Time to Change the Way We Teach Teachers: PD 2.0
June 18, 2018
Learning how to teach can be difficult. Learning how to teach so that students make consistent and sustained academic progress is even more challenging. All teachers should master the classroom practices that guarantee learning. These practices can be learned both in pre-service teacher preparation programs and also in on-the-job professional development (PD). Unfortunately, neither approach is particularly effective. The PD that teachers and other professionals get, while it may be motivating, stimulating, engaging, exciting, and challenging, usually does not result in higher academic achievement for students.
However, giving up on improving academic progress is not an option. Nor is giving up on professional development for educators. Instead of accepting the current situation and continuing to do more of the (ineffective) same in terms of PD for teachers, we have some good alternative options available. One of those options is the targeted use of micro-credentials for PD. Micro-credentials are new to many educators, but states and school districts are beginning to use them as a new approach to PD—PD 2.0.
Because we have a wealth of high quality, reliable research on teaching and learning to guide us, we can apply key principles of effective instruction to adult learning aimed at educators. Here are some of those principles, a brief explanation of how they related to micro-credentials, and some practical ideas for how to make them work.
Most learning should be broken into smaller, manageable portions for teaching. This is exactly what micro-credentials do.
While some content can be organized in other ways, most new learning is best presented in bite-sized pieces that learners can master and then integrate into big-picture, complex learning. Most micro-credentials are organized sequentially just like a great unit of instruction for students: The prerequisites are assessed and reviewed, then introductory basic skills are addressed, and then the learning continues with modeling, practice, and feedback so that it makes sense and is easy to master. Of course, this sequence does not preclude using motivating “hook” activities, technology that fits the instruction, group team work, pre-teaching and flipping, or anything else that works with the learners and the content.
Content should be readily accessible to all learners. Because they are provided online, micro-credentials work especially well for rural districts, small districts, and districts with limited resources.
We forget sometimes that there are lots of rural districts in the U.S. and many educators who work in those districts. These teachers and staff should have equal opportunities to access high quality content. Leaving them and, by extension, their students behind should not be acceptable. With technology so readily available, teachers anywhere can engage in professional development on topics that target their needs. Micro-credentials can be available regardless of geography, which eliminates barriers for many districts that would otherwise have to spend large amounts of money on travel or consultant fees.
Teachers know that providing choices is, for many students, highly motivating and engaging. Micro-credentials can offer the same opportunities for adults.
When districts provide a menu of micro-credentials for teachers, coaches, and staff, PD can become not just meaningful, but enjoyable as well. Most adults want and need some flexibility in their schedules and will appreciate how easy it is to access micro-credentials from anywhere and at any time. When districts herd adult learners into large rooms and keeping them there for a whole day of listening as someone tells them what to do, some of the joy of learning is lost. Adults want to be treated like adults and micro-credentials provide an opportunity for education leaders to do that while supporting mastery of skills that will positively impact their students. It’s a win-win!
Professional development, like instruction of students, should require a demonstration of learning. Rigorous, high quality micro-credentials are competency-based.
We wouldn’t think of failing to check for understanding and assess student progress while teaching students. Failing to require a demonstration of competency for adult learners is not appropriate either. Investing financial and human resources in teacher professional development without requiring evidence of mastery seems short-sighted and wasteful. Good micro-credentials require demonstrations of learning linked to specific segments of content. These requirements should be a minimum and school leaders can continue to observe and provide feedback as teachers continue to implement new practices.