Professional development (PD) is an opportunity to increase our knowledge and skills as educators. Yet, we sit in PD sessions where we wonder when will it end. Or we attend mandated PD where topics have nothing to do with our school’s goals or school improvement plan. Sometimes, we wonder if anyone asked a teacher for input on PD topics. We complete surveys at the end of PD sessions and are asked for topic ideas and input. However, is anyone listening to our needs as professionals? We as educators need to take control of our own learning and understand the benefits of teacher led professional development.
When I became a principal of a Pre-K through 8th-grade school, I wanted to provide the best PD opportunities for my teachers and staff members. Based on what I thought they needed, I brought in consultants and district content area specialists to present on curriculum, student data, behavior management and more. Sometimes, I led and presented sessions on data analysis, district mandated policies, building teacher capacity and how to move the school to the next level. However, this tactic neither moved the school nor built teacher capacity.
One day, a teacher asked to speak with me about professional development. He was quite honest and said, “I learn more from my peers than from consultants. Can you let the teachers present sometimes? I have some strategies that I’d love to share.” I thanked him for being candid. Then I said, “yes we can try it.” It was a perfect opportunity to delegate and begin to build teacher capacity. Later, teacher led PD brought about great benefits and results to teaching and learning in our school.
One benefit of teacher-led PD is that it does build teacher capacity. What is teacher capacity? According to the glossary of education reform, building capacity refers to any effort being made to improve the abilities, skills, and expertise of educators. The purpose of professional development is to improve instructional strategies, knowledge, and strength in content areas, improving classroom management, leadership skills, lesson planning and more.
When teachers lead PD, they are presenting and teaching to their strengths. They are comfortable and confident in their element. It provides a chance for teachers to show what they know through their experiences and what works in their classrooms. In these moments, teachers can also receive feedback and additional ideas from their peers, grade level team members and administrators. It is the beginning of building teacher leadership roles in a school.
Second, building teacher leadership also gives teachers capacity to make important decisions around teaching and learning. Teacher-led PD is an opening to empowerment. An article in The Georgia Social Studies Journal titled Teacher-Led Professional Development: Empowering Teachers as Self-Advocates states that when empowered to direct their own professional development, teachers claim ownership of their work and invest accordingly. Engaged, focused, positive teachers have a tremendous impact on student achievement.
Lastly, building teacher leadership, capacity and empowerment lead more collaboration and team work. A sense of community is enhanced when collaboration happens regularly. In general, teaching can be in isolation. A study titled, Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad states, “Historically, schools have been structured so that teachers work alone, rarely given time together to plan lessons, share instructional practices, assess students, design curriculum or help make administrative or managerial decisions.
On a normal day, teachers are in classrooms most of the day except during preparation periods or lunchtime. Usually, the work day is non-stop and does not lend itself to collaboration time. However, through teacher-led PD teachers can meet, discuss their experiences with curriculum, develop new strategies, work collaboratively and celebrate successes. Other examples of teacher-led PD include professional learning communities (PLCs), grade level team meetings, instructional learning team (ILT), common planning time, a lesson study, book discussions and peer observations.
Teacher-led PD promotes teamwork. A school’s success is dependent upon staff working together as a team. Through teacher leadership, capacity and empowerment teaching and learning improves. Also, continuous learning occurs and teachers become more reflective in their practice.
Finally, as a principal, I saw teachers become more engaged during PD sessions. Also, I learned a great deal from teachers, too. I gleaned from them as they became more confident in their knowledge, skills, and willingness to try new instructional strategies. I saw teachers researching and sharing resources. Teachers observed their colleagues during active lessons and provided constructive feedback. They developed and implement special projects.
I noticed the sense of responsibilities shift and teachers took leadership roles among grade level teams and the instructional leadership team. I watched transformation occur within the school. As the transformation happened, student achievement improved.
Stacy, M. (winter 2013). Teacher-Led Professional Development: Empowering Teachers as Self-Advocates. The Georgia Social Studies Journal,3(1), 40-49. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from https://coe.uga.edu/assests/files/misc/gssj/Stacy-2013.pdf.
Darling-Hammond, L., Chung Wei, R., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional Learning in The Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad(Rep.). Alexandria , VA : National Staff Development Council . doi:https://learningforward.org/docs/pdf/nsdcstudy2009.pdf
School of Redesign Network at Stanford University
Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott(Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum
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