Teachers play an incredibly important role: educating the young people who will one day shape our world. Yet 90% of educators say burnout is a serious problem.1 Even more alarmingly, 55% are seriously considering leaving the profession sooner than they had planned.2 With massive teacher shortages already hurting classrooms and districts nationwide, finding and prioritizing methods for teacher support are imperative for school success.
Facing adversity is nothing new to teachers, who have weathered unforeseen challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pair overhauling the traditional classroom structure with existing problems like insufficient funds, demanding parents, and hostile communities, and it becomes clear that our education system cannot afford to take an apathetic position.
Reading and math scores continue declining,3 and teachers stand on the front lines, tasked with not only halting but reversing the decline. To proactively prevent further teacher burnout and demonstrate respect and appreciation for our nation’s teachers, we must give teachers ample support through a proven solution: professional development.
The Current State of Professional Development
Good professional development opportunities offer teachers a chance to hone their skills to best meet their students’ needs. Yet districts struggle to implement professional development due to insufficient budget and resources. If a school district does implement professional development, it needs to be effective and efficient. Otherwise, it risks frustrating teachers who are already busy.
Recent reports also highlight a disconnect between what teachers want to gain from their professional development opportunities and what districts and administrators have opted to prioritize.4 Teachers have requested more relevant, interactive, and sustainable professional development, such as workshops and professional learning communities. They want resources that allow them to manage their learning based on their needs and those relevant to their classrooms. Allowing them to assess their own areas for growth and supporting them through administrative initiatives is what is going to resonate with them the most.
Taking a thoughtful, detailed approach to the professional development opportunities teachers want will help them feel supported and valued.
The Benefits of Professional Development
Meaningful professional development is a powerful tool for decreasing teacher turnover, improving classroom instruction, and bolstering student learning.
Research suggests that key contributors to teachers leaving the field include a lack of teacher preparation, mentoring, and support.5 Offering learning opportunities encourages teachers to take active roles in their career growth and invest in their own professional development.
Professional development allows both new and experienced teachers to expand and elevate their skills and work toward subject mastery. Workshops and peer groups encourage teachers to engage with and learn from each other, creating outlets for teachers to lean on one another for support and advice.
The benefits of professional development don’t end with teachers. Through teaching and mentoring, great teachers help to create great students. In fact, the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences found that student achievement improves by as much as 21 percentile points as a result of teachers’ participation in well-designed professional development programs.6 From these programs, teachers gain new skills and practices that help them in supporting students within the classroom.
So, how do leaders plan and implement effective professional development?
How Districts and Administrators Can Implement Professional Development
Approach professional development as an ongoing endeavor. Instead of booking a few days at the beginning of each school year for teacher workshops, prioritize tools that build professional development throughout the entire year. Ensure that professional development is relevant to what’s happening in the classroom and focuses on useful instructional strategies and practices.
Few students can stay focused during a dry, dull lecture. Educational leaders expect teachers to deliver content in a way that engages students and invites them to participate in their own learning.
Professional development should practice what it preaches—the message teachers hear regularly about differentiation and engagement. In other words, it too must be collaborative and hands-on. Ongoing development should create spaces for teachers to collaborate, ask questions, and learn from each other. Embracing this approach frees districts to shift away from the “mandatory attendance” mindset and instead create a community of lifelong learners engaging with each other to better themselves and those in their classrooms.
Finally, create accountability for teachers and districts both. Successful professional development programs are topped by teacher-driven follow-up sessions. During these sessions, teachers are able to share their experiences with professional development and provide feedback to district leaders. These sessions serve as accountability for teachers and districts, encouraging them to adjust programs as needed to be of use to teachers.
Good, forward-thinking leaders want their teachers to feel happy, healthy, and fulfilled. Providing them with opportunities to develop individually and professionally is an important strategy for preventing future burnout and walking the walk of demonstrating their value to our communities and children.
Lisa O’Masta is the president of Learning A-Z, an educational technology company that’s delivering digital learning resources to thousands of teachers and students across the world.
As an innovative change agent and leader in the K–20 education market, Lisa brings over 20 years of leadership experience in product management, marketing, product development, team development, P&L management, customer experience, and operational excellence to dynamic organizations seeking to change and grow.