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Professional Development and the Modern Teacher: Six Steps to School Success

“Before our very eyes, teaching in America is undergoing a revolution.” So opens a report by the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), which examines just how much teaching has changed over the last twenty years and what teachers need to succeed in the modern classroom. In short, the report asserts that teachers simply need more time to collaborate with their peers.
According to their research, teachers spend roughly 80% of their time in the classroom, leaving very little room for them to prepare outside of the classroom for the CommonCore State Standards, or participate in truly engaging professional development, or even build a network of support with their peers. Some schools, such as the 17 highlighted in this report, have come up with the solution of increasing the school year to build in more effective teacher support systems, and the results of such efforts speaks of their merit. For most teachers in most schools, though, an extended school year is not a viable option; however, what the NCTL has found is a set of six best practices that highly-effective schools have put into place: 1) collaborative lesson planning, 2) embedded professional development, 3) summer training, 4) data analysis, 5) individualized coaching, and 6) peer observation.
These are practices that all teachers can benefit from, “even for those who do not work in expanded-time schools,” states the report, because such practices are “surely transferrable.”
1.Collaborative Lesson Planning: Collaboration is something NMSI has emphasized for some time now – especially when it comes to building a network of teacher support. According to the report, when teachers and administrators with different experiences and backgrounds come together to plan their lessons, they can actually raise the quality of instruction in their individual classrooms. This happens because, together, they are able to lay out clear and attainable goals that they are all striving toward, and they are able to create structures and support systems to help keep them on track. Such collaboration is also incredibly helpful to the students, because it helps them get college and career ready in an organized, efficient manner, and it enables teachers to work together to ensure the success of their students.
2.Embedded Professional Development: One key factor of the schools highlighted is that they have professional learning opportunities tied into the teachers’ schedules, thanks to their expanded schools year. As stated above, this is not a situation most teachers find themselves in, but the principal remains the same: the best professional development is that which has a focused use of teachers’ time, is content driven by school goals, encouraged peer-to-peer learning, has a differentiation of content, and deeply involved participants through engaging activities – all of which are key pieces of NMSI’s Laying the Foundation Teacher Training Program.NMSI LTF Teachers
3.Summer Training: According to the report, effective, engaging summer training is a cornerstone of successful schools because it gives teachers and administrators the time to “lay the groundwork for the deep collaboration that takes place during the school year,” without the daily responsibility of taking care of their students. Summer training is also one of the best times to vertically align classroom instruction, build a common understanding of what the school is trying to achieve, and to help teachers strengthen their ties with each other as they learn new strategies and prepare for the school year. It is also a great opportunity to bring in and train and support new teachers, a demographic that struggles to remain in the classroom after the first five years. NMSI provides much of what this report praises about summer training through our Summer Institutes, which are offered both publicly and privately. Public trainings, as the name implies, are open to any and all teachers, whereas private trainings are closer to what this report calls for, focusing on strengthening the teachers within the confines of a single district.
4.Data Analysis: Another key element of successful schools is that they use data to examine student performance and tailor their instruction accordingly. Schools that do this effectively “gather timely and relevant data on each student, dedicate resources and staff to facilitate meetings, create clear structures and protocols for data analysis, offer continuous training to interpret data, and establish a data culture that can literally be seen throughout [their] hallways.” Data can also help teachers prepare their students for standardized exams and, and letting students see the data helps them to see their own progress and own their work, which will, in turn, help them to become stronger, more independent learners.
5.Individualized Coaching: Many high-performing schools offer teachers their own instructional coaches who provide individualized support and feedback throughout the school year. Receiving detailed, constructive feedback is an invaluable resource for teachers, because it helps them see themselves from a different perspective, and the coach can help lay out a plan of action with the teacher as to what their next steps need to be. This helps teachers to grow as professionals, which has the potential to directly impact on the success of their students.
6.Peer Observation: On the flip-side of coaching is peer observation. According to the report, “one of the most powerful ways to learn a skill is by first watching someone who has mastered it in action.” This is applicable to almost everything, but it is especially relevant for teachers, which is very much a performance-based profession. Teachers must get up in front of their class and engage with their students, so, naturally, one of the best ways for a teacher to improve any given skill is by intentionally observing one of their peers who is an expert in that particular area. Observations can also be used as spring-boards for more in-depth discussions during collaborative meetings.