Can We Solve the Epidemic of Teacher Shortages Through Teacher Professional Development?
By Henry Kronk
February 23, 2019
With just a small chunk of 2019 behind us, it’s evident that the surge in teacher strikes and protests that began this time last year have begun to snowball. Beyond inadequate pay and classrooms packed to full capacity, many teachers have begun to protest the declining cultural value attached to their work. There’s no better indicator of this than the falling enrollment numbers at teacher colleges. Nearpod, a company that prepares off-the-shelf course supplements, believes it has at least a partial solution. They have recently partnered with Teach for America Miami (TFA) to offer teacher professional development at the community level.
Many believe that the crisis in teacher working conditions goes far beyond annual salary and class size. Besides poor compensation and working conditions, many teachers also worry about their declining status and the growing reality that their country does not view them as professionals.
“To continue helping students perform at their best, teachers need to feel respected and be in a supportive environment,” said Myesha Senior, who teaches math to 6th and 7th graders via TFA in the Miami-Dade School District. “Compensation is important, but teachers don’t stay committed to their profession for monetary reasons but rather because they care about their students. So communities need to continue fostering supportive environments for teachers.”
Nearpod’s Teacher Professional Development
For the past two years, Nearpod has been developing a series of teacher professional development resources to address teacher’s increasingly difficult working conditions. Melissa Pelochino has led the charge. Before coming to Nearpod, she worked for fifteen years in Title I schools, first as a teacher and then as an administrator.
Along with her colleagues at Nearpod, she has designed a series of teacher professional development instructional resources very similar to Nearpod’s classroom supplements, but targeted at teachers.
“We want to help teachers teach teachers the same way we want to help teachers teach kids,” Pelochino said over the phone. “Teaching kids and teaching teachers are reciprocal. It felt like we were missing a piece of the puzzle to deliver content that’s only student-facing.”
Instead of running workshops themselves, furthermore, Nearpod looks to partner with local community leaders to run their training sessions.
“School leaders are best positioned to support with implementation once it’s over,” Pelochino said. “So if I were to come run a session in Miami, once I left the building, the ownership of that leaves too. When we have mentors and school-based leaders, or Teach for America leaders leading these workshops themselves, they are then the ones going into classrooms, supporting, co-teaching, modeling, giving feedback, and supporting that change in practice.”
There’s no doubt that PD programs exist for teachers and are made available in districts across the country. But they tend to be available only in the summer. And for struggling young teachers, that safety net has too many holes.
“I was always disappointed with the professional development that we had access to,” Pelochino said. She believes that it takes a teacher between 3-5 years of classroom experience to develop into an experienced professional.
During this period, many teachers can really struggle. If they don’t receive proper support, it becomes increasingly likely they’ll leave for another job.
Teaching Through Relationship Management
The Nearpod teacher professional development resources seek to address this in three ways.
“The first is providing the right content at the right time,” Pelochino said. “So it’s just-in-time content. We know that, if you look at John Hattie’s work, just knowing what to teach—if it’s students or adults—is not enough. When to teach it matters. Because our content is facilitated by local leaders, they know what the needs are and what to pull from our library of content to address their needs immediately. All of our content is research-based and it’s also distilled into manageable chunks.”
“We use very little jargon and all of the information is put together so that teachers can go out and use it in their classrooms the next day.
“We also have taken a stance on ‘personalized learning.’ Typically, teachers who are doing that through a device will learn in isolation, asynchronously by themselves. We believe that teachers learning together and creating communities of practice will keep teachers emotionally tied to their roles at their schools for much longer than if they were sitting by themselves. We ask them to take risks, to be vulnerable, and to support each other throughout the experiential learning workshops we offer. So that sense of community we believe strongly will increase teacher retention.
“Finally, the nature of our content is all about managing kids through relationships. Regardless of what you’re teaching, it all has to do with managing relationships. Those emotional ties hopefully keep teachers in the classroom longer, provide more success, fosters intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation, etc.”
Theory vs. Practice
This all begs the question: If teachers are coming to their jobs with four-year degrees (and in some cases, with a Master of Education), why do they need teacher professional development training out of the gate? Pelochino stresses that Nearpod’s PD division is about supporting teachers and catching them before they decide to drop out of the profession altogether. But she adds that teaching requires a mix of practical skills and theory, and in teaching degrees, the emphasis is placed on the latter.
“In a book, everything works out really well,” Pelochino said. “In practice, teaching looks nothing like what we expect it to or any ideal version. The realities of the day-to-day—you can’t teach for that.
“Regardless of how much schooling or education or credentialing you have prior to walking into the classroom, I don’t see a significant difference in capabilities or expertise. We treat everyone the same in the sense that we don’t differentiate content for different stakeholders. We want multiple stakeholders in one room talking together. Our content is used for new teachers, it’s used for veteran teachers, but ideally, it’s used for a combination. Whether they’re coming in with teaching as a first career or a second career, we want as many different points of view in the room, grappling, and discussing, and making sense of ideas together. That makes for a much deeper learning experience.
“The majority of people teaching at the university level have never been teachers. They have PhDs in education, but they’ve never put their education into practice. I think if we can get practitioner credentialing at universities, programs would look different.
“I used to think that beliefs about education needs to change in order for behaviors to change, but I’ve since learned it’s the opposite. The way that we at Nearpod are going after issues we see in education is by changing behaviors slowly over time, which will then lead to changing beliefs about what is possible with teaching and learning.”
Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that Nearpod had partnered with Teach for America on a national level. Instead, they have partnered with Teach for America Miami.
Featured Image: Headway, Unsplash.