The Future of Professional Development

We spoke with Phill Miller, vice president of teaching and learning at Blackboard, about how educators should explore professional development options online to build their careers and become better teachers.

How is online professional development the future of training the next generation of America’s best teachers? What doors does it open for them?

In addition to time and cost savings, online learning enables schools and districts to provide relevant, flexible and ongoing professional development, whenever and wherever teachers need it. It connects teachers across geographic boundaries so they can collaborate, share best practices and build a community. Also, online professional development personalizes learning and enables teachers to self-select content that is most relevant to them.

What are some of the core areas teachers should be looking to develop their skillset in?

The digital transformation of education has also led to a shift in the way teachers teach. Blending online and personalized learning is becoming the norm. Professional development can help teachers stay ahead of these kind of learning trends. Teachers should focus on developing the competencies needed for this kind of 21st century teaching so they can effectively incorporate technology into their instruction.

How and why should more experienced educators who may not think they need professional development look to services like Blackboard’s professional development program or other similar programs?

K-12 education is changing at a rapid pace. Just as we want our students to be lifelong learners, teachers should never stop learning. When teachers stay abreast of new pedagogical approaches, they set their students up for success. Professional development helps teachers keep up with the latest innovations in education so they can meet the ever-changing needs of their students.

Teachers shape the future with every child they teach. That’s why every child deserves effective teachers and every teacher deserves the opportunity to become as effective as possible.

Look at the classroom

For too many students, this vision is not yet reality. Nearly two million students each year find themselves in classrooms with new teachers who are less effective than they should be.

Because many teacher preparation programs do not show future teachers the best, scientifically-based ways to help students learn, their graduates find themselves spending their first year teaching not only their students but also themselves. This first year is not unlike a fraternity hazing due to inadequate preparation.

Evaluate the training programs

Most great teachers are not born but made — the result of a quality education, support from seasoned peers, hard work and strong determination. But the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) recent study of traditional undergraduate programs preparing elementary teachers found that they ignore research findings on the knowledge and skills that should be essential to instruction. For example, nearly two decades after the scientific community reached firm consensus about how to teach reading, only two in five programs even mention all five methods. Fewer still provide elementary teacher candidates with necessary grounding in math content. Just five percent make sure their candidates obtain a well-rounded education in science, history and literature.

As a result, new teachers struggle. This is not the fault of the teachers as their preparation program failed to instill in them vital knowledge and skills. How can teachers teach content or use teaching methods they never learned?

Demand fundamental change

Americans who are concerned about the quality of their children’s teachers should demand that teacher training programs incorporate research-proven content and methods, and provide future teachers with plenty of practice.

Of course, every teacher grows on the job through experience or through training in the summer and after school. Even veteran teachers benefit from the chance to learn new methods and update their materials. Still, if we could improve the quality of teachers’ preparation programs, new teachers would be more successful from their first day in front of students.

Teachers — and their students — deserve nothing less.