In Support of Teacher Development: A Parent Perspective
Teachers love to learn. They are experts at it! That is one reason they chose education as a profession. They crave new ideas, strategies, and concepts to implement in their classrooms, but that is hard to accomplish when all time is spent teaching others each day.
Overall, teachers are change agents, each motivated by the same end goal: to enhance student learning. Education is creative, challenging, complex, and full of joys and frustrations. Our teachers need collaboration and time to absorb recent education research so they can embed it into their instructional practices.
Raising a child takes a village, as they say. That includes a parent-school partnership based on trust. One way to support both kids and teachers is to advocate for continuous, high-quality professional learning.
We also need to advocate for local teachers to have the training they deserve and crave to continually improve classroom instruction.
Approaches to professional development may vary widely by state, but the intention is the same: to inform and support best instructional practices for the benefit of students.
Having teachers who are informed about current educational research, strategy, and policy is in the best interest of all students. Quality instruction starts with teacher quality.
Pandemic Professional Learning
Historically, professional development has taken many forms: large-scale conferences (national, regional, state, or association), district or grade level conference days, and/or subject specific offerings. Prior to the pandemic, most all this professional learning occurred in person.
In 2020, Covid put an acute and unexpected halt to these meetings. Yet the need for professional development and growth has never been greater.
Overnight, conferences and development opportunities ceased to exist. They were expected to teach their students virtually with no background or training in how to do so. Many did not even have the required technology in place.
In spring of 2020, very few companies were offering high-quality, engaging, and relevant virtual professional learning. This was an underdeveloped facet of the education industry.
Supplementing this was a looming fear of education funding cuts. Schools were understandably hesitant to invest in pricey technology or virtual training for teachers. Many believed this would be a short-term problem. A hiccup.
Over one year later and we still fighting the same problem. Sixty-four percent of parents and students reported students learned less while remote learning in 2020–2021 as opposed to when in attendance at “normal” school1.
Our teachers need training.
They were forced to tackle hybrid and remote learning models in the fall without a full understanding of what those terms meant. Everyone was overwhelmed and no one was happy.
Some schools did utilize budget dollars to purchase libraries of virtual professional development from EdTech companies that rushed to provide a product for this new market. A recent EdWeek Market Brief survey of school and district leaders indicates a disappointment with the return on investment2. Faculty were not as engaged in the training and there was little evidence the teachers implemented the training into practice.
Everyone, from parents to board members, wants quality professional learning for teachers.
What does that look like in a post-pandemic era of education?
Virtual, In-Person, or Both?
One silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic is an awakening to the power and possibility of what virtual professional learning can be. Looking towards 2022, many conferences are offering hybrid formats to increase attendance.
Virtual professional development can save districts money. There is no reimbursement for travel expenses. The cost of attendance is also likely to be less if attendees are not on-site.
The EdWeek Market Brief survey indicates most schools will continue to opt for in-person learning in 2022 however, citing increased engagement and participation by teachers when development is live and synchronous2.
What seems most likely is schools will continue offering in-person professional development while simultaneously building an asynchronous library of virtual options for teachers.
One thing is certain, professional development must continue and it must be a budget priority for leadership.
“Education spending in the United States often goes toward things that look good: buildings with polished floors, shiny lockers, a new football stadium, an auditorium with comfortable seating, new exercise equipment. We spend it on technology, buses, playgrounds. While these are important elements of a typical US school campus, we should take a cue from the schools in China and Japan. The highest priority should be investing in areas that directly inform academics: teacher recruiting and training, salaries, ongoing professional development, support for those learning English as a second language, and resources for students with special needs.”
Professional learning must be timely and of high quality to have the best impact on our students.
Professional Development, especially in areas of EdTech and hybrid teaching models, are more essential than ever to close learning gaps in 2021–2022 and help our nation’s students move forward academically. Classrooms suffer if teachers are unclear how to best do their jobs.
We must learn a lesson from this trying year. Sadly, we should be prepared to switch from in-person to remote learning for a variety of reasons. After a year of fumbling, I am still not convinced we could switch back to remote learning in a national emergency if necessary. A lack of much-needed professional learning is the heart of that reality.
High-quality teachers engage children in their learning while reducing academic gaps and diminishing inequities. Every student deserves a highly trained teacher. Not just a privileged few.
“If we’re ever going to live up to the idea that education is the great equalizer, it starts there: providing an equal start with qualified teachers for all.”
A coherent, quality, and clearly articulated vision for professional development must be developed and monitored to promote equity and further student achievement — both in the classroom and the living room.
Teru Clavel is an internationally recognized author, education journalist, and parent advocate. She seeks to empower GenZ and is in process of writing a young adult book series as well as producing an action-adventure animated series.
Finding success with the publication of World Class, Teru has been on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS, The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, CNBC Squawk Box, The Times of London, Chicago Tribune, and countless other written outlets as well as many podcasts and national radio programs.
Foy, N. (2020, August 19). Research shows some distance-learning lessons deepen student engagement. UTSA. https://www.utsa.edu/today/2020/08/story/k12-distance-learning-report-s….
Harwin, A. H. R. (2021, April 13). How Close Are School Districts to Switching to Online Professional Development? EdWeek Market Brief. https://marketbrief.edweek.org/exclusive-data/close-school-districts-sw….
Clavel, Teru. (2019). World class: One mother’s journey halfway around the globe in search of the best education for her children. Atria Books.