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Professional Learning

How ESSA’s Shift in Focus to Professional Learning Affects Teachers

3 Min Read
Essaprof Learning

The Every Student Succeeds Act’s (or ESSA’s) shift in focus from teacher evaluations to teacher professional development may leave some of you, as educators, wondering: How do these changes affect me?

My colleague ICLE President Sue Gendron and I answered that question from both the teacher and administrator perspective during a webinar hosted by Education Week entitled “How ESSA Affects YOU: Shifting Focus to Support Today’s Educators.”

So how does this shift impact K-12 teachers?

What Is ESSA’s New Definition of Professional Development?

Signed in 2015, ESSA is a U.S. federal law governing K-12 education policy. Among many other components, the law provides a revamped definition of the term professional development.

As I pointed out during the webinar, ESSA now characterizes professional development as:

  • an integral part of all of a school and district’s strategies for improving student outcomes;
  • a way to focus on challenging education standards in an equitable and inclusive model that meets students’ academic, social-emotional, and physical development needs;
  • a sustained effort in a continuous cycle with the familiar steps of learn, plan, do, assess, modify, repeat;
  • data-driven.
How Does This Shift Affect Teachers?

The shift in focus to professional development helps demonstrate how teachers make the most significant impact on student achievement. Evidence on the positive effects teachers have on student outcomes—both academic and social-emotional—continues to grow.

For example, expert Deborah Ball, an education professor at the University of Michigan, explains that the decisions teachers make—whom to call on, for instance, and what examples to use during class discussions—can at times be complex: “These decisions have to be made in the moment, while also monitoring the entire class for understanding, behavior, and engagement.”

As a result of the ESSA changes and given their important roles in shaping students’ lives, teachers are now being encouraged to:

  • advocate for more personalized professional learning that focuses on understanding student learning;
  • deepen subject matter knowledge;
  • use differentiated effective instructional strategies;
  • integrate instruction seamlessly.

ESSA also prioritizes funding support for professional development. In our webinar, I specifically pointed to Title IV, which emphasizes the use of data and technology to improve instruction in 21st-century schools.

How Can You Reimagine Professional Development in the ESSA Era?

The answer: You ask a teacher! That’s precisely what we did in conducting a recent HMH survey with Kelton Global focusing on the increase in teachers’ integration of technology into their classrooms and curricula.

The results of the study discovered four major purposes of technology in K-12 schools, as you’ll see from the slide below:

  • workflow;
  • communication;
  • instruction;
  • data.

I also looked at the benefits and barriers of tech in the classroom as detailed in the HMH and Kelton Global survey, which you can see listed on the following slide:


With ESSA’s focus on professional development, there’s the possibility of these breakthroughs. For workflows, this would mean access to assignments anywhere there’s internet on any device. In terms of communication, technology enables more meaningful contact between teachers and coaches. On instruction, teachers could receive greater support for deeper learning and enhanced lessons. And data provides educators with beneficial insight and analysis about student performance.

Next month, HMH will be releasing the Educator Confidence Report that further explores many of the aforementioned topics. To give you a little preview, I’m going to share some findings on what teachers told us they would do if they had more support from technology. Here are the top three:

  1. Seventy-six percent would work with students who need intervention.
  2. Fifty-seven percent would spend more one-on-one time with students.
  3. Fifty-two percent would find and provide enrichment opportunities.

Building relationships with students is something that’s absolutely crucial for success as a teacher. And to advance equity and student achievement, lifelong learning needs to be a priority among educators. Aren’t we fortunate that learning is part of our job!


Next week, ICLE President Sue Gendron will dive into how ESSA affects administrators in a separate post.

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