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;
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.
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