As a former principal and curriculum director, I can easily tell the difference between good and bad professional development. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have had my hand in delivering some poor quality events in my career. Some of my colleagues refer to past trainings as a “spray and pray” approach to learning something. In other words, we offered a one-time event and hoped that teachers would walk away with some great idea to use. Fortunately we have seen the error of our ways and now use embedded professional development options that have teachers collaborating with peers to learn new skills. Implementing proficiency-based learning options for the long term requires purposeful and specific components to ensure that practices can be sustained and result in a new learning culture that improves student achievement.
Approximately 150 Oregon secondary teachers recently completed an 18-month period of professional development that focused on implementing proficiency-based practices. Their activities resulted in the publishing of It’s About Time – A Framework for Proficiency-based Teaching & Learning. This teacher self-evaluation workbook highlights the six major areas Oregon teachers recognize as critical elements in any proficiency-based experience. Teachers use these elements, called “constructs” in the book, in any order based on student needs. It’s worth looking at each of these constructs through the lens of effective and regularly scheduled professional development.
Construct #1— Target In a standards-based classroom, teachers TARGET the standards as their primary instructional foci. A strong professional development plan has districts scheduling summer collaboration time, as well as regular meetings of content area specialists to identify which standards teachers will address. During these events, teachers practice how to break down a standard into manageable instructional chunks and focus on designing activities around the smaller learning targets.