7 Strategies to Make Professional Development Successful

By Marla A. Sole
SUMMER 2021

Highly effective teachers continually innovate and refine their pedagogical practices through professional development. Committed teachers are interested in professional development that demonstrates best practices aligned with the content they are teaching and clearly communicates the steps, benefits, and challenges of implementing new lessons and innovative practices. Those running workshops can gain valuable insight into teachers’ classroom practices, the curriculum, and potential modifications that could better help students reach their full potential.

As part of a funded project titled “PRIME: Project for Relevant and Improved Mathematics Education,” I co-designed and co-ran a series of professional development offerings. Reflecting on my experience, I believe these seven tips can help make professional development more impactful and successful.

Serious Indian woman wearing headphones with microphone talking, using laptop, looking at screen, young female consulting client, video call, student learning language online, listening lecture

1. Time and timing matters.
Learning new pedagogical approaches or technology takes time. Therefore, when designing professional development, it is critical that the time allocated for a workshop is sufficient for participants to absorb new practices or create new activities. To facilitate effective professional development, workshop leaders also should consider when, during the school year, teachers would put into practice what they have learned, and whether there is enough lead time for teachers to successfully modify their lesson plans.

2. Create tangible products.
The comment most often made during professional development workshops was, I want something I can use in my class. Teachers have a strong desire for professional development that is carefully mapped onto their course learning outcomes and produces an activity or assignment that is ready to use, having been critiqued and refined by colleagues. With all the time teachers spend preparing lessons, their top priority is having the opportunity to collaboratively create innovative new lessons or modify existing lessons based on constructive feedback.

3. Develop a plan for implementation.
Effective lessons marry two components: content and delivery. It is not enough to create great content without simultaneously addressing which pedagogical practices will engage students. Effective professional development should discuss best teaching practices, clearly define and model new practices, and share the benefits and challenges of the approach. For example, during professional development, do not lecture about active learning. Instead, define active learning, model how active learning looks in a classroom, and share expected gains from actively engaging students.

4. Facilitate a shared learning environment.
Running professional development, I can attest to the fact that there is enormous potential, expertise, and energy in the room. Professional development will be significantly more valuable if those facilitating the activities capitalize on participants’ rich and varied experiences. Fostering a collaborative environment can have added benefits. Attendees leave knowing more about each colleague’s area of expertise and interests. This can help create a network of educators with intersecting interests who can support one another throughout the school year.

5. Follow up.
During professional development, educators may believe that new activities and pedagogical practices will work seamlessly in the classroom, but unanticipated issues may arise. For example, it may be challenging to help students adopt a growth mindset or to shift the class dynamic to include more inquiry-based learning. Assignments and activities that went through a peer review process may still seem unclear to students. Highly effective professional development finds ways to continue to support teachers when they are back in the classroom, with brief follow-up meetings or by pairing up workshop attendees who can continue to collaborate.

6. Collect feedback.
Provide time for attendees to reflect upon and share what worked and what would enhance future professional development offerings. Solicit anonymous feedback either soon after the workshop or after teachers have had time to use what they have learned in their own classes. In addition, during workshops, listen without judgment to the challenges teachers face. If a few teachers seem to be raising the same issue, consider whether you can integrate this issue into present or future professional development workshops.

7. Assess the impact in the classroom.
Professional development is not designed just to enhance and refine teachers’ skills. The goal is to improve learning! Therefore, effective professional development should not end with a workshop for teachers. It should include some reflection or formal assessment of the impact on students’ academic achievement and level of engagement.

Well-designed professional development can enhance teachers’ skills and reignite their enthusiasm for teaching. Effective professional development empowers and supports teachers to make the concepts in their disciplines come alive. This, in turn, creates a great environment for both students and teachers. Most importantly, with newly acquired skills, teachers can better set students up to excel and perform to the best of their abilities.

PRIME: Project for Relevant and Improved Mathematics Education. This work was supported by a grant from the Teagle Foundation. The opinions reflect those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agency. The author would like to thank Principal Investigator Dr. Alexandra W. Logue and Prime colleagues and guests for engaging conversations about mathematics education.

Dr. Sole is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Guttman Community College, the City University of New York. Her research interests include persistence in the mathematics pipeline, particularly of underrepresented populations, statistics education, and financial and quantitative literacy.

