Great Curriculum Doesn’t Work Without Great Educator Training

What’s the quickest way to frustrate an already overwhelmed teacher preparing for a new school year? Mandating professional development that checks a requirement box but offers no clear connection to their content or students.

I remember as a teacher attending day-long required PD in the hot August days leading up to back-to-school. Once in a while, I’d luck into a session where I’d pick up a tip or idea that I knew I’d be able to use that year. Too often, though, I’d sit there feeling stuck in a disconnect because the training did not apply to the curriculum I’d be teaching that year. All I wanted was to escape to my classroom where there was so much to do to prepare for my incoming students.

We can do better for our educators when it comes to training, but districts’ hands are often tied. I also remember when, working for a state education agency, I helped to map out all the state-mandated PD teachers faced each year. The resulting chart was a 10+-page gordian knot, with some requirements that overlapped and others that seemed to contradict, all tied to state laws. We need to free up educators to focus on what matters most — providing quality instruction to students in partnership with families.

This has never been more important. Recent research shows that students with access to high-quality instruction bolstered by family support continued to learn last school year despite the disruptions of COVID. And it’s not enough to simply hand over curricular resources; teachers also need to learn and practice strategies for delivering instruction and engaging with students and families through the curriculum. Professional learning should be rooted in the instructional core to help educators meet students and families where they are.

As with all aspects of curriculum and training, there are distinct roles for states, districts, and schools in this arena (see more on my thoughts on local control here). While the local level is the place where content-specific work plays out, states can support good practices when it comes to PD – or in some cases, get out of the way by streamlining requirements.

A national leader in this area is Rivet Education, which provides a Professional Learning Partner Guide to support states’ use of high-quality curriculum and aligned teacher training. Rivet reviews PD materials extensively to verify they are specific, relevant, equitable, ongoing, and engaging, and currently partners with 8 states.

In addition, here are a few more (but not exhaustive) promising state approaches to elevating aligned PD:

  • Louisiana’s state agency recognizes the importance of aligning high-quality curriculum, PD, and assessments to help students succeed and offers vetted provider lists as well as instructional resources by grade level and content area. Louisiana is also one of 12 members of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)’ High-Quality Instructional Materials and Professional Development (IMPD) Network, which works to support district adoption of quality curriculum and aligned PD.
  • New Hampshire is dedicating ARP ESSER COVID relief funds to support teachers as they navigate virtual instruction. The Department of Education has offered tools for online learning, including a statewide learning management system and high-quality materials for students and educators. Professional development resources are provided for in-person and online instruction, including training opportunities to support social, emotional, and mental health.
  • Ohio partners with Learning Forward on professional development standards and Learning Forward Ohio offers aligned resources and support for teacher training. The state is another member of CCSSO’s (IMPD) Network.

What’s the quickest way to energize a teacher getting ready for the challenge of a new group of students? Providing meaningful professional learning connected to specific classroom content that helps them feel more prepared for the first day of school. Here’s to seeing more states and districts doing just that.

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.