Professional development for teachers can exist in a number of ways. Historically, teachers have used seminars, conferences, in-class assessors, and training courses to assess their teaching habits and build upon their skill set.
Let's take a look at some of the alternatives that teachers can use to develop their skills and maximize learning outcomes for their students.
1. Teacher Performance Assessments
Teacher Performance Assessments, or TPA, is a common practice among schools and education providers. In this process, a teacher performs a lesson with an assessor in attendance, listening in and taking notes on how the teacher is performing. It is usually used for new teachers seeking employment with a school, but the method is also used to ensure teachers are still maintaining a serviceable level of competence.
One major positive is receiving timely feedback from a peer or teacher who you can interact with to discuss the assessment. Feedback is often provided verbally and includes tips that teachers can implement into their teaching routine quickly.
However, some teachers may feel uncomfortable with an assessor sitting in on their lesson. This anxiety could compromise the legitimacy of the feedback, and render the assessment pointless. Students may feel similar pressures with an external assessor present in their class, disrupting the normal learning environment to which they are used to. It also takes time and resources to obtain an assessor, especially one that is not biased towards the school or a specific teacher, which is costly.
Seminars are a popular method used by industry professionals to teach new ideas or explore new concepts. They can also be an opportunity to connect with other like-minded teachers, who can share notes, stories, and advice for the classroom.
However, many seminars are expensive. There are alternatives through - such as seminar series The Education Show, which offers a free series of annual seminars held in conjunction with the University of Melbourne. Seminars are useful as they often allow industry experts to educate people on the new concepts and encourage teachers to challenge their current practices, allowing them to develop their skills.
There are several other pitfalls of seminar-based teacher professional development sessions. They are typically not localized, meaning that the costs of travel, accommodation, and supplies must be accounted for. As they are often away from their regular classes, teachers must also account for the disruptions, substitute teachers, and missed content in their absence. Seminars also require teachers to actively incorporate the new teachings into their behavior, and therefore do not guarantee success.
3. Teacher Development Workshops
Workshops, like a seminar, connect teachers in a physical space, verbally communicating their ideas and discoveries. However, workshops go one step further and encourage active involvement, aiming to leave attendees with actionable outcomes which they can apply immediately.
Workshops are also more personal than seminars. They allow intimate connections among teaching peers from a variety of backgrounds. As you're interacting with others, there are more ideas being shared and challenged, meaning that you're more likely to develop newer insights than if you were attending a seminar or taking an individual course.
But, much like seminars, travel time, expense, and man-hours need to be accounted for while taking the time to attend. This also has the issue of broad, and often vague solutions to problems that may not be relevant to some teachers. The lack of personalized feedback is a major drawback of in-group seminars.
4. E-Learning Modules
For those who prefer self-motivated learning, e-learning modules provide easily accessible online study materials which cover a broad range of topics. For teachers, this could mean advanced teaching strategies, specific subjects, or overview of the basics of teaching.
There are many online platforms for teachers ranging from early-childhood teaching, junior/senior teaching and even high school education. Modules can range from video libraries of lectures and presentations, to interactive work courses involving mini-assignments and tasks. The quality of which depends on the price range.
Initiatives like the Schools, Students and Teachers Network [SSAT] in the UK provide an 'enhancing teaching program' online for teachers who wish to use the resource. In Australia, state governments in Victoria, and New South Wales provide free online modules for those in the teaching profession, with topics on bullying, social media, disability management etc.
5. Visible Classroom
Unlike seminars, workshops, and assessors, Visible Classroom is an app which the teacher uses personally. It uses audio recordings of your lesson to objectively assess your teaching habits across key metrics. The results are presented as an easy-to-read series of metrics, set out in simple graphs. These metrics include teacher talk time, talk speed, level of language complexity and more. After five lessons are recorded, the teacher can request a personalized feedback report from the University of Melbourne for more detailed insights into their teaching practice.
Visible Classroom's main advantage is its personalized use. No assessor, peers, or other unnecessary human interaction in the classroom is needed. All you need is your mobile device and your lessons. The metrics are analyzed by industry experts at the University of Melbourne, who specialize in student achievement, learning, and teacher development. The metrics they provide are invaluable to any teacher looking to gauge how well their teaching skills are.