Evaluating Continuing Education

Julie Yaeger explains how to find the perfect professional learning fit

As teachers, we all buy in to the power of learning. Learning keeps us engaged, provides us with knowledge that can never be taken away, and helps us shine at trivia parties…

Professional development (PD) or continuing education (CE) is a cornerstone of the teaching profession and is the vehicle that provides teachers with new growth and opportunities. Often, professional learning can leave us energized and brimming with new ideas and techniques to explore in our classrooms. Occasionally, these events fall flat, and instead we create an amazing grocery list during the endless hours of the required session.

Professional learning comes in all shapes and sizes, and the options can feel overwhelming. A simple online search of “professional development for teachers” yields nearly 2 billion results. Where do you begin? Below are a set of questions that will help you select the perfect applicable and engaging professional learning opportunity.

As a teacher, what should you consider when evaluating continuing education opportunities?

What type of learning do you need? Do you need professional development for relicensing purposes or courses to advance along your district’s salary schedule?

If you are looking to relicense, we strongly encourage you to check with the Department of Education for the state in which you are licensed. Many states and districts have unique requirements for relicensure. Often, states do not require graduate credit for relicensure but instead require continuing education units, professional development units, or clock hours.

If you are looking to move along your district’s salary schedule, graduate credit is typically required. Reach out to your principal or district staff to make sure you understand the specific requirements necessary to move along your district’s salary advancement scale.

Have you thought about double dipping? If the state in which you hold your teaching license has specific relicensing requirements, and you have the opportunity for salary advancement through your district, look for courses that will meet both your relicensing and salary-advancement needs at the same time. It may be more expensive to gather continuing education graduate credits, but consider how quickly these graduate credits will pay you back as you move through your district’s salary schedule.

If you are seeking graduate credit, are there specific requirements for the graduate credit?

Often, graduate credit needs to be obtained from an accredited institution (typically a university or college). Check with your district office to understand what type of accreditation is needed; common terminology includes “NCATE/CAEP” or “regionally accredited.” Many continuing education providers are affiliated with and/or have their courses approved by universities/colleges to meet these accreditation requirements.

Occasionally, districts require the graduate credit teachers obtain to be degree eligible and able to be transferred into a degree program if desired. This does not mean that the enrollee is attempting to gain another degree, but instead degree eligibility speaks to the rigor of the course.

How much does a course cost and what is included in the cost?

  • Will you need to pay for the course yourself? Price is an important factor to consider, and a higher price does not necessarily mean better quality.
  • Will your school or district reimburse you or provide a purchase order to pay for your continuing education? If so, how much will they reimburse?
  • Are there opportunities for discounts? Group discounts? Multicourse order discounts?
  • Are textbooks (or other required materials) separate or included in the cost of the course?
  • If you need graduate credit, are credit costs included or is there an additional fee?
  • Do you need a transcript from a college or university to verify completion? Is there an additional cost to receive this transcript?

How do you like to learn?

  • Consider how you learn best. Do you like to:
  • Be in a classroom environment with an instructor and classmates, thriving on face-to-face discussions?
  • Learn in an online or virtual classroom?
  • Work independently and at your own pace, on your own time, with a textbook in your hand?

Look for a provider that can meet your preferred learning style.

If you register for a course through an independent company (not directly through a college or university), is it possible to obtain a transcript that signifies graduate credit? Are there extra steps to receive a transcript from a college or university?

Your time is important, and you do not want to jump through hoops to get a transcript. Consider all the steps from course ordering to receiving your transcript, and evaluate whether the complexity is worth your time.

What does the course look like? How do you gain access to the coursework?

When you find a professional development or continuing education course that you are interested in, ask to review the course syllabus. Do the course requirements seem valuable? Do you need access to students to complete the course? Do you need internet access? Make sure the level of involvement in the course constitutes a good learning experience for you.

When are the courses offered? What will you get out of this course?

Consider your schedule and the impact the course will have on your personal time when enrolling. Teachers are busy. Between work and home commitments, time is a precious commodity. When evaluating professional learning opportunities, consider your schedule. Will you be able to maximize your learning and complete the course in the time you have available? Do you have to commit to a series of days/times that may interfere with other activities? Are the courses self-paced, allowing you to work on your own schedule? Do the courses start and stop at specific times or run all year round?

Some people want to press the “easy” button to complete their professional learning. However, consider that you are paying your hard-earned money for this course. Wouldn’t it be great if your time investment could translate into lesson plans for your classroom or help you lead a productive and engaged group of students? We hope that, as a teacher, you buy into the mantra that learning is fun and valuable.

Whom can you contact with questions when working on your course?

Feedback is a critical part of learning. Consider the accessibility of the instructor and how feedback on your coursework is provided. Are office hours posted? Will instructors respond in a timely fashion? Make sure these response times meet your needs.

How is coursework submitted?

Do you have to print and mail in your coursework (and do you have stamps)? Can you submit your coursework electronically by uploading or emailing? Can all coursework be submitted online? Consider which method is most convenient and comfortable for you.

How fast can you get a transcript? What is the process?

Relicensing dates tend to sneak up on us. Will you have long enough to complete the work, have it evaluated, and get a transcript in time to satisfy relicensing? These are very important questions to ensure the professional learning opportunity meets your needs.

As an administrator, what do you need to ask when reviewing continuing education opportunities for teachers?

As administrators, one of our many foci is ensuring our educators get the most out of their professional learning. We want our teachers and our students to succeed. Each teacher has unique strengths and areas for growth. Here are a few questions to consider when reviewing and approving professional learning opportunities for your educators.

  • What are the criteria to receive credit? How much work is needed? Is it rigorous?
  • Ask to review the syllabus for the course your teacher is taking. Will completion of the requirements help improve that teacher’s skill set and outcomes for students? Is the content aligned with the teacher’s area of licensure?
  • What is the instructor-to-student communication ratio? Is feedback provided on submissions?
  • What are the credentials of the instructors? How often do the instructors communicate with the students? A valuable part of learning is feedback, so make sure the provider offers individualized feedback to students.Is a letter grade given?
  • Does your district require a letter grade, or will pass/fail suffice? Either way, make sure the feedback provided enhances the learning process.
  • Are the courses approved by the credit-granting universities and colleges?
  • If a college or university is providing graduate credit, what is the approval process for the course? Are appropriately credentialed professors reviewing the course content and material to make sure it fits with current adult learning frameworks?

Look for a company that can articulate how courses are approved by their academic partners.

Does the course align with your district/building requirements?

Each teacher brings unique skills to a school. Does the course they are selecting help build their skill set? Is your student population changing or district initiatives evolving? Look for professional learning opportunities that help your teachers meet the ever-changing requirements of your school district.

Quality professional learning providers should easily provide you with the specifics on all these questions. Continuing education and professional development are opportunities for growth and success as a teacher. Make sure you are able to identify opportunities that meet your needs and will ensure career success for educators.

Julie Yaeger is a former elementary school teacher and school administrator. She is currently the executive VP of Learners Edge. For over 15 years, Learners Edge has offered continuing education graduate credit and professional development opportunities to more than 100,000 teachers from across the country.

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