this PD is effective.

Districts that pivot and offer professional learning aimed at educators’ needs and wants are seeing less attrition and increasingly educated teachers. Move away from throwing darts at the newest PD buzzword, hoping one of the sessions will be impactful, to making precision throws aimed right at a target of your educators' needs. Ongoing and continuous teacher PD is the key to the future design of professional learning.

Matthew X. Joseph is a speaker, author, and school district leader, and advisor for Tech & Learning Magazine. Since 1980, Tech & Learning has been the leading resource for professionals looking for ways to use technology to drive innovation in teaching and learning. Our team of award-winning editors and an advisory board of top industry experts provide an inside look at the issues, trends, products, and strategies that support the work of K-20 educators and administrators.

Sign up for Tech & Learning’s weekly newsletter covering the hottest topics in K-20 edtech from remote learning and cybersecurity to esports and equity here.

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