Why We Need Deeper Learning for Teachers

Professional Development for Deeper Learning

Deeper Learning for TeachersThe focus on college and career ready standards has challenged educators to think about how they can ensure that students have deep understanding of concepts and the ability to transfer knowledge and skills to real-world situations, both predictable and unpredictable. Our students live in a world where they have nearly unlimited access to information.

In most cases, students no longer need schools or teachers to provide them with knowledge and information. Those things are readily available from world-wide experts online. So how are the roles of the schools and teachers redefined, and how are we preparing and supporting teachers to fulfill their new roles?

In a recent blog posted on EdWeek entitled Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning, authors Carri Schneider and Tom Vander Ark highlight findings  from their white paper by the same title and phrase the challenge this way: “If the goals of American education are being redefined, and the opportunities are expanded with the advent of technology, the Internet and digital content, how must the role of the educator evolve? And, how must teacher preparation and ongoing professional development evolve to fully enable teacher success in this new environment?” As we transition schools to incorporate blended models and more personalized learning for students, what does that mean for teachers?

Teachers will play a more facilitative role.  Their challenge will be to extend students’ knowledge and skills to higher applications by using technology to research, integrate, create, collaborate, communicate and publish. They will need to be adept at orchestrating learning for individuals as well as groups of students. They will interact with students face-to-face and online. They will have up- to-the-moment data about student progress in order to personalize and individualize instruction which, contrary to some fears and beliefs, should lead to more focused and productive interactions between teachers and their students.

This is a transformative role for teachers. How are we preparing and supporting them to succeed? Mostly, it seems, within undergraduate preparation and traditional professional development offerings, but these have changed little in response to the shifting environment of teaching and learning. While we talk about blended and personalized opportunities for student learning, we offer very little of those same opportunities for teachers.

Traditional professional development models do not provide the necessary time to develop new knowledge and skills, nor do they provide the opportunities for implementation and practice to master transfer to the classroom.  In a report prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), a review of the research found that teachers require 14 hours of focused professional development to demonstrate a positive and significant impact on student achievement. In fact, studies show that teachers who received significant professional development totaling an average of 49 hours or more were able to increase student achievement by 21 percentile points.

Schneider and Vander Ark submit that a more competency-based approach to teacher preparation and professional development is needed. Such an approach would be based on a common understanding of what teachers need to know and be able to do in the evolving school environment and would  provide multiple pathways to learning and opportunities to demonstrate competence.

Key elements of a competency-based approach described in the paper would include:

    • Some element of teacher control over time, place, path and/or pace;
    • Balance between teacher-defined goals, goals as defined by administration through teacher evaluation efforts, and school and district educational goals;
    • Job-embedded and meaningful integration into classroom practice; and
    • Competency-based progression

Thinking about current professional development offerings in your school or district, how do they compare? What kind of flexibility is provided? How much time is spent overall and how much is spent engaged in meaningful practice and implementation? What is the balance between personalized learning goals and administration or system goals?

At Catapult Learning, we are structuring PD programs that we believe reflect a balanced approach that incorporates elements of the recommendations above.  Our professional development includes face-to-face presentations, online videos and support, job-embedded coaching and exemplar resources for teachers. We work closely with districts and principals to provide clear pathways and plans that offer flexibility and build teacher competency.

Teachers are eager to support their students and help them succeed. District and school administrators need to ensure that teachers receive quality professional development that will lead to their own deep understanding and prepare them to provide deeper learning for students.

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