In 2014, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed over 1,600 teachers about their experience with professional development (PD). Overall, 71% of teachers were unsatisfied with their PD and less than 18% felt they had any say in their professional development at all.
The NGL Training Team has faced our own challenges with professional development. We require new consultants, often high school teachers, hired as quest designers and mentors to participate in training sessions about NGL methodology and technology. We strive to create an engaging, research-based training framework, but often find ourselves wondering: How do we engage experienced teachers? How do we build on their prior knowledge to get them to connect with NGL? With insufficient training, Quest Designers may resist deviating from familiar curriculum design techniques or mold practices to fit preconceived pedagogy. Mentors understand that a failed implementation could waste the valuable time they have with their students.
After reviewing research from similar teacher-training programs, we found that successful professional development programs typically include five common practices. These practices are relevant not only for the the NGL Training team, but for any PD program that educates teachers, administrators or curriculum designers.
Model Ideal Learner Experience
To learn how to support active, learner-centered learning, teachers must first experience it themselves in their professional development. Content and activities during training sessions should be relevant, active and engaging. The trainer should model the intended role of the teacher during implementation and serve as a facilitator or coach rather than an instructor.
Provide Specific Material, Not Theories
Professional development programs for teachers often present abstract theories about pedagogy and vague, generalized advice for implementation. Trainings should include specific resources that situate the training material in relatable contexts.
Provide Ongoing and Long-Term Support
Just as the activities should reflect enactment, the length of training and support should reflect the duration of the trainee’s implementation or length of employment. Trainers should provide support after initial trainings to promote continuous learning, encourage development and sustain change. Support can take the form of answering questions, providing constructive feedback or additional trainings sessions.
Encourage and Support Collaboration
Professional development most often succeeds when teachers work collaboratively or form a community of practice. PD trainers should maximize communities of practice that occur naturally or build communities themselves. Collaboration is the easiest way to build and promote agency. Teachers can motivate each other to continue learning and offer support when making difficult decisions.
Vary Training Based on Needs
Teachers have diverse needs, different limitations and barriers. There is no cookie-cutter framework that will work for all professional development programs. Before PD begins, get to know the teachers you will work with. Shape PD to meet their goals, challenges, and above all, be considerate of what they already know.
How NGL Uses These Insights for Mentor Training
In order to train mentors to adopt the NGL Methodology, we strive to model the intended experience. Trainees collaborate with each other and explore quests from the learner persepctive. Meanwhile, their trainer acts as a mentor by providing constructive feedback on their work and facilitating group discussions during training sessions. We have found that exploring examples of excellent quests, showing videos of successful implementations and modeling implementation are far more effective resources than defining the theories behind our methodology. Finally, after initial training sessions, we provide ongoing support to our mentors and Quest Designers by scheduling consistent check-ins, reviewing quests and observing implementations. In this way, we can answer questions that arise, provide constructive feedback and inform the trainee of new resources that they might find useful.
These five training tips have shown us the importance of incorporating findings from existing research into our own program to best fit our trainees’ needs.