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How to Run Sustainable Teacher Professional Development Programs

Al Qasimi Foundation
June 29, 2017

Teacher professional development is essential for transforming teaching and learning. It keeps teachers up-to-date on advances in education research, effective practices, and resources. It also directly affects all aspects of schooling, such as student outcomes, teacher satisfaction and retention, and school culture.

But what makes a professional development program a success? And more importantly, how do you ensure the continued success of teachers who participate in your professional development programs?

The most effective professional development is ongoing, experiential, collaborative, and sustainable. Here are a few tips and best practices the Al Qasimi Foundation has learned from its experience with the Ras Al Khaimah Teachers Network (RAKTN) and training over 1,000 educators in the past seven years.

1. Make it Continuing:

While one-off workshops can be interesting and inspiring, they don’t offer the support teachers need to be able to implement the new techniques they are exposed to. Ongoing teacher professional development has been shown to increase the likelihood of teachers changing their instructional practices. If done correctly it can create a safe space for teachers to learn new techniques, try them out, reflect on their progress, ask for advice, and get feedback.

All Foundation courses are offered over a semester and include five to seven class sessions. Individual classes typically last three hours, totaling 15-20 contact hours per course. Thoughtful scheduling ensures there is always at least one week between classes to give participants a chance to apply and reflect on their learning.

2. Establish a Community of Practice:

An important component of continuing professional development is creating a community of practice. This is a professional learning community where teachers collaborate with their colleagues and receive ongoing support from their administration and trainers or mentors. Communities of practice help to decentralize knowledge and expertise, allowing the teachers to take more agency in their professional development. This increases the likelihood of teachers incorporating feedback and changing their practices.

The RAKTN is at the heart of the Al Qasimi Foundation’s professional development activities. A collaborative community of education practitioners, the RAKTN is grounded in evidence that teachers themselves, rather than outside consultants, often have the solutions to the problems they face because of their experience in the classroom and local knowledge of students’ strengths and weaknesses. It includes an online component that allows education practitioners to connect and collaborate across the boundaries of geography, gender segregation, school type, and subject matter. Such online or mobile platforms for communities of practice are becoming an integral support structure for teachers and are an essential component of the success of continuing professional development.

3. Conduct Needs Assessments:

Each learning context has its own unique challenges and as the education field evolves, even experienced teachers find themselves in need of advice. Conducting needs assessments and surveys regularly will help you better understand your teachers’ needs. Teachers should be able to request specific courses or modules on the topics that they are most interested in. This will allow you to create demand-driven programing. Like with students, this ownership of their learning is a key component of the teachers’ buy-in, helping them stay engaged in their professional development long-term.  

The Al Qasimi Foundation takes a grassroots approach to its professional development program and regularly seeks feedback from teachers on current and potential course offerings. End-of-semester surveys gather information about their needs, and results are used to adjust existing content and develop new courses. This helps to ensure the Foundation courses remain relevant and evolve to meet educators’ current needs.

4.  Contextualize:

Expanding on needs assessments, it is also important to situate your professional development within the larger system it is part of. This means understanding not only the regulations and requirements teachers must meet, but also understanding the unique considerations your program will have to address to be accessible to your teachers. Teacher-training resources are not a one-size-fits-all; even outside expertise will have to be contextualized to appropriately meet the needs of your teachers. The educational landscape in the United Arab Emirates is always changing.

The Foundation meets regularly with the Ministry of Education to stay informed on their plans and learn about potential new policies and changes. These conversations help to ground the overall program and identify opportunities where the Foundation can provide additional support and professional development offerings to better facilitate success.

5. Seek Certification:

While not all programs are able to offer recognized certificates, close collaborations with local ministries is an important component to the sustainability and success of a teacher professional development program. Formal recognition also adds value for teachers who want to advance their careers and take on new challenges. Being able to balance teachers’ needs as well as local policies and requirements will always be an essential consideration.

The Al Qasimi Foundation has consistently coordinated its professional development offerings with the Ministry of Education. Over time, this coordination has built trust and a sense of value for the quality courses the Foundation offers. The Foundation now has a formal agreement with the Ministry recognizing its courses.

6. Remember Decision Makers:

Teachers are more likely to implement successful changes in their classrooms when they feel supported. One simple way to help foster this support is ensuring the buy-in of the decision makers. Decision makers are more likely to support sustainable change when they themselves feel supported. To achieve this, your professional development program should include courses addressing the needs of the decision makers – principals, supervisors, other administrators, and education leaders.

The Foundation runs several courses to support school leaders (and aspiring leaders) as well as Ministry staff. These courses are demand-driven and have covered a range of topics, including: leadership, mentoring, conversational English, parental involvement, technology, and building foundational skills.

For questions, advice, or more information on the Al Qasimi Foundation’s teacher professional development programs please contact Ms. Hanadi Mohammed who will be happy to provide additional details. Registration for Fall 2017 professional development courses will begin at the end of August.