Just as successful teaching requires that teachers be adept at using a variety of research-based instructional strategies, so too does successful staff development require that planners select learning strategies that are appropriate to the intended outcome and other situational factors. That means that staff development leaders and providers must be aware of and skillful in the application of various adult learning strategies.
For many educators, staff development is synonymous with training, workshops, courses, and large group presentations. They are unaware that teacher and administrator learning can occur through means as diverse as collaborative lesson design, the examination of student work, curriculum development, immersion in the work of mathematicians and scientists, case studies, action research, study groups, and professional networks, to name a few such processes. They are also often unaware that training sessions and coursework must include numerous live or video models of new instructional strategies, demonstrations in teachers' classrooms, and coaching or other forms of follow-up if those strategies are to become a routine part of teachers' instructional repertoire.
It is essential that staff development leaders and providers select learning strategies based on the intended outcomes and their diagnosis of participants' prior knowledge and experience. For instance, while awareness of new ideas may be achieved through large group presentations, that approach alone is unlikely to lead to changes in teaching practice. An extended summer institute with follow-up sessions throughout the school year will deepen teachers' content knowledge and is likely to have the desired effect. A two-hour after-school workshop will not achieve that goal. And while teachers are likely to adapt their instruction to new standards-based curriculum frameworks through the joint planning of lessons and the examination of student work with their colleagues, simply reading a journal article about the standards will in most cases be insufficient.
The most powerful forms of professional development often combine learning strategies. To promote the development of new instructional skills, training may be combined with coaching, study groups, and action research. To promote the skillful implementation of a standards-based curriculum, study of the subject with a content expert may be combined with curriculum replacement units and a course on the development of rubrics.
Technology provides a useful tool for accessing various means of professional learning. It provides for the individualization of teacher and administrator learning through the use of CD-ROMs, e-mail, the Internet, and other distance learning processes. Technology enables educators to follow their unique learning goals within the context of schoolwide staff development plans. They may download lesson plans, conduct research on a particular topic, or compare their students' work with that of students in other schools or even other countries who are participating in similar lessons. Technology also makes it possible for teachers to form virtual learning communities with educators in schools throughout the country and around the world. For example, teachers may become members of online subject-area networks, take online courses, and contribute to action research projects being done in various locations around the country.
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