4 Ways in Which Teacher Professional Development Is Critical to Student Success

By Jacob Bruno, Vice President, Professional Learning, NWEA

A highly effective educator in every classroom is the most powerful lever to actualize growth and achievement for all students.  High quality professional learning for our teachers and leaders is the best way to build the kind of individual and collective educator efficacy to make this happen. That is why supporting professional pathways that empower teachers to make, measure, and maximize their impact on student learning is one of the most important investments that districts, states, and the public can make. This will ensure that all students receive instruction effective at helping them learn what they need to experience growth, proficiency, and beyond.

Four areas where quality professional learning is essential to make this happen:

  • Alignment of instruction and assessment to rigorous academic content standards: Instruction, and the assessments that measure learning, must be rigorous and aligned with common standards that define the skills and knowledge that students must obtain to meet grade-level proficiency, and be prepared for college and career success. With instruction and assessments aligned to high-quality standards, teachers can better monitor their students' progress toward proficiency and adjust their instructional practices to ensure every learner is on track to succeed.

  • All stakeholders understanding the academic growth of each student: In parallel to measuring proficiency, we must also measure growth to provide a more accurate picture of student performance and where they are on their learning journey. This knowledge enables teachers to target instruction for individual student needs.

  • Understanding of the purpose and instructional use of every lesson, task, and assessment of learning: A teacher’s understanding of the purpose of instructional and classroom tools, including assessments, is critical to student learning. Teachers must understand the key objectives for each lesson, task, and formal or informal assessment, and how the resulting data will help inform instruction and help students learn. Equally important is that educators communicate with key stakeholders about assessment and its application in the classroom.

  • Educators who are deeply assessment & data literate: For any assessment to truly serve its purpose, teachers must be able to interpret and apply the data to help their students learn. A problem that many schools and districts face is that often teachers have little or no training on using assessment data to guide their instruction. To make the investment in assessment pay off for everyone – especially students – teacher assessment literacy needs to be a priority.

Empowered teachers, who have the high quality classroom curriculum, tools, resources and professional learning, are critical to helping all students maximize their growth, grade level proficiency and beyond. Policymakers, community leaders, and parents have a responsibility to support educators within their schools in making continuous and impactful professional learning a priority.

For any organization that works in support of professional learning for educators, it’s important to recognize a few factors:

  • Understand a school’s or district’s schedule beyond the academic calendar. When do schools/districts budget? When do they plan their annual professional learning, and is the learning they plan intentionally and explicitly connected to core elements of their strategic plan or vision for instruction? What other external factors could be impacting the time an educator may have to focus on professional learning? Knowing what types of scheduling or time constraints an educator is facing is key to providing the right type and modality of professional learning at the most convenient moment.

  • Align your services with a focus on their strategic goals and instructional frameworks. Educators have a million things to manage and track, while still staying focused on what’s most important – the instruction of students. Understanding the nuances of their everyday world is critical. Professional learning must be aligned to those goals and the service must be seamless, easy to access and felt as a valuable element within their schools.

  • Speak their language. Understand their professional practice, licensing requirements, state standards and the culture of that school or district. By doing so, any professional learning services will be relevant to them and something they can incorporate into their classrooms immediately.

When we give teachers the professional learning and support that they need to deliver quality instruction, the powerful combination of their commitment and their efficacy will lead to the learning and achievement revolution that every student deserves.

Jacob Bruno is the Vice President of Professional Learning at NWEA, where he oversees NWEA’s design and delivery of professional learning services and solutions to a diverse set of educators—as well as the development of strategic partnerships to enhance and expand the best-in-class experiences NWEA offers educators. Bruno has nearly two decades of experience in professional development, training, and coaching across multiple areas of emphasis, including formative assessment, assessment literacy, mathematics, and English Language Learners.