How to Shine Online: Tips for Virtual Interviews

By Anna L. Malone
SPRING 2021

As a graduate assistant, one of my roles is organizing mock interviews for student teacher candidates, a valuable task that increases confidence in interviewing skills (Hudak et al., 2019). Each semester, we invite local teachers and administrators to campus to serve as the interview panel and provide critical feedback to the upcoming graduates.

However, when COVID-19 caused classes to transition online in spring 2020, we had to shift the interviews to a virtual format, which proves a unique challenge in comparison to in-person interviews. Having organized and observed the mock interviews, I want to offer advice on how you can make a great impression in a virtual interview.

1. Research your responses.

Preparation is key to a successful interview, and you can harness the collective knowledge of the Internet. Look up interview questions for educators, which will yield thousands of results. Look for common themes, such as content knowledge, classroom management, and teaching philosophy (LaJevic, 2019).

Additionally, be sure to research the school by going to their website. Take note of any current events, such as an after-school STEM club, to incorporate into your interview responses. Showing your research will highlight your professionalism and attention to detail.

2. Consider your appearance.

Your clothing choices are as important in a virtual setting as they are with in-person interviews (Powers, 2010), but you should also consider what message your background conveys.

Choose a room that is orderly, well-lit, and quiet to ensure that the interview panel can focus clearly on you instead of extraneous noise or the scene behind you. Let others in your household know when the interview is happening to avoid nterruptions.

Also consider the placement of your device. Make sure the camera is positioned to display you from the shoulders up, with your whole face visible, and at an appropriate angle and distance.

3. Test your technology.

Access to functional equipment is a necessity for a virtual interview. If Internet access is unpredictable at your home, consider going to a friend’s home or a quiet public place like your local library or another wifi hotspot. Your college or university may also be a good alternative for privacy and connectivity.

Practice using the online platform prior to your interview. Enlist a family member or friend to conduct a trial meeting to test out your audio, video, and connection. This can help you identify any issues with lighting, device placement, and background distractions. Be sure, however, that your family member or friend is using a different wifi network or hotspot so you can identify connectivity problems unique to your network.

At the onset of the interview, check with the panel to ensure that they can see and hear you adequately, and vice versa. If something goes wrong, such as a lag in video or audio, stay calm and tell the panel as soon as possible without interrupting anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat a question for clarification.

4. Showcase your portfolio.

During an in-person interview, you may reference a portfolio filled with evidence and examples that demonstrate your best work and illustrate what you are discussing. If the feature is available, share your screen to show the panel a digital version. Digital portfolios and screen sharing can be successful tools because they are highly customizable and can display your technology prowess (Kelly & Hancock, 2018). You can create a digital portfolio by using a word processing program, website builder, or by simply scanning the hard copy of your portfolio and saving it as a PDF. If screen sharing is not available, reference the portfolio verbally by providing detailed examples that support your responses.

Even though you should consider all these factors as you prepare, the most important aspects of an interview are your comments about yourself and your responses to questions. Don’t be intimidated by the process of interviewing virtually. Be sure to show off your unique strengths and passion for education!

Ms. Malone is a Graduate Assistant and student at West Liberty University. In this role, she works with student teacher candidates and teaches an instructional technology course. During the pandemic, she was tasked with the development of virtual mock interviews and professional development opportunities for candidates.

References

Hudak, K., Kile, A., Grodziak, E., & Keptner, E. (2019). Advancing student interview skills: Incorporating virtual interview technology into the basic communication course. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(1), 1–9. http://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2019.130103

Kelly, D., & Hancock, S. (2018). Alberta school principals’ use of professional portfolios in teacher hiring. Canadian Journal of Education, 41(4), 1050–1078.

LaJevic, L. (2019). Exploring the hiring process for K–12 art teachers: Tips for the job search. Art Education, 72(5), 8–13.

Powers, P. (2010). Winning job interviews (Rev. ed.). Career Press.

Let Kappa Delta Pi’s Career Center help you prepare for your next step! The following resources and more can be found at www.kdp.org/resources/careercenter/index.php, including:

  • How to write résumés and cover letters
  • Developing hardcopy and digital portfolios
  • Interview preparation
  • Job search advice