By Lesley Muldoon, Chief of Policy & Advocacy at CenterPoint

Ask veteran teachers about their feelings on professional development, and you are likely to hear war stories about “one and done” workshops that hardly left an impact or uninspired, tedious “stand and deliver” trainings.  Unfortunately, far too many teachers have had experiences like this with ineffective professional development that is more of a distraction than a value-add.

At the same time that the education landscape has changed dramatically over the last two decades, changes to professional learning have been slow to keep pace.  Most states across the country have adopted college- and career-ready academic standards that demand a higher level of content knowledge for every student than was expected 10 or 15 years ago.  Similarly, states and districts are now assessing student mastery of more rigorous content and in new formats. And, as education systems raise expectations for every child, instructional models are changing in order to support differentiated instruction and help every child master challenging content.  Professional learning needs to follow suit.

As Linda Darling-Hammond and her colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute have argued: “Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction.  In turn, effective professional development is needed to help teachers learn and refine the pedagogies required to teach these skills.”

Old models of instruction – such as stand and deliver – don’t give students the opportunity to grapple with challenging content and build their understanding to deeper levels. And, neither do old models of professional development give teachers the opportunity to learn new, more sophisticated approaches to instruction.

Fortunately, many school systems are now prioritizing models of professional learning that aim to build the capacity of educators to help every student meet higher learning expectations, including by starting with Learning Forward’s published Professional Learning Standards.

Yet, “capacity building” has become a buzzword in the field.  Like other buzzwords de jour – for example, “rigorous”, “equity”, and “personalized learning” – “capacity building” refers to a powerful but broad concept that is not deeply understood by many in the field.  Professional learning that builds educator capacity has the potential to help teachers engage in a continuous learning process to better hone their craft – translating into more effective teaching in schools across the country.  For this reason, it’s worthwhile to unpack what “capacity building” means in the context of educator professional development and what it looks like in practice.

That’s why CenterPoint is excited to collaborate with leaders from AFT’s Educational Issues Team to explore this topic further in a series of blog posts over the next few weeks, including:

  • Building kindergarten and elementary school teachers’ capacity to employ research-based instructional strategies with beginning readers;
  • Pairing high-quality mathematics curriculum with professional learning to build students’ knowledge of math concepts; and
  • Supporting social studies teachers’ use of high-quality primary and secondary sources to help students develop critical thinking and analytic competencies.

Through this series, we hope to bring to life ways in which school systems are transforming the culture of professional learning so that educators have the pedagogical skills to provide every student with engaging, rich academic experiences that prepare them for the future.