Professional Development Days: Exploring Methods of Growth for Teachers

Professional development days are important for teachers to continue learning and growing as educators. There are many different ways in which teachers and administrators across the country can engage in such development, from seminars on improving school climate and equality to in-depth Shakespeare pedagogy reviews for the high school English Departments.

Here’s how to approach development days that consider teacher and student needs while fostering trust, collaboration and inspiration.

Methods of Professional Development for Teachers

Most teacher development days have a similar goal: to help teachers think deeply about education practices while collaborating with colleagues to further personal and collective goals. They’re also about keeping teachers feeling refreshed and inspired, says Gail Schulman, chief operating officer at Gann Academy in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“They’re an opportunity not only for training but also for inspiration and recharging of batteries. Knowledgeable, inspired, and motivated teachers are the catalyst for top-notch student experiences,” she explains.

Despite the good intentions behind professional development days, however, they’re not always effective. Their mandatory nature can make teachers feel like they aren’t personalized for the benefit of themselves and their students, says online college instructor Nicole Mace. “It’s difficult to encourage teachers to get out of their comfort zones for the benefit of their students when they feel their ideas and their students’ needs are not being considered,” she writes.

Therefore, the best teaching methods take teacher and student needs into account. Choosing an effective teacher training topic requires input from teachers and staff about what challenges they’re faced with at the current moment.

Natalie Saaris, Ph.D. at Actively Learn agrees that teachers must understand how professional development days apply to real-world contexts. “In some cases, teachers may be vocal about their needs and drive the conversation. In other cases, administrators might determine where the needs lie. But in either scenario, teachers need to understand why they should tune in to the PD and how it’s going to further their professional growth,” she says.

When teachers feel that there is a clear, well-defined purpose to the day, they’ll see it as an effective use of their time. In turn, they’ll be more likely to be engaged with whatever they’re learning.

woman giving a presentation on professional development

School Climate and Student Advocacy

Factors such as school climate and student advocacy can also play a critical role in effective teacher development. Bridgett Longust, Menlo prep school dean of teaching and learning, says staff development days are about helping teachers become stronger as both educators and student advocates.

She references a recent development day which focused on building awareness of school climate through conversations about diversity, equality and inclusion. In addition to dedicating a portion of development days to this aim, Menlo’s teachers also have time to explore these practices further through collaborative activities and discussions.

At Berkley Public School District in California, middle school teachers at a recent staff development day explored gender spectrum challenges. Meanwhile, other teachers at the same school learned about culturally responsive teaching techniques, and how these could tie into a school curriculum redesign. Both are strong examples of how equity issues and social-emotional learning can be folded into professional development days.

Teachers can also learn how to be advocates for their students through professional development models like the Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy. In fact, LILA empowers teachers to become advocates not just for students, but also their colleagues and for education itself, says Fred Ende, author of the book “Professional Development That Sticks.”

“This program is designed as an opportunity to help educators—whether new to advocacy or veterans—further develop their skills in advocating for education, and see the ways in which educational advocacy can help at the national level certainly, but also at the state and local levels,” Ende adds.

Technology and Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is an increasingly common topic for professional development days. With tech tools, techniques and pedagogies are constantly changing and evolving, incorporating this into development days can ensure teachers stay on top.

In fact, a deep understanding of technology is one of the 15 essential professional development areas teachers should focus on, the team at Wabisabi Learning. The most effective teacher training focuses on helping teachers advance student growth and potential with the best technology available.

Eli Zimmerman at EdTech explains how Google and Digital Promise teamed up to help introduce new education technology into the classroom. The goal of this project is to help teachers adopt technologies that can solve everyday problems and make life and learning easier for both teachers and students. “K–12 teachers are interested in adopting technology, but low confidence in their abilities to use it well enough to make the integration worth the investment is a significant barrier,” he writes.

That’s why the program focuses on helping teachers adopt a hands-on approach to classroom technology. By showing teachers how to use this technology, they become more confident and empowered in using it themselves and sharing it with students.

Technology can also be used to help teachers collaborate on professional development courses virtually, says online educator Valencia Gabay. This community-based practice offered an unexpected source of enlightenment and self-discovery. “Throughout the process, the goal changed from simply learning with and from each other to coaching and mentoring, shifting work culture, and creating a collective consciousness among the faculty,” she explains.

The processes that teachers learned in the virtual model were then applied to their classrooms. This group coaching and mentoring model helped teachers feel heard, engaged and fully supported. It also made them better prepared to teach 21st century learners.

Teachers working on computers, representing professional development

Subject-Specific Collaboration and Development

Collaboration is at the core of a successful school district, and collaboration-based development is a popular and effective method of teacher training. English teacher Linda Myers believes that effective educator workdays are those which allow teachers’ space and time to collaborate, communicate and create with their peers.

“Increasing time in the classroom and in collaboration with grade-level partners gives teachers the ability to plan and collaborate, which increases the quality of the instruction they deliver to students,” she writes.

She adds that it’s important for subject teachers to collaborate with other educators in niche fields to work on specific instructional elements, such as unit plans. Subject-specific development is exemplified by Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C. English and language arts teachers were directed towards a specific program that included a social and emotional equity presentation and discussion, a lesson on teaching Shakespeare and a session on high school ELA curriculum.

The Shakespeare lesson involved learning a new teaching model called 3D Shakespeare. Teachers already familiar with the model offered insight to those new to it, helping the collaborative period become more fruitful for everyone.

This kind of subject-specific collaboration can also help deepen individual educator knowledge on the topics they teach. This, says the team at Teaching Tolerance, is essential to meaningful career days that advance both teacher and student learning. “What matters most is what teachers learn. Professional development should improve teachers’ knowledge of the subject matter that they are teaching, and it should enhance their understanding of student thinking in that subject matter,” they write.

And that’s not all. Louisiana State University, Shreveport believes that subject-specific professional development is essential for advancing educator performance. The school’s administrators say both in-service and professional training should offer clear, tangible options for connecting pedagogy with subject specialities. This, in turn, will provide students with deeper, more contextual lessons from teachers who are confident and enthusiastic about the subject at hand.

Images by: Dmitriy Shironosov/©, lightpoet/©, Mark Bowden/©

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