Professional Learning: The New Paradigm for Teachers

Professional Development, two words that often have negative connotations amongst fellow educators. If you attend any PD sessions put on by your school district, there are generally two options; the PD you have to attend and the PD you actually want to attend.

At Northern Buckeye we have always tried to be innovative in our approach to the training we offer to our membership.  We want to be remembered by teachers as having provided them with training that was both useful and good enough that they would want to recommend it to their colleagues.

In defense of districts however, the bulk of PD opportunities offered to teachers is often dictated by mandates that have been passed down from the state department of education (ODE). Examples of this type of PD would be the positive behaviour intervention system (PBIS) or yearly training on bloodborne pathogens.

In 2021, however, I think we are seeing a paradigm shift when it comes to professional development in our schools. That new paradigm is professional learning! This has been ushered in by a perfect storm of large numbers of teachers retiring or leaving the profession and an influx of  younger teachers who have grown up with technology from an early age.

In this new paradigm of professional learning, our own learning should be viewed as a lifelong learning journey. Let’s focus on that journey and extend the metaphor a little deeper as we explore different models of professional learning.

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In order to take a journey you must have some idea of your destination. In our example, teachers should be aiming to meet objectives set by their district for what good instruction looks like in the post-pandemic classroom as well as meeting requirements for the Ohio Teachers Evaluation System (OTES 2.0). Indeed most teachers should have completed their professional growth plans (PGP) by now and will have identified some goals.

Districts too, need to spend some time determining their priorities. What goals and objectives have been set for instructional use of technology in the classroom? Once you know your destination you can begin your journey to get there.

Many will agree that it is always better to go on a journey with companions. Sharing insights and discussing what you are seeing along the way. That is where Learning networks come in. Learning networks (PLNs) also called learning communities (PLCs) are a place for people to reflect on their learning, share ideas and tips and help solve problems posed by members of the group.

Photo credit: Librestock

In the past 4 years I have been involved in the formation of quite a few learning networks as well as belonging to several other PLNs that I have come to depend on for information and ideas that I use on a daily basis when working with teachers and students in our 40 member districts. You can check out the Northern Buckeye PLG website for information on the PLNs that you may want to join and become part of the conversations.

I think we are close to reaching a tipping point for these PLNs becoming more mainstream forms of professional learning for Ohio teachers. Local Professional Development Committees (LPDC) are beginning to recognize membership in PLCs and PLNs as valid forms of professional development. Attendance at virtual and in-person events put on by the PLNs may count toward continuing education units (CEUs) if your LPCD allows.

The changing paradigm of profession learning also will involve changing how opportunities are offered by districts. Many of the districts we are now working with have adopted a more sustained approach to professional learning. Time is set aside for teachers to not only learn something new but have time to practice and ask questions. These facilitated work sessions have proven to be very popular with the teachers as evidenced by their high ratings in evaluations completed after the session.

Another approach has been to offer online courses that allow teachers to work at their own pace through coursework designed to increase their skill set and expose them to different ideas and instructional strategies that they can directly apply in their classrooms. Our Google Certified Educator Cohorts have now been successfully completed by over a thousand teachers in the past few years. They continue to be a popular form of professional learning with plans in the works to offer many more badged and credential based courses in the future.

A second approach has been the introduction of Instructional Coaches as a service for our districts. The idea of having a coach to help you to build your skills and get the most out of your instruction has been well received.

Finally, We are working with Elementary teachers and students to offer team taught “Tech Time” sessions every two weeks. This program sees the teacher learning right alongside the students about some common technology skills and literacies that are important fundamentals for our younger students. The topics we cover are aimed at helping students build their skills in preparation for state testing in 3rd grade and later in their schooling.

What all these strategies have in common is that they are designed to be implemented over a longer period of time, allowing teachers the chance to try things out for themselves, make mistakes, ask good questions and become comfortable with their own ability to be successful with technology.

So how does your district stack up when it comes to Professional Development? Are  you offered PD sessions that you have to attend or that you want to attend? At the Professional Learning Group we are here to help your district embrace this change from PD to professional learning. Please checkout all the opportunities we have to offer on our training site

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