High quality professional development is important for teachers to improve their practice, ultimately helping students learn. I have attended many professional development sessions and the ones that were most effective is when the plans see teachers and other adults as learners. Lyons and Pinnell (2001) state, “Adults, like children, bring their knowledge, beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions to new experiences and construct new knowledge or refine previous understanding to gain meaning. But in order to gain this meaning, learners of all ages must be motivated to learn and must actively engage in the process” (p.3). As an adult learner, I appreciate when I get to be discussing with my peers, getting up and moving around the room, and walking away with direct strategies to apply to my own practice.
When planning high quality professional development, it is important to acknowledge the experience and knowledge of the teachers in the room. Lyons and Pinnell (2001) describe eight constructivist principles of teaching to organize and implement a high quality professional development session. I will outline them in this post!
Encourage active participation. Just like we should not give a lecture to our students, it is important for professional development not to be lecture based. When information is presented, learners should be able to actively participate. This often may be in the form of small-group discussions, which is the second principle, organize small-group discussions around common concerns. This is a way to discuss how the new learning would fit to their own context and come up with questions.
Introduce new concepts in context. When you introduce new learning, it is helpful to show a video so that the participants can see the technique and then get to discuss it afterwards and the impact on learning.
Create a safe environment. Just like in our classrooms, it is very important to create a safe environment for the teachers to not only discuss the new learning, but try it out in their classrooms and share what happened.
All of the small-group discussions are outlined in these principles hold a lot of benefit for teachers. Develop teachers’ conceptual knowledge through conversation around shared experiences. Teachers have so many experiences, and listening to each other’s experiences is important to generate further understanding. All teachers will have different understandings so it is important to give small-group time to ask questions to prompt teachers to make connections with what they know and believe. This aligns with the next principle, provide opportunities for teachers to use what they know to construct new knowledge.
After new learning has been taught, it is important to try to find evidence that teachers have revised their thinking, which is the next principle, look for shifts in teachers’ understanding over time. For those teachers who need a little more, there can be a follow up such as a demonstration or videotape. This is the last principle, provide additional experiences for teachers who have not yet developed needed conceptual understanding.
With these principles in place, you are empowering teachers to actively engage in the new learning and apply it to their practice!
Lyons, C. A., & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Systems for change in literacy education: A guide to professional development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.