By Nick Kovalcik & Danielle Miller
By Nick Kovalcik & Danielle Miller
Effective teachers are better at instructing students. Instructors are better prepared to become effective teachers when they have access to ongoing experiential learning opportunities and professional development materials, particularly if their pupils have learning needs or are performing below or above grade level. Any teacher professional development initiatives should have student achievement as their ultimate objective. Teams of teachers are engaged in the most productive professional development when concentrating on their pupils’ needs. They collaborate to learn and solve problems to guarantee that every student succeeds. Below are eight things teachers say they need in effective professional development for their schools.
Professional learning should be aligned to prepare teachers for what their students need most. If the goal is not to teach students but to help them learn, then the focus must be on helping teachers become learners. Often teachers see the relevancy issue through the lens of the “content and standards” they need to cover. Where we believe the focus needs to be on what will prepare kids to be successful in their future. Are the skills, techniques, and strategies the teachers are learning to help them find and guide student learning through passion, interest, and personalized efforts?
Turning your classroom or school into a place where deep learning occurs and learners’ needs are met is hard. Educational change is problematic because it involves re-culturing and re-examining values and dispositions and letting go of what we are vested in. Simulations are easy for teachers to integrate into their schools and can be used independently or in professional development sessions.
Simulations offer real-life experiences from real-life professionals. Simulations are created for teachers and leaders by teachers and leaders. Educators from the country share their experiences so others can learn from their mistakes. Everyone we have worked with has had some classroom experience in a district, higher education institution, or independent school. They know what other educators go through, so they want to share their experiences to help other educators become better decision-makers.
A simple meeting or “homework” style professional development will not cut it in today’s professional learning environment. Teachers have seen it all. They need professional development that is something they have never seen before, leaving them inspired and wanting to learn more to further their career.
It is more important to focus on long-term growth, creating a thick schema, forming relationships, creating a tribe, bolstering dispositions and values, and rekindling the fires and passion within each educator who participates than it is to learn a skill you can use immediately. A teacher focusing on long-term growth will be a better teacher overall.
Professional development sessions should be a safe space allowing teachers to openly discuss the challenges they face daily in the classroom. A collaborative environment not only helps teachers to feel comfortable but helps them to learn from their peers and the experiences they have had in the classroom. Through simulations, educators can naturally have difficult dialogues. Teachers can work together, share experiences, and offer their candid opinions about what they would do in a particular scenario while making tough decisions at a decision point in a simulation.
Subjects such as equity, diversity, and inclusion are relevant in today’s professional learning environment and will remain for a long time. The SchoolSims Simulation Library is continuously being updated almost every month with new relevant simulations. The topics are always up to date and can relate to many situations that educators could experience at some point in their careers. Simulations can be powerful for teachers. We wanted a space where we could provide teacher candidates with situated learning. These situated learning opportunities foster reflective practice and connect theory to practice, but most importantly, they provide an intentional space to have difficult conversations.
“We have found that in over 20 years, especially in teacher education, there is no time to talk about racism, other forms of oppression, and how they play out in school spaces. We talk about it in theory but often in the classroom; finding space to have those difficult conversations is often not there, and teachers do the same in the classroom. So simulations provide us an opportunity for a purposeful space where we can have these difficult conversations, and most importantly, we are committed to creating an opportunity to make mistakes and do it in a way that does not hurt children.”
Dr. Gretchen McAllister – Associate Professor Department of Teaching and Learning, Northern Arizona University
Research shows that educators need to attend professional development sessions together and reflect collectively on what they are learning. Principals and administrators are members of the teams and work collaboratively with the teachers on implementing what they have learned. We follow up and give feedback about team goals for professional learning, making it a meaningful experience for teachers and administrators.
SchoolSims provides a library of simulations to help teachers manufacture experiences they can tap into when they need them. Simulations are experiential learning tools that emulate real-world scenarios, allowing participants to decide on a course of action, implement it, and experience its consequences, all within the same exercise. Including simulations in your school’s professional development program will allow current teachers to practice dealing with challenging scenarios in a safe space. Simulations can be used in group meetings, asynchronously, or both. Simulations are proven to improve judgment and decision-making so that current teachers can be better prepared for the challenges of the job. Many teachers are curious about what happens when the principal’s door is closed. Teachers who experience SchoolSims tend to come away with a broader perspective of what happens at the building level, promoting a more positive culture and climate.
Cooper, Beth. “10 Things Teachers Want from Professional Development.” SimpleK12.Com, 10 May 2016, https://www.simplek12.com/professional-development/10-things-teachers-professional-development/.