By guest blogger: Cathy Cavanaugh, PhD , Director of Teaching and Learning, Microsoft Corporation
Teachers do heroic, necessary, and honorable work every day. Teachers choose their profession to change lives, knowing that the work is demanding. Everything about teaching is changing: students, communities, curriculum, assessment, and learning environments. This week, we take a moment to honor teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States.
As lifelong learners, the work of teachers includes continual learning about all dimensions of their practice. The expectations they have for their valuable professional development time is that these experiences will contribute to student learning while reducing demands on very busy professionals. Such a balance requires professional development approaches that are job-embedded, continual, sustainable, and focused on student learning. In countries with high daily teaching hours, this balance is especially important. For example, out of 32 countries, teachers in 9 countries spend at least 80% of each school day teaching (OECD, 2012).
Teacher Professional Development Leads to Student Success
Time spent in professional development, especially collaborative professional development, is one of the most effective differentiators of high performing schools (Grattan Institute, 2014). Internationally and in the US, student academic achievement is linked directly to the time teachers spend in professional learning, especially collaborative learning. Countries with high student assessment scores results tend to be countries with more time in the teaching day for professional learning (Stanford University, 