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Importance of Professional Development for K-12 Teachers

According to Hayes Mizell, senior distinguished fellow at Learning Forward, "Research confirms that the most important factor contributing to a student's success in school is the quality of teaching." Mizell goes on to say, "Professional development is the most effective strategy schools and school districts have to meet this expectation." And when school districts dedicate time on the school calendar for in-service training days, they must offer more to their teachers than a packet of reading strategies and games or classroom management posters or charts.

The office of professional development (PD) is charged with planning and implementing staff development (also referred to as continuing education) for teachers and support staff throughout the entire school district. The Director of PD must evaluate what training is appropriate, what is the most efficient way to provide training, and how the district will determine the effectiveness of the training. Providing these services is complex and demanding, but an integral part of student academic success.

Professional Development for Teachers -- Why? and What?

Although teachers and support staff must have thorough advanced preparation to get jobs in education, "new teachers and principals take years to gain the skills they need to be effective in their roles," according to Learning Forward. As in any other profession, ongoing training and education is also essential for teachers to keep current with educational trends, advancements in technology, and updated curriculum and materials.

Linda Yaron, a National Board-certified educator, identifies what quality professional development is not:

  • The relaying of information that could have been emailed.
  • One-time attendance at disconnected workshops.
  • Repeating known information.
  • Meetings that bring people together but achieve nothing more.
  • Out of touch with classroom realities.
  • Disseminated via boring PowerPoint presentations.

Yaron goes on to describe what effective professional development is for a classroom, school or district. It is timely and relevant teaching, discussion and reflection in the appropriate forum, such as a workshop, seminar or team meeting. It is chosen based on the needs of the stakeholders and not simply "the next new thing." The event is offered in a location where attendees can easily collaborate and participate. It is followed up by careful and thorough assessment of the training, discussing what worked and what did not.

The Role of the Director of Professional Development

The responsibilities of Directors of Professional or Staff Development include:

  • Identifying training or professional development needs within all departments of the district.
  • Collaborating with professionals within and outside of the district to select and develop training for every educational position.
  • Providing for specific, often custom-designed, training when boxed curriculum or ready-made presentations do not meet the needs of district staff members.
  • Creating short- and long-range plans for consistent, relevant training.
  • Facilitating, supporting and leading professional learning communities.
  • Ensuring the necessary personnel, facilities and equipment requirements for training.
  • Providing the most effective training available within the budget.

Candidates in the running for a Director of Professional Development position must be go-getters, willing to reach out to district educators, staff and administrators with innovative ideas about in-service training.

Be a "Next-Level" Director

Given the scientific advancements in brain research and groundbreaking technological improvements -- not to mention the constant information overload -- educators at every level encounter issues of teaching and learning for which no ready training is available. But what if the candidate for Director of Professional Development had the skills required to take a systematic approach to determining what training is needed and how training will be accomplished? What if the candidate were prepared to not only determine and provide the training but also assess its success?

The candidate prepared to step into leadership with these skills is the one who is well-versed in Human Performance Technology, or HPT. The International Society for Human Performance Improvement describes HPT as "a process of selection, analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of programs to most cost-effectively influence human behavior and accomplishment."

The HPT process is a perfect match for educational training, as it follows the most current approach to instructional planning, created by educators and authors, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Through research and practice, they found that the best way to plan and provide instruction is to determine the ideal outcome and work backward to find the best way to reach it. Calling the approach "Backward by Design," they determined that the ideal planning system works from the end of the educational process: identify the desired results first. The same is true for the HPT approach. According to Donald Tosti, CEO of Vanguard Consulting, "Start with results."

Using a wide range of interventions drawn from behavioral psychology, instructional systems design, organizational development and human resources management, the candidate for Director who has a background in HPT will:

  • Find the areas requiring professional development and describe the desired outcome.
  • Identify the cause of the problems or gaps.
  • Offer interventions to bridge the gaps.
  • Guide the intervention or training process.
  • Evaluate the level of success achieved by those included in the training.

Educate the Educators -- Solve the Problems

The Director of Professional Development is a problem-solver whose goal is to train and better equip educators to help their students succeed. Earning a Master of Education in Instructional Design and Technology from the University of West Florida will equip the prospective Director candidate with the skills and strategies mapped out in the Human Performance Technology process.

In UWF's all-online program, you will "learn to identify individual and organizational performance issues, facilitate interventions and recommend effective solutions." By using this backward design approach -- starting with the desired results -- the successful Director of Staff or Professional Development can build a successful, long-term training program for educators and support staff at every level, in every position. The University of West Florida believes, "If you seek the challenge of working with other professionals to improve organizational performance, this UWF degree can help you achieve your goals."

Learn more about the UWF online M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology program.


Learning Forward: Why Professional Development Matters

Job Description - Roseville City School District: Director of Staff Development

Job Description - District School Board of Pasco County: Director of Professional Development and School Supports

Education Week: The Five Ws of Quality Professional Development

Edutopia: Backward Design

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