Have you ever wondered if the 100 hours you clock in for professional development is really helping to make you a better teacher? Read on to find out what the research shows.
“Professional development is a continuous process of individual and collective examination and improvement of practice.” (American Federation of Teachers)
As teachers, we attend countless workshops and in-service courses. Added to these, there are many other avenues for teacher learning to take place, such as action research, reflective journals and online communities. They are part and parcel of a teacher’s life.
But how many of those workshops actually improve our pedagogy? How much of the new knowledge we gained is translated into better teaching practice?
Maximizing Your Learning
In their project, “Teacher Learning and the Acquisition of Professional Knowledge”, American researchers Suzanne Wilson and Jennifer Berne surveyed a number of research projects and found three themes that make for effective teacher learning.
1. Learning must be activated
Teacher learning needs to be “activated”, as in the case of the Cheche Konnen Project. When the teachers in this project were provided step-by-step guidance on how to teach the new curriculum, their students learned better.
It also helped when they were able to “see” learning in action – when they learned to learn as their students would. By being able to identify with their students, they were able to understand the curriculum more thoroughly and thus became better teachers.
2. Learning must be shared
Interaction is integral to teacher learning. When teachers are able to come together and talk about what they do, to share teaching beliefs and practices, and to critique each other as professionals – that is where learning truly begins.
For this to happen, trust needs to be built – teachers need to truly feel comfortable with each other. For the Cheche Konnen teachers, their practice was enhanced by not only because they were using the same teaching method, but also because they were now a “community” of learners.
3. Learning must continue
For real learning to take place, it must continue long after the seminars and workshops are over.
The researchers noticed that many of the teachers involved in the projects stayed in touch long after the projects were over. This enabled them to continually meet and share their experiences in and out of classrooms.
Working Hard at Learning
So we know what makes for effective teacher learning. What we often forget is that real learning is hard work!
Wilson and Berne explain that very often, when teachers sign up for a seminar or workshop, they expect to learn something new – new theories, new methods, new ways to make teaching easier. The last thing they want is to have their old assumptions challenged or their teaching methods questioned.
But more often than not, real teacher learning will do just that. So, before you sign up for your next workshop, remember:
- real learning takes place when are challenged
- real learning takes place when you share
- real learning must continue
American Federation of Teachers. (n.d.). Professional development for teachers. Retrieved February 11, 2009, from http://www.aft.org/topics/teacher-quality/prodev.htm
Wilson, S. M., & Berne, J. (1999). Teacher learning and the acquisition of professional knowledge: An examination of research on contemporary professional development. Review of Research in Education, 24, 173-209.