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Teachers Use Tech to Find Professional Development Solutions, Avoid Burnout

Reports of teacher burnout, especially new teachers reaching their limit, have been have been covered frequently in the media lately. Some experts point to a lack of professional development as a main cause for the high rate of newer teachers leaving the profession. 

A recent Deseret News article stated that within four years, Utah has lost nearly 1,000 new teachers of 2,417 new hires, with 42 percent finishing their careers before their second year of teaching was over. 

"I think what we're finding with the lack of resources that we have is that the mentor programs are the first things that go. Professional development goes, and those are all the things that brand new teachers need," said Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh in the article. "We're hoping to fill that gap and provide them with an opportunity to connect with another educator that can help them."

Dan Callahan, a training and professional learning specialist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association described his induction as a new teacher to the Massachusetts school system after teaching in Philadelphia for eight years as “basically all stuff that you should have learned in undergrad or grad school,” noting that technology was almost excluded entirely from the induction process.

“And it worries me that that’s what they think that their new teachers need, because it probably says, it says bad things about their hiring practices, if anything, if that’s the case, but it may not be the reality now,” said Callahan, who is also the co-founder of the tech-focused EdCamp CT. “And I think, from my perspective, induction should be about some of that stuff, because people are going to discover the gaps that they have as they go along, but each one of them is going to have different gaps…But to me induction is really more about the idea of ‘What does our district thinks teaching and learning looks like? And how can we implement that? And how can we make sure our newest teachers are familiar with that?’”

Many teachers report that professional learning communities are their main source of their professional development. Kathryn Parker Boudett, an author and a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, listed two reasons for PLC's popularity in a recent Education Week article.

“One is that the challenge we’ve set for ourselves in education is more vast and difficult than what it used to be. Teaching has become more complex, and the idea that we now want to drive across-the-board improvement and consciously prepare all kids to be successful in life—it’s just a taller order than what we’ve had in the past. And when problems get really big, they can become too difficult for any one person to solve on their own,” Boudett said in the interview. “The other aspect is the idea that you will get better solutions if you put more minds on a problem. I actually wasn’t always quite sure about this myself, but I’ve seen both personally and in the work we do in schools that it’s pretty true across the board. Getting other people’s ideas, especially perspectives from someone who’s going to bring to the data different assumptions and kind of jolt you a little into thinking in new ways of defining a problem or crafting a solution—that really does make it easier to address important challenges.” 

More and more K-12 educators are building school, district, national and international PLCs via Twitter. 

"Teaching isn't that collaborative," according to Adam Welcome, principal of Danville, Calif.’s Montair Elementary School. "Twitter opens up your classroom all the time, every day, all day," he stated in a recent EdWeek article.

Getting new teachers up to speed, and master teachers working optimally as support while simultaneously committing to their own professional development, is a monumental challenge for most districts, many of which lack the necessary resources to implement lasting change. 

"Twitter has afforded teachers that opportunity of engaging with each other in a professional way that doesn't really occur in their school or district," Mark Weston, a moderator of the K-12 Twitter chat #EdChat, said. 

School and district-wide PLCs, with professional development designed by administrators, however, can be a double-edged sword and point of contention when done poorly. 

“In a lot of districts you see, they do PLCs because the administrators went through a conference and they said ‘PLCs are the thing to do,’ but the PLC, what a PLC should be, is teachers determining what they’re going to work on and then going through an inquiry process to develop their skills over time,” Callahan said. “But [what] it’s turned into a lot of is, the principal slides the data over and says ‘You’re going to work on this all year, that’s it. And you’re going to be working with the same people that you’re always working with because it’s easier that way,’ and then they start messing it up, basically, by being too controlling.” 

By incorporating technologies such as Twitter into K-12 professional development, teachers are finding their own voices as educators, while organizing on their own terms to solve the individual and collective problems they face. 

“How long is the inquiry cycle? Is the inquiry cycle spread out over the course of an entire year? Is it a two month cycle? Is it half a year and then you can sit for a year? It’s ongoing. It loops as the group’s ready for it to loop to the next cycle. Others, maybe, are a bit more specific, like ‘Here’s what you’ll do this month, next month we’ll go into this phase, which may either be too fast or too slow for different groups,” Callahan said. 

Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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Copyright © 2015 Education World

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