A Cost-Effective Model of Teacher Development
As funding for staff-development days dwindles, Professional Learning Communities offer a no-cost alternative for professional development.
By Kelly Weymouth
Teaching is one of the most dynamic and rapidly changing professions in the world today. Educators have to keep up with a wide range of variables including:
- An increasingly diverse group of learning needs
- Quickly changing technology
- New sets of educational standards
- New curriculum
Thus, it is important that teachers seek out, and administrators provide, numerous opportunities for professional development.
Meeting the educational, emotional, developmental, and social needs of today’s learners should be the primary goal in all professional development endeavors. However, this has become increasingly difficult to fund because school districts are making large cutbacks. Often, the first programs on the chopping block of a restricted district budget are costly educator seminars. There are some simple and economical ways to keep professional development as an integral part of a school even when funding isn’t available.
Professional Learning Communities
Nearly all fields of employment are moving toward Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs. The premise behind a PLC is that continuous inquiry, collaboration, and sharing of ideas is the most important aspect of progression in any career. This holds especially true for the field of education. Few sectors change as quickly as education, thus it is vital that educators and administrators meet together regularly to share ideas and troubleshoot problems. This can be done at a school site in a number of different ways.
Grade Level Teams
Many schools now schedule classes like music, physical education, and art in a way that allows teachers from the same grade level to meet together to collaborate. During this time, they can pace and plan the curriculum together, divide tasks like making copies or grading, or solicit feedback and advice on any classroom problems. Because these meetings occur during the regular school day, teachers are more likely to make them a priority, and they do not have to juggle their afternoon schedules in order to meet together.
Regular staff meetings are another great opportunity for development in a PLC. Since these meetings are already scheduled, it is easy to set aside a few minutes to discuss classroom problems or ask for advice. Another time-sensitive way to collaborate in staff meetings is to have two or three teachers share a “best practice,” particularly effective teaching strategy, or classroom management tip at each meeting. This may include something like a new way of getting the attention of a loud classroom. It could also be an incentive for homework completion, or a particularly engaging way to teach paragraph writing. In general, what is shared during these times should be applicable or adaptable to any grade level at the school.
Student teachers, or teacher candidates, are an often-overlooked source of professional development. Since most educational change is research driven, the local university may be the best source for new pedagogy and effective instruction strategies. Technology incorporation is also a large component of most teacher preparation programs today. Young candidates have access to these tools. A student teacher, master teacher relationship should be one of collaboration. The veteran has a wealth of experience and information to share regarding effective classroom management strategies, tips for communicating with parents and administrators, and much more. In turn, the candidate has the most up-to-date pedagogy regarding educational standards, strategies for special populations like English Learners, and educational technology. The pairing of these two people allows seasoned educators to continue to discover educational changes, while allowing new educators to implement what they have learned in a way that maximizes student engagement.
Below are some ideas for further professional development:
If your credential renewal requires you to prove a certain number of professional development hours, consider some of these courses. They are an economical and flexible way to meet the requirement, in addition to offering flexibility for busy schedules.
Here is a lesson designed for educators. Those with little exposure to word processing are introduced to the basics of Microsoft Word and how it can be used for effective parent communication and written lesson plans.
If you feel overwhelmed by the possibilities of incorporating technology into the classroom, then start here. These are some basic ways to use your available classroom technology to enhance your curriculum.