How many times, how many articles, and how many conference sessions are devoted to the question: What makes an effective teacher? It’s easy to point out what makes a poor educator. Things like apathy and disconnect are thrown about; but what truly makes an effective teacher? These characteristics are often difficult to verbalize or categorize. What follows in this article is by no means an exhaustive list, but more of an amalgamation of characteristics that help make teaching more effective, as well as some attributes of effective professional development that can help foster those characteristics. Effective teachers go beyond categorization and are really about the love of students learning.
We’ve all experienced poor teaching as a student. It could have ranged from being bored to skipping class to even being made to feel “less than.” Effective teachers can engage students in a way that brings inclusion, connectivity and meaningful learning to their classroom. Engagement includes effective lesson planning, building relationships with students, and creating content connections. Great teachers can dynamically do this to build a climate of inclusiveness and love of learning. Effective teaching is also about melding all of these qualities (and the myriad of others that could be named) in such a way to match the needs of the students. Students are as varied in learning styles, demographics, and personalities as the teachers who teach them.
So the crux of the problem- how do we teach this? Professional Development of teachers must be built around the idea of supporting the factors that make a great teacher. Professional development must support effective qualities as well as the needs of the learners and constraints of the school system itself. Much like anything this list is not exhaustive, but when designing learning opportunities with the idea of fostering effective teachers, this is undoubtedly a good start.
Constructive: Professional development should at the very least meet the needs of the individuals attending. Moreover, it should be aligned with district goals. Attendees should feel like it meets the needs of their teaching assignments as well as their career stage. Adding elements of engagement, input, and choice- much like you would in a lesson adds a level of constructiveness to professional learning that increases its effectiveness.
Related: How often has anyone whose facilitated training heard: “How does this apply to me?” Training should be planned to meet the needs of the attendees. Facilitators of PD should connect to the teacher and his/her daily responsibilities. Follow up on an individual level will allow for customization to best meet the needs of the teacher.
Content Connection: Does the PD place emphasis on content and does it equip teachers with a wide range of instructional strategies? Students have different learning styles, teachers have different teaching styles. Offering multiple ways of connecting content allows teachers to pick which style best fits them and can better allow them to meet the needs of students. The content connection is not just the subject matter; it is also the strategies for anticipating student misconceptions to improve outcomes.
Collaboration: Professional learning opportunities should also include opportunities for participants to engage- both cognitively and emotionally. Designing PD to include feedback as well as peer interaction allows for everyone to work toward common goals. This is a balance- no on likes “forced fun”, but collaborative components when utilized to best meet the needs of the attendees adds another element of effectiveness.
Continuing: PD should not end when your session is over. Opportunities for interaction to build and practice skills should be communicated. Resources should be provided so that attendees don’t feel adrift once the session is concluded.
Again, this blog post is not meant to be an exclusive blueprint of either effective teachers or an exhaustive checklist of quality PD. However, it is a resource to help guide the journey of designing effective PD. Anyone who has ever sat through ineffective PD, whether they are a good teacher or a bad, can certainly attest that a little thoughtfulness in design goes a very long way.
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