Schools were thrust into an environment of uncertainty in March 2020, and this uncertainty loomed over communities and families in a way no one could have ever imagined. Parents were asked to become teachers. And teachers were immediately asked to provide virtual instruction that ran counter to every educational college course they had ever taken.
Prior to COVID-19, teachers were masters in placing students in small groups, providing whole-group lessons, and creating learning centers. But in no college preparatory courses did teachers study how to use Zoom with 32 first graders! Nevertheless, educators were champions through it all and answered their call of duty.
Teachers have always been the center of the educational experience. They widen students' imaginations in ways that create doctors, lawyers, astronauts, and the next generation of educators. Today more than ever, National Teacher Appreciation Week in May should be filled with accolades from the mountains to the foothills so that teachers feel recognized for their sacrifices as teachers work to close the COVID learning gap.
So, how are district leaders preparing to support teachers in this new era of teaching and learning? Well, hopefully not the way I provided professional development early on in my leadership career—with all my teachers sitting in a media center, listening and learning with the same presentation.
Strategies for Redesigning Professional Development
As educators plan for the future, here are three strategies I’d recommend considering.
1. Tier Your Teachers
Teachers are typically told to identify the needs of their students and to group them according to their needs. What a novel idea, right? So why don’t we do this for our teachers, too?
A great way to begin this process is to group teachers according to their skill sets. For example, if I’m a teacher who isn’t comfortable with small groups, pair me with other teachers in a similar situation to learn from a “master” who can support growth. The “master” teacher shouldn’t be chosen based on how many years of experience they have, but rather, how successful they are in ensuring academic success is the norm for all students.
Sit with your leadership team and begin to discuss where your team members are in this tiered approach. In the process, ask teachers these questions:
- Do you have a framework for grouping/identifying the needs of your students?
- Have you established 30-60-90-day benchmark goals for success?
- Do students have personalized learning plans?
2. Identify Teacher Needs by Asking Questions
Most often when I ask teachers what they need to do their job better, the typical responses I hear are: fewer students in my class, longer planning periods, and more copy paper! Never in 28 years have I heard a teacher say “more professional development”—unless it was to attend a conference out of state.
After you have tiered the teachers, ask them what supports they believe would make them better teachers. Have them research what’s new and relevant in the field of education and provide you with why they need this professional development, which is likely more important than ever. Also, ask them how they will implement what they learn, share this learning with their colleagues, and extend this new learning in their career to make students more successful. Always hold teachers accountable for what they say they need.
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