Over the past three school years, teachers have been subjected to ever-changing grading policies, mask wear controversies, attacks on their ability to teach, and the desire to fulfill every requirement thrown at them for online learning. This is just the shortlist of stressors. Recent studies show that almost one-third of teachers are considering leaving the profession in the next five years citing mental health issues, burnout, unrealistic expectations among other reasons that are spurring the consideration to depart from a profession they expected to spend their working career in. Being a recent retiree from a thirty-six-year stint in public education I am thankful for my experience but have no regrets about leaving this past June. For teachers now it comes down to simplifying their tasks. Grading and other work-related demands must be scaled down, including the desire to master every application that is considered the fix for student achievement and the classroom.
I recently spoke with some teachers about professional development. The overwhelming consensus is that teachers are burned out and need a break. One teacher summed it up quite well when she said teachers need time to process before one more demand is made on them. She emphasized that instead of spending time on learning another application, teachers need time to refine their teaching practice since so much of the traditional practices utilized three years ago are no longer functional in the current environment. Other technology coaches and teacher-leaders lamented the fact that sessions that their school districts offer are sparsely attended. So where does that leave professional development?
Based on what I am hearing from educators, there is a need to slow down with the technology. Focus on the practice of social-emotional learning in the classroom and becoming more familiar with the pedagogy of personalized learning instead seems to be the desire of teachers. Unfortunately, not much time is provided to do so.
Educational author Thomas Guskey has been writing about professional development for decades. One theme that he has focused on is that teacher efficacy from professional development must be centered on student achievement. If teachers are using a tool from a professional development session that is the “latest and greatest” but the tool has no bearing on student learning then to proceed makes little sense. This applies to technology and various teaching strategies that are typically offered up as a method to fix student learning or make classrooms more engaging. Social-emotional learning has a demonstrated track record in increasing student achievement based on various studies and should be a focus for educational institutions especially during these trying times. Making proven resources available by thinking out of the box with delivery approaches is key.
Personalized learning although not having the long track record of effectiveness certainly is worth considering as well. This approach does not require teachers to radically alter their teaching. With a pedagogical approach to training that allows for teachers to develop some of the basic tenets of personalized learning and utilizing technology a more focused approach on each individual’s learning can be realized. Since many school districts already have learning management systems it would make sense to capture their fullest ability so that learning can be measured in a manner that reflects student mastery and allows for more flexibility of student learning paths. As evidenced with the pandemic students are coming in with different capacities to learn and our affected by a myriad of external factors. Training teachers in developing plans that allow for a more personalized approach requires support, but does not add to the equation of learning new technology applications.
Perhaps investing in the time to develop a plan over the upcoming months would be better served than sending teachers to a conference. Ask the teachers want they need, and proceed with a focus.
Guskey, Thomas. “Planning Professional Learning.” ASCD, 1 May 2014, http://www.ascd.org/el/articles/planning-professional-learning. Accessed 18 Sept. 2021 McGee, Gema Zamarro, Andrew Camp, Dillon Fuchsman, and Josh B. “How the Pandemic Has Changed Teachers’ Commitment to Remaining in the Classroom.” Brookings, 8 Sept. 2021, http://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2021/09/08/how-the-pandemic-has-changed-teachers-commitment-to-remaining-in-the-classroom/. Accessed 17 Nov. 2021.