Within the scope of a professional growth plan, teachers and school administrators can undertake a range of professional learning activities including reading professional journals, trying out new practices in the classroom and joining professional organizations. Below is a list of professional development activities that can be undertaken individually or collaboratively as part of a professional development plan. In the past, professional development focused on individual development, workshops, inservice and external delivery systems. Today, the emphasis is on school-based activities such as coaching, partnerships and team/group development.
In undertaking action research, educators begin by asking how current practice might be improved. They then study the relevant literature and research to select an approach that might improve current practice.
Teachers often use their classrooms as research sites. For example, teachers might teach a concept in different ways to determine which had the greatest effect on student learning. Likewise, teachers might experiment to see what approach is most effective in facilitating cooperative learning among students.
Administrators can use action research to address issues related to their leadership role in schools. Action research is a reflective strategy that requires the collection of qualitative and quantative data, which can lead to enhanced practice.
Teachers can engage in successful mini-research projects in their classrooms, while administrators can use schools, individually or collectively, as research sites. This “action” research often helps identify which techniques work best for particular students. Action research helps teachers to theorize from teaching practice and experience and redefine teaching as an autonomous form of inquiry. For more information on action research, consult the ATA document Action Research Guide for Alberta Teachers.
Book study groups are an effective form of professional development that educators at all levels can use to facilitate their professional growth. Book studies work best if the participants have similar skills and interests. However, varying viewpoints are important because they inject diversity of opinion and enliven discussion. One of the first matters on which the group must reach consensus is a schedule for reading and discussion. If the book study is to consist of four to eight meetings in all, then each meeting should last between 60 and 90 minutes. Choose a book on a topic that interests everyone in the group but that is sufficiently open-ended to encourage new learning through reading and discussion. The book should be thought-provoking and have enough depth to stimulate debate. At the conclusion of the book study, ask the following questions: Did the book stimulate thought and discussion? Did the group study meet the learning objectives? How might the group study experience be improved?
Teachers visit the classrooms of colleagues to view innovative teaching practices and expand and refine their own personal pedagogy. For classroom visitations to occur, school boards must be willing to engage substitute teachers.
School administrators may benefit from visiting a school in the jurisdiction or another jurisdiction to view the facility, explore alternatives for organizing resources and discuss leadership strategies with the hosting school administrator.
Classroom and school visitations may range from a single day up to two weeks and/or multiple visits over time.
Collaborative Curriculum Development
Collaborative curriculum development provides a unique opportunity for teachers to delve deeply into their subject matter. Working together, teachers can design new planning materials, teaching methods, resource materials and assessment tools.
Conference Audio Tapes
Conference audio tapes provide teachers who are unable to attend a national or international conference with an opportunity to learn new ideas from experts. Most organizations make available information on sessions or proceedings through audio cassettes, CD-ROMs, and MP3s.
Conferences can provide very effective professional development opportunities, particularly when they are part of a teacher’s ongoing professional development plan. A detailed listing of selected conferences is located on the ATA online events calendar.
Community and/or service organizations provide an opportunity for teachers and school administrators to develop leadership skills and gain important knowledge related to their role and community context. Examples of community/service organizations include church, service clubs, 4-H, Scouts, Girl Guides and sporting groups.
Curriculum maps are tools to organize teaching. They outline a sequence for delivering content and provide a clear scope for what must be taught to all students as specified in the provincial curriculum. Curriculum maps, which can be aligned both horizontally and vertically, organize content, skills, assessments, and resources over time. A curriculum map can also serve as a tool for collecting data about the implemented curriculum in a school and in a district—the instruction that students are receiving. By mapping what’s actually taught and when and aligning it with assessment data, teachers can modify instruction (Educational Leadership, December 2003/January 2004).
Educators use data to inform their professional practice, that is, to make decisions about what to teach, how to teach it and how to determine whether students have learned what was taught. Data come from a variety of sources. Some data help determine the degree to which an individual student or a group of students has achieved specific standards as measured by teacher-made tests and assignments, norm-referenced tests, student portfolios, observation surveys and other sources. Other data provide insight into contextual factors such as language proficiency, preschool experience, attendance patterns and family support that may influence student achievement. Still other data provide insight into structures, attitudes and practices that comprise the school program—factors such as curriculum organization, instructional strategies, assessment practices, report card, course completion rates and school satisfaction surveys. Reliable data are multi-sourced, relevant, timely and consistent.
