Have your friends ever asked you, “Why do you always attend so many trainings?”
The general public doesn’t always understand how important is for us as educators to further our learning. It is not just a want but a need, a real need. As teachers, we meet the needs of the whole child. We strive to teach students content, skills, social norms, manners, the importance of study habits, and physical exercise. Balancing our role in the classroom is hard work, but work worth doing. Teaching has changed significantly since late 2019, and educators had to learn how to teach during a pandemic and now are adjusting to teaching in a post-pandemic world, and, yes, it is different than pre-pandemic.
Not only do teachers know they need professional learning, but so do schools and school districts. Research has proved that students benefit from having teachers who engage in professional learning practices. One of the major components for professional learning is for students to be positively impacted by the effort of teachers participating in professional learning. Most states require teachers to continue learning as part of they way they maintain their teaching licensure. So, for whatever reason or reasons teachers partake in professional learning we know this: it is an absolute necessity.
Professional Development in Education
Professional learning comes in many shapes and sizes and with a variety of price tags. It can be a full day of workshops, virtual learning, online professional learning communities, or book studies, just to name a few. The results vary based on how well organized the training is, how relevant it was to the teacher’s need, how well the teachers transferred that learning into practice, and the overall impact it had on students.
Have you ever been given the opportunity to select the professional learning in which you would like to engage? How did you make your decision? What criteria did you use? Did you complete a self-assessment? Did you collect data through observations? Whichever way you made that determination, you were able to seek out what was most relevant to your needs. Of course, in saying all of this I realize that some of you have probably never self-selected your professional learning, but what if you could?
Let’s ponder this for a few minutes. We know teachers need and want professional learning but how do we know “what” they need and want? Often school districts do the best they can (or at least the best they think that can), but how school districts and schools make the determination of what professional learning to provide is as varied as the professional learning itself. Leaders do have barriers to professional learning. Not only is cost a general concern, but the availability of teachers to attend the training and the time necessary outside of the classroom. Some states do not allow teachers to attend professional learning after hours unless they are compensated. Some school districts fill their teacher institute days with district initiatives, so there is little room if any to add what the teacher wants or needs. There has to be a better way to break through the barriers to ensure professional learning is delivered and received in the way it is intended.
The Power of Micro-Credentials
Have you considered a micro-credential as a key way to offer professional learning in your district? Micro-credentials are digital badges that educators can earn by successfully completing of a set of requirements and that offer learning in small or narrow bands. They are flexible so that it is anytime, anywhere type of learning.
Micro-credentials are centered on the idea of competency-based learning. With competency-based learning there must be evidence that learning occurred. How many times have you attended a professional learning session and left saying, “wow, that was really good!” But only to go back to your classroom, put the notebook on the shelf, and forgot all about everything you learned. It happens! But what if the learning connected to your day-to-day practice? What if you were encouraged to take your new learning and practice it in your classroom. Then, after learning and practicing you see a change as you are implementing your newfound knowledge. Maybe the change is in your practice or maybe it is in your students, hopefully both! How much more relevant might that be?
If you are familiar with the C3 Framework: College, Career and Civic Life readiness from the National Council for the Social Studies, you know there are 4 dimensions to the framework. Each dimension is essential to the learning process. Social Studies School Service has taken each of the four dimensions and divided them into micro-credentials for learners. That way, your focus for learning is limited and narrow based on each dimension.
Let’s take the example of, Dimension 1: Creating and Posing Compelling Questions, to explore micro-credentials further. To begin, you would set a foundation by reading the research behind the topic, read additional information and watch some videos, and, finally, implement your learning in the classroom setting. The course itself takes approximately six hours and can be completed on your own time, but the key to the credential, is the implementation period. After completing the course, you must complete the process by sending your evidence of learning to be evaluated and showing a change post-implementation of your new learning. Upon successful completion of the course, participants receive a digital badge. The badge is a visible recognition of the work you mastered.
The feeling of accomplishment is wonderful, and you have proof that you didn’t just sit and learn for 6 hours, but that you engaged in your learning, implemented it and saw change. That is the power of professional learning through micro-credentials.
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Pam Gothart is the Director of Professional Learning at Social Studies School Service. She has been in education for 23 years including teaching high school social studies, and spending 12 years as a history director. Pam holds an Ed.S. from Samford University, where she focused her study on professional learning. She is passionate about education and helping teachers to be unique and effective leaders.