Districts ought to personalize teacher training, study finds

Districts ought to personalize teacher training, study finds

(Va.) As states continue to roll out new standards and curriculum, districts should move away from one-size-fits-all methods of professional development, and ensure educators have access to continuous training so they can be most effective, according to new research.

Instead of attempting to cover a topic in one day without any plan to revisit it, researchers at the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education recommend making professional development an ongoing process, personalizing it to a teacher’s subject area, and supporting educators as they practice new skills.

“This is not just about providing professional development but about providing effective professional development,” authors of the report wrote–noting that availability of teacher training overall was not an issue. “In fact, in a recent study, researchers found that while 90 percent of teachers reported participating in professional development, most of those teachers also reported that it was totally useless. Thus, the real issue isn’t that teachers aren’t provided professional development, but that the typical offerings are ineffective at changing teachers’ practice or student learning.”

Nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards or some form of college and career-ready standards that emphasize critical thinking and problem solving skills rather than rote memorization. Schools are still held accountable to some degree on student scores on new standardized tests, and in many states, teachers are also held accountable, with compensation and tenure decisions tied to student achievement.

As authors of the whitepaper point out, teachers will have to learn new teaching practices and effectively put them in place in order to help students meet these new standards.

For districts, this means ensuring that teachers are not simply learning about new approaches to teaching, but are practicing how to implement them–and receiving support as they practice new teaching methods. According to the report, it take an average of 20 separate instances of practice before a teacher has mastered a new skill, with that number increasing as skills become more complex.

Authors also recommend allowing teachers to work with a master educator before, during and after a lesson–a method known as “coaching.” Numerous studies have shown coaching to be successful at changing teacher practice and improving student learning, according to authors, because it can help teachers grasp a new teaching approach before they attempt implementation.

In order to truly change practices, the report recommends professional development occur over time, and preferably be ongoing, as mastery of a skill only results from continuous practice. Additionally, professional development that applies skills and concepts to a teacher’s discipline is more likely to be practiced and implemented by teachers–which in turn improves student outcomes, researchers wrote.

“If districts want real changes in teaching practice, they have to provide ample and ongoing support during implementation,” authors of the study wrote. “(And) professional development that focuses on teachers analyzing the specific skill and concept they’ll teach in their discipline is not only well-received by teachers, but has also been shown to improve both teacher practice and student learning.”