Professional development: It happens every year, for every teacher. And yet there’s broad agreement among those who participate that it often—very often—misses the mark. The trainings fail to take teachers’ prior knowledge and experience into account, or use instructional techniques that wouldn’t work with students. The things teachers say they want to learn—how to recover when a lesson goes south, how to recognize their own biases, and design activities that reach all learners—are often overlooked. And even when teachers get PD in topics they know are important, like trauma-informed teaching and suicide prevention, the sessions are crammed in amid a growing list of other training requirements, and can end up feeling shallow.
In some places, teachers are turning their districts’ attention to what have long been blind spots in PD. They’re helping streamline unwieldy requirements and pushing for sessions that respect their expertise and time. Teachers are committing to the hard work of letting go of—or unlearning—long-held beliefs that have hindered them in the classroom. And when the opportunity arises, they’re also jumping into seemingly more radical learning opportunities—including, in one Kansas town, those that take their cues from Disney.
For this special reporting series, we let the ground-level experts lead the way, asking teachers what they saw as PD blind spots and then digging in on causes and solutions. It seems clear there will never be a perfect system for professional development—the needs of schools, teachers, and students are constantly shifting. But by taking a hard, periodic look around, schools can at least work toward a system that’s both manageable and meaningful.
—Liana Loewus, Editor
A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2019 edition of Education Week as A Clearer Vision for Teacher Professional Learning