Examining Student Work
Student work provides teachers with a critical source of information about how a student is learning, developing, acquiring new knowledge and applying new skill sets. Student work includes such items as writing samples, projects, oral reports and pictures. Thinking analytically about the work can give teachers greater insights into teaching and learning. The information can also be used in study groups.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association administers the International Education Exchange Programs (IEEP) under the existing exchange agreements between Alberta Education and its international counterparts and the Ministry of Education in Quebec. Calendar year and short-term exchanges are offered in a number of countries. All costs of the program are borne by the participant but the benefits of an exchange are both personal and professional. More information
Focused conversation is a four-stage process that can help people reflect together about any issue, large or small. A facilitator leads the conversation and asks a series of questions that elicit responses that take the group from the surface of a topic to its in-depth implications.
Hosting a Student Teacher
Hosting a student teacher is a form of mentoring, except that the experienced teacher has an obligation to focus on supporting the development of standards related to interim certification. All Alberta universities provide a handbook and orientation workshops for host teachers that outline the expectations for field experiences. Host teachers are ultimately responsible for their students and therefore must closely supervise what the student teacher does with respect to lesson planning, classroom instruction and student evaluation. Student teachers do not have teaching certificates and, therefore, should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to act as substitute teachers.
Integrated Curriculum Planning
The terms “integrated curriculum planning,” “interdisciplinary teaching” and “thematic teaching” are often used synonymously. The teacher organizes curriculum so that it cuts across subject-matter lines, bringing topics into meaningful association and allowing students to focus on broad areas of study. Integrated curriculum planning includes these features:
- An emphasis on projects
- Sources that go beyond textbooks
- Relationships among concepts
- Thematic units as organizing principles
- Flexible schedules
- Flexible student groupings
The Internet provides access to a wealth of information on countless topics contributed by people throughout the world. On the Internet, a user has access to a wide variety of services: vast information sources, electronic mail, file transfer, group memberships based on interest, interactive collaboration and multimedia displays. However, Internet research has a number of limitations. Because the Internet is a self-publishing medium, anyone with minimal technical skills and access to a host computer can publish content. Furthermore, Internet sites change over time according to the commitment and inclination of the creator. Some sites demonstrate an expert’s knowledge, while others are amateur efforts. Some may be updated daily, while others may be outdated.
Journalling is a technique for recording observations and reflections. The entries may be related to teaching, student growth, the implementation of a new initiative or any subject for which a teacher may want to develop a record. The journal can provide a rich, qualitative record of events and activities.
Lesson study is a professional development process that Japanese teachers engage in to systematically examine and improve their practice. In this process, teachers work collaboratively to plan, teach, observe and critique a small number of study lessons. To provide focus and direction to this work, teachers select an overarching goal and related research question that they want to explore. This research question guides their work on all the study lessons. Teachers then jointly draw up a detailed plan for the lesson that one of the teachers delivers to students in a real classroom. Other group members observe the lesson. The group then meets to discuss their observations. Often, the group revises the lesson, and another teacher delivers it in a second classroom, while group members again look on. The group then meets again to discuss the observed instruction. Finally, the teachers produce a report of what their study lessons have taught them, particularly with respect to their research question.
Leadership Development Programs
Leadership development programs are generally designed to provide teachers aspiring to school or district administration with an opportunity to learn about various aspects of the role and thus increase the pool of applicants for leadership positions. These programs may be locally developed within the school jurisdiction, in partnership with the ATA local or offered at a provincial level by the ATA, CASS or regional consortia. Some programs may be recognized by universities for postgraduate credit and participants are encouraged to confirm these arrangements with the university in question.
Mentors and Mentorship
Mentoring is a confidential process through which an experienced professional provides another with information, support, feedback and assistance for the purpose of refining present skills, developing new ones and enhancing problem solving and decision making in a way that promotes professional development.
Studies on beginning teachers demonstrate that the first three years of teaching play a crucial role in shaping a teacher’s perception of the profession and in helping the teacher decide whether to stay or leave. Beginning teachers are in greatest need of the support that will enhance their classroom management and instructional skills. They also need support systems that will help them see teaching as a collegial, rather than an isolated, endeavour. Mentors can provide the advice, suggestions and constructive feedback that can make the difference between whether a new teacher succeeds or fails. More information on mentoring is available in the ATA publication Mentoring Beginning Teachers: Program Handbook
School administrators who are new to administration or new to the school district, veteran administrators in the first few years in the role, or vice-principals aspiring to become school administrators can find mentorship supportive and beneficial to the development of their leadership practice. Mentorship is most beneficial when it is based on an action plan that includes goals and strategies. More information on mentorship for leadership is available in the ATA publication Administrator Mentorship Handbook.
Mentoring is an effective process to support teachers whether they are new to the profession, new to a curriculum or grade level, or new to an administrative designation. According to the provincial Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation policy, a plan for teacher mentorship can be the teacher’s professional growth plan.
Effective professional development initiatives use a variety of communication networks and strategies. The vertical and horizontal boundaries at the school and system level must become interrelated and mutually supportive.
Electronic networks can respond to educators’ needs to communicate with a larger and more diverse group of educators beyond the staff at their own schools. A computer, a modem and access to a telephone line can link teachers to the electronic village. Open systems can connect teachers to existing online libraries, databases, list servers and other communication systems.
Participants can discuss such issues as evaluation and assessment, technology across the curriculum, environmental and global education, second language instruction, conflict resolution, school leadership and school-based research.
Online PD Programs
Some organizations and postsecondary institutions have developed online courses, tutorials and self-guided programs for teacher professional development. Most programs have a registration fee.
Teachers and school administrators solicit and receive feedback about their practices after being observed by a peer or other observer. Observation and assessment encourage educators to reflect on their everyday professional lives and can take many forms. Reflective writing and discussion allow educators to develop ideas that can be integrated into their evolving personal pedagogy and professional practice.
Teachers interested in continuing their academic development can register for credit courses offered by postsecondary institutions. Some programs are offered using outreach or online strategies. Teachers should consult the Teacher Qualifications Service to determine the credit that they will receive for taking a particular course.
Professional Books and Journals
The ATA library offers an excellent collection of professional books and journals available to members. Visit the online catalogue for a complete list of titles. The Association has purchased access for its members to three online periodical databases containing more than 3,000 titles.
Professional Development Schools
Professional Development Schools are schools that collaborate with a university. The faculty and staff of the university work directly with field-based practitioners on problems and issues relevant to the everyday practices of teachers, schools and school systems. Universities play an active role in graduate education and professional certification.
Through their ongoing communication with teachers, principals, consultants and superintendents, faculty members help to identify trends and challenges. Field development projects are collaboratively formulated between school boards and university personnel and may involve a combination of the following activities: problem framing, planning, delivery of PD sessions, ongoing school support, board committee membership and project evaluation.
Many organizations offer publications and professional development programs for teachers, among them the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Phi Delta Kappa, the National Staff Development Council (NSDC), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Professional portfolios are collections of credentials, artifacts and reflections that document a teacher’s professional practice. Some teachers and school administrators have used the portfolio development process to reflect on and improve their professional practice.
Regional Professional Development Consortia
Alberta Education funds six regional professional development consortia. The purpose of these consortia is to provide professional development and curriculum inservice to teachers in the K–12 system. Each consortium publishes regular program bulletins and maintains a website describing its program. More information is available from the Alberta Regional PD Consortium website.
School Improvement Teams
Changes in school organization and roles within the school require teachers to rethink what professional development means and who controls it. Decentralized decision-making affords the opportunity to explore the talent that resides within the school. The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) provides schools with the opportunity to address contextual school issues using a process of strategic planning and action research. Strategic planning empowers all members of the school community—administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, parents, trustees and other stakeholders—by enabling them to build their future exactly as they want it at the professional and personal levels. The strategic planning process also involves reaching a consensus on the expectations of the organizations. The value of strategic planning depends on the extent to which the school administration and staff are willing to change and to invest the time required to bring about that change.
School-Based Professional Development Workshops
The ATA offers a wide range of professional development workshops designed for school staffs. These workshops can be offered as full- or half-day sessions or as part of an ongoing program of school-based professional development. Find out more about ATA workshops.
Self-reflection is a critical skill for the ongoing development of one’s professional practice. Many effective teachers use three levels of reflection: reflection on action, reflection for action and reflection in action. Self-reflection can be broken down into the following four steps: (1) problem identification, during which teachers identify a problem or question about their practice that they are motivated to address; (2) information gathering, during which teachers collect data to inform the area of practice; (3) reflection and decision-making, during which teachers attempt to find meaning in the data through reflection and analysis; and (4) application and change, during which teachers plan how to improve their practice. Self-reflection can be combined with other PD strategies such as action research, journalling and developing a professional portfolio.
The ATA sponsors 22 specialist councils whose mandate is to promote the professional development of teachers in a particular specialty. Specialist councils publish journals and newsletters, organize regional professional development activities and sponsor annual provincial conferences. Find out more about specialist councils.
Study groups involve small groups of educators who meet regularly to work on a predetermined project. This approach to professional development benefits both teachers and administrators by bringing colleagues together to undertake in a group setting a task that they would normally do in isolation. The optimum size for a study group is about six so that each participant is equally responsible for the success of the group.
Commitment to a study group is greatly enhanced when participants are directly involved in setting the task and its parameters. Whether the task chosen is implementing a new curriculum, demonstrating the use of math manipulatives, researching theories of teaching and learning, or studying strategies for school administration, the group must stay focused on its purpose—to create an environment conducive to student learning. The study group provides the structure; the participants concentrate on content.
To implement a study group, follow these steps:
- Define the task.
- Set regular meeting times and places.
- Establish appropriate meeting behaviours.
- Create an action plan.
- Choose a shared decision-making process.
- Contemplate appropriate leadership roles.
- Promote a climate of shared commitment.
- Consider logistics of time, space and money.
- Discuss criteria for achieving and evaluating goals.
As the work of the study group progresses, participants may decide to redefine goals or to invite a specialist to attend a scheduled meeting. Study groups work best in a collaborative environment that allows for intellectual exchange and shared experience.
Summer institutes provide teachers with an opportunity to immerse themselves in a curriculum or pedagogical topic for an extended period of time. Most summer institutes are three or more days in length and some are offered for university credit. Summer institutes are organized by most PD organizations in the province. Teachers are encouraged to contact these organizations directly for more information.
Educational Leadership Academy (ELA) is a summer institute, offered by the Association in collaboration with the Council on School Administration (CSA), for school administrators and those aspiring to administration. Find out more about Educational Leadership Academy.
Symposia, Institutes and Retreats
Institutes are intensive, specialized sessions that focus on one topic or issue. Institutes and retreats provide opportunities for teachers to learn new teaching strategies and techniques and to explore in depth with colleagues different dimensions of their profession.
Local, provincial and national conferences provide a forum in which ideas can be debated, analyzed and sometimes validated. They can inspire, motivate and create feelings of renewal. Some school staffs participate in conferences and seminars as groups and then meet to discuss what they learned and how it can improve student learning and classroom practice. Find out more about Teachers’ Conventions.
Training Trainers/Lead Teachers
One role of the teacher trainer is to help a group of teachers identify a project that is meaningful to them and then work through the steps required to carry it out: implementing curriculum, conducting research, holding workshops and establishing new lines of communication among staff. By engaging in such group processes as consensus building, vision building and conflict resolution, teacher trainers model ways for teachers and administrators to develop and hone their collaboration skills.
Video conferencing enables teachers to consult with their peers when distance would otherwise prevent them from doing so. Video conferencing can be used to facilitate study groups, analyze student work, participate in workshops and view presentations.