Education doesn’t end when you get your degree. Every professional’s career can benefit from continuing education that helps him or her stay sharp and develop new skills. When teachers receive professional development, students benefit.
Professional development helps teachers keep their skill sets fresh and learn new skills. The science of teaching constantly finds new ways to get through to students, but that’s not the only reason professional development is important for teachers. Teachers also need to be able to prepare their students to succeed in a changing world — they need to be able to teach students how to use emerging technologies, how to navigate evolving workplaces, how to communicate effectively, and how to think critically and solve problems. The more professional development teachers get, the more likely students are to succeed.
Continuing Education Helps Students Learn
Early research into the value of professional development for teachers examined whether students benefitted when teachers received continuing education regarding general teaching skills. They found that students did experience some improvement in basic academic skills, like doing math or reading, when teachers received professional development geared toward improving their own basic classroom skills.
By the 1990s, researchers began investigating the effect of continuing education for teachers on students’ problem-solving and reasoning capacities. They found that professional development programs for teachers significantly improved their students’ performance. In one study, researchers placed a group of first-grade teachers in either a professional development program that focused strategies for solving math problems or a program that focused on helping teachers understand current research on how students learn to add and subtract.
The researchers found that students performed better with the teachers who gained a deeper understanding of how students learn. Those teachers were more likely to pose complex problems, work to understand how students process those problems, and help students find different, more effective ways to answer them. The teachers who participated in the math strategies workshop were less effective, since they continued to place more importance on rote memorization, solving problems quickly, and working alone.
So, students do better when their teachers receive professional development designed to help teachers better understand student learning processes. Further research has determined that students also benefit when teachers get the chance to work through the same types of problems they’ll later pose to students, examine new parts of the curriculum, and improve their own knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach.
How Much Professional Development Is Enough?
In the world’s top-performing school systems, teachers receive about five times as much professional development time as American teachers receive. Academically high-achieving countries give their teachers about 100 hours of yearly professional development time, and between 15 to 20 hours a week of time to collaborate with and learn from their colleagues. The average American teacher receives about 44 hours of professional development time a year.
Fortunately, it’s easy for teachers to take professional development into their own hands by enrolling in an online degree program or professional development program. Online programs give teachers the opportunity to learn more effective teaching methods, refresh their own knowledge of the subject matter, gain insight into the education industry, enhance their planning skills, and continue their education.
Many feel that teachers’ professional development should focus on learning how to impart the skills students need to succeed in the 21st century workplace. Many of the teachers teaching today didn’t learn these skills as part of their teaching education, because the professional landscape has changed drastically in a brief period of time. Students need to know how to:
- Think critically
- Solve problems
- Take initiative
- Work together
- Take the lead
- Adapt to rapid changes in culture and technology
- Communicate verbally and in writing
- Find and analyze information
Today’s students need to develop less tangible skills and qualities, too. A sense of entrepreneurialism, a healthy imagination, and a strong sense of curiosity are all qualities that can serve students well as they mature into adults. Professional development can show teachers how to impart these qualities, but teachers and schools need to devote more time to professional development and collaborative teaching.
Professional development is an important way for teachers to refresh and deepen their knowledge of their own subjects and learn new ways to help students learn. Online programs are one way that teachers can take the initiative to strengthen their professional skills and help their students succeed.