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A Massive Difference: How District Support Impacts Professional Development for Teachers
One conundrum that isn’t new to K-12 district and building leaders: “Why aren’t our teachers more engaged in the professional development opportunities that we provide?”
It’s a good question. Professional learning departments work tirelessly to provide activities and learning opportunities that meet teachers’ needs, help to advance their strengths and ultimately impact student outcomes.
But there’s also a good answer.
Juvenile vs. Adult Learning
It helps to consider the difference between juvenile and adult learners. “Everyday learning” for children is more intense, because every experience is new, from walking and talking to fretting over who to take to the school dance. And students spend a huge amount of time in formal learning: seven hours a day, five days a week, and possibly more. Learning is their primary responsibility, but outside school, their responsibilities quickly diminish.
The adult learner, however, still has a long list of responsibilities outside of the workweek. Taking care of family, home maintenance, exercising, paying bills, the list goes on…and on. We’ve used up most of the hours in our day already — and we still haven’t taken any time to go for a hike, relax on the back porch or watch Stranger Things.
Don’t get me wrong: adults learn all the time, enthusiastically and by choice. But it’s only when we’ve handled all of our other responsibilities that we’re able to take time to do so.
Support for Teachers is Desperately Needed
That helps to explain this: in 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics conducted a survey of professional development participation rates of lower secondary education teachers, across many countries. In the United States, 95.2% of survey respondents reported that they took some type of professional development over the previous 12 months. But when asked if they had engaged in professional development without any institutional support, the number dropped dramatically, to just 1.7%.
Those are extraordinary numbers.
When adult learners are asked to voluntarily engage in activities to improve their professional skills, the uptake is minimal. To expect teachers to do so flies in the face of everything we know to be true. But it’s not apathy. When teachers receive support in their efforts, they engage at a very high level.
These are busy adults, with more requested of them outside of the work day than of employees in many other occupations. Teachers need to know how the professional learning being offered to them will be worth their time, and they deserve all the support we can give them.
What that support looks like is a longer conversation, and involves setting a realistic bar for professional learning time requirements. Our comprehensive guide on professional learning strategies looks at this topic in-depth.