Uncertain educational environment requires shift in PD

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Dive Brief:

  • Teaching underwent a massive change this spring when most schools switched to distance learning, and with educators facing an uncertain upcoming school year, professional development must shift to help them prepare, Mount Holyoke College Professor Megan Allen writes for Edutopia.
  • Allen, a 2010 National Teacher of the Year finalist, suggests adding PD on trauma-informed instruction, as many students will have experienced trauma from the pandemic, the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd or new financial uncertainty within their family. Professional development should also focus on team building and collaboration, as teachers are leaning more on each other to navigate this new environment.
  • Social-emotional learning for both teachers and students will be important post-pandemic, as many teachers responding to a recent survey reported feelings of anxiety, fear, worry, sadness and being overwhelmed. Allen adds that PD should also help teachers prepare for more distance and hybrid learning, as well as how to engage families during emergencies.

Dive Insight:

Delivering pertinent professional development opportunities was already a difficult task for administrators during normal times. The current uncertainty presents further challenges. Teachers will need to continue to develop their online teaching skills, for example, but only around 4% of PD programs offered online options, according to a 2016 survey. 

Prior to the pandemic, personalized professional development was gaining popularity. Districts such as Long Beach Unified School District in California allowed teachers to select options relevant to areas they wanted or needed growth in. 

But despite efforts to customize PD, teachers still wish there were more individualized choices. A 2017 State of Teacher Professional Learning survey showed 75% of respondents reported most of their PD decisions are still made by administrators. 

In Newville, Pennsylvania, Big Spring High School launched “best practice groups” to give teachers options to pick pertinent study areas within a district menu. The options empower teachers with choices both relevant and within the district’s learning goals.

Another potential option is to give teachers vouchers so they can find their own PD to meet their individual needs.

Los Angeles Unified School District, meanwhile, set out to restructure its ed tech professional development program for online use, with administrators working through 130 PD sessions to realign what were once face-to-face sessions into virtual learning. Connecting teachers with others — even on screens — is important right now, Sophia Mendoza, the executive director for LAUSD’s instructional technology initiative, previously told Education Dive.

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