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What Is Professional Development in Education?

Investing in yourself as an educator is essential for fostering professional advancement and the academic growth of your students. Professional development opportunities provide educators with the skills to improve classroom practices, stay current with the latest teaching methodologies, and ultimately improve student outcomes. From attending conferences and seminars to participating in school district-led training sessions, engaging in continuous professional development is integral to every teacher’s career trajectory. 

The demands of teaching are constantly evolving, thanks to continual developments in technology and learning styles. Taking part in professional development can help you stay on top of the latest developments in teaching and instruction, expand your skill set, and create a curriculum that sets your students up for success. In addition to evolving, the teaching profession is also growing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment in educational instruction and library occupations is projected to see about 857,600 openings each year from 2022 to 2032. And it’s up to you to keep up with the latest development opportunities in the teaching field.   

So, what does professional development in education look like? In addition to traditional seminars, college courses, and conferences, educators can learn informally through individual research and reading, classroom observation, or peer discussions. In other words, if it helps you stay informed, educated, and up to date in your profession, you can file it under “professional development.”  

Benefits of Professional Development for Teachers.

Pursuing professional learning opportunities not only benefits educators but also impacts students and the educational system as a whole. By fulfilling continuing education requirements and expanding their knowledge base, teachers enhance their instructional methods and gain new resources, ultimately improving student learning outcomes and contributing to the overall quality of education.

Pursuing professional learning opportunities can help you:

  • Fulfill continuing education requirements 
  • Expand your knowledge base 
  • Improve your instruction methods 
  • Gain additional resources for your professional tool belt 
  • Increase your own learning and teaching comprehension to help students thrive 
  • Increase your chances of job advancement  
  • Gain a competitive edge 
  • Engage in networking opportunities 

Additionally, collaboration with other effective teachers in a professional learning community (PLC) can further enrich your teaching tool bag through the exchange of innovative ideas. This also benefits the overall educational environment in a school or district.  

Common Areas of Professional Development:

There are a number of areas you can pursue when it comes to professional development courses as an educator. Here are a few categories of professional development that can help you become a more effective teacher:  

Technical Training 

Developing technical, quantitative, and analytical skills can help you analyze student-performance data and then use the findings to modify your curriculum or teaching techniques. 

Specialized Training  

Furthering your education and knowledge in your specific subject teaching area—such as advancements in math, history, science, etc.—can help you teach subject-specific content and concepts more effectively. 

Leadership Development  

If you’re an experienced teacher ready to take on a new challenge, it might be time to think about leadership development training. Such leadership skills can be used to develop and coordinate a school improvement initiative or community volunteer program. 

Classroom Management  

This could be helpful if you’re looking to increase your knowledge about student learning and engagement. Obtaining new strategies for classroom management can help promote positive student attitudes and increase academic motivation and achievement.  

Professional development ideas for teachers

Professional development is essential for teachers to stay updated with the latest educational trends, methodologies, and technologies. Most learning opportunities fall into one of two groups: accredited programs and self-teaching. Here’s a deeper look at each:

Accredited Professional Development

Most continuing education requires attending an accredited program. This includes many online degree options and certifications for both aspiring and current teachers. Accredited master's degree programs offer structured learning experiences that can lead to additional certifications or advanced degrees, providing teachers with formal recognition of their expertise. Other certifications and programs are provided by states, school districts, and schools. Continuing education from an accredited program might require:  

  • Focused, multi-day educational sessions that take place outside the classroom or school 
  • Follow-up educational opportunities over the school year  
  • A specific time commitment, like a one- to two-year program 

Self-Taught Professional Development 

Self-taught opportunities like workshops, conferences, webinars, and online educational resources offer teachers the flexibility to tailor their learning according to specific areas of interest or need. Unlike traditional professional development courses, self-directed learning can happen anytime and anywhere, enabling teachers to enhance their teaching skills and address specific areas of improvement at their own pace. Examples of self-taught professional learning include:  

  • Meeting with study groups of peers focusing on a specific topic 
  • Observing another teacher’s classroom  
  • Watching free, online TED Talks and other videos 
  • Participating in LinkedIn Learning courses for teachers 
  • Utilizing a mentor or more experienced colleague  
  • Attending workshops or conferences to dig deeper into a subject 
  • Taking part in independent reading and research  
  • Joining a professional learning communities and organization for teachers 
  • Engaging with employers and alumni through recruiting platforms

Combining both accredited programs and self-taught methods can provide a well-rounded approach to professional development, equipping teachers with the skills and knowledge needed to foster growth and innovation in their teaching practices.

What Are Some Examples of Professional Development? 

Professional development in education encompasses a wide range of activities aimed at improving teaching skills, updating knowledge about educational practices, and enhancing overall effectiveness in the classroom. Here are a few scenarios where you might find professional learning helpful: 

Example #1: You want to create an immersive learning experience for students.

Updating your skill set to include design thinking and learning analytics can provide you with the necessary knowledge and strategies to implement this approach in your classroom. A specialized training program or master’s degree in education technology and instructional design can help you achieve this. 

Example #2: You’re ready to take your career to the next level by becoming a principal.

Becoming a principal or educational administrator positions you to change the future of education and have a positive impact on students, teachers, and schools. Earning a master’s degree in educational leadership provides aspiring school leaders with the foundational skills needed to enhance expertise in leadership, planning, school management, law, and more.  

Example #3: You have a student that’s being bullied by their classmates on social media. 

There are a wealth of professional development courses and other resources you can tap into to learn more about internet safety, social media, and cyberbullying. LinkedIn Learning offers a series of videos that can give you the tools to address the situation and find solutions.  

Should I Pursue Professional Development? 

A commitment to lifelong learning is just as important for you as it is for your students. Investing in your own professional development will give you skills and tools to use now and help you grow professionally over time. Professional development is right for you if: 

  • You want to expand your knowledge base in different subject areas (like math, history, science, etc.) 
  • You want to pursue a leadership position, like a principal or school administrator  
  • You want to keep up on the latest industry insights  
  • You want to network with other teachers  

It’s also worth noting that professional development is likely to be a requirement for all teachers to maintain their licenses. Your state, district, or school will usually require you to complete a professional development program or specific certifications. So beyond the personal benefits, it may be essential to engage in professional development to maintain your standing as a teacher. 

Whether you’re a seasoned educator or a first-year teacher, professional development is an investment in your career. WGU’s online, accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education are designed with no set log-in times, allowing you to access coursework and study while working full-time. Plus, our competency-based education model lets you advance through courses as quickly as you master the material, so you can potentially graduate faster while saving money. Take the next step in your professional development today—learn more! 

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