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  • Writer's pictureolivershearman

Teacher-led Professional Development (PD) - Making PD useful again

In the dynamic world of education, the continuous professional development (PD) of teachers is pivotal and sometimes difficult and boring. Traditionally structured as a one-size-fits-all model, PD often comes in the form of predetermined courses and materials, decided upon by administrators without direct input from the teachers themselves. This can lead to devastatingly dull and non-useful training with little to no money or time available for training that teachers actually want and will use in their daily practice. This top-down approach, while standardized, frequently results in PD sessions that are perceived as disconnected, irrelevant, or simply uninspiring to the educators they are meant to serve. The fallout from this misalignment is profound, leading to a stagnation in teaching methodologies, a lack of personalized growth opportunities for teachers, and ultimately, a disservice to student learning.

The heart of the issue lies in the failure to acknowledge teachers as professionals with unique insights into their own educational needs, as well as those of their students. By funneling all educators through the same PD pathways, we risk not only the homogenization of teaching practices but also the overlooking of niche or innovative methods that could be highly beneficial in diverse classroom settings. Moreover, the traditional model often fails to leverage the wealth of resources available beyond conventional platforms, including those created by teachers themselves, which can offer practical, classroom-tested solutions. Some examples of teacher-made materials could be found here - mine of course (as you might have guessed). 

The solution? or maybe a solution? A paradigm shift towards a more holistic approach to PD, one that empowers teachers with the autonomy to direct their own professional growth through self-directed PD budgets. This model offers several compelling advantages such as the following. 

When teachers are entrusted with their PD, they can tailor their learning to address specific challenges they face in the classroom or explore areas of interest that ignite their passion for teaching. This personalized approach ensures that PD is relevant and engaging, leading to more meaningful integration of new strategies into daily teaching practices.

Allowing teachers to choose their own PD paths encourages the exploration of a wider range of topics and teaching methodologies, fostering innovation and the adoption of diverse educational practices. This diversity enriches the educational landscape, introducing fresh perspectives and techniques that can enhance learning outcomes.

Allocating PD budgets to teachers recognizes their expertise and judgment, demonstrating respect for their professional capabilities. This trust can significantly boost motivation and morale, inspiring teachers to pursue their development with enthusiasm and dedication.

However, transitioning to a self-directed PD budget model comes with its set of challenges. Ensuring equitable access to high-quality resources, maintaining alignment with educational standards, and managing budgets effectively are all critical considerations. To address these, schools can adopt several key strategies:

  • Provide Guidelines: Offer a list of vetted PD resources to ensure quality and relevance.

  • Train in Budget Management: Equip teachers with the skills to manage their PD budgets effectively.

  • Establish Accountability Measures: Require teachers to demonstrate the impact of their chosen PD on their teaching practice.

A shift towards self-directed PD also opens the door to utilizing teacher-created resources. The educational community is rich with innovative materials developed by teachers for teachers, offering practical, classroom-ready solutions that traditional PD often lacks. By enabling educators to purchase these resources, we not only enrich the pool of available PD tools but also support the talented teachers who create them, fostering a culture of collaboration and mutual growth.

Real-world examples, such as the Edcamp "unconferences" and Philadelphia's School District's micro-credentialing program, illustrate the potential of this model. These initiatives represent steps toward recognizing and rewarding personalized professional learning, indicating a growing acknowledgment of the need for change.

Evidence that this method can work and teachers like it come from a 2023 PhD from university of South Dakota - link here. Giving teachers some choice in what they learn would be excellent, but as this k-12 dive articles writes - link here - perhaps too much choice and freedom would lead to greater inequality, poor resources and hucksters giving poor PD (though to be honest that can already happen). Yet this education week article really hit the nail on the head - link here - teachers are engaging with each other for informal PD through social media. They are supporting and learning from one another in more of an informal way, rather than doing so through structured ‘one size fits all’ PD. 

While other voices focus on giving teachers voice and choice during professional development, that is not quite what I am suggesting here, though it would be a good interim step in the right direction (link here and here for edutopia articles). I think there is a lot to unpack here and while my professional experience and voice means something, I don’t yet claim to be experienced enough to have my mind made up on this topic, but rather suggest what I can see as more of a need for teachers where possible. I think many of us have sat through one too many boring and not really applicable PD sessions that we joked our way through during a training day we had to do. 

In conclusion, the traditional model of professional development for teachers, with its one-size-fits-all approach, is increasingly seen as inadequate for the diverse needs of educators and their students. By moving towards a model that empowers teachers with the autonomy to tailor their PD through self-directed budgets, we can foster a more engaged, motivated, and professionally satisfied teaching workforce. This holistic approach not only addresses the immediate needs of educators but also anticipates the future of teaching, where diversity, innovation, and personalized learning paths become the norm, ultimately enhancing the educational experience for students across the board.

Thanks for reading

Cheers and stay curious

Oliver - The Teaching Astrophysicist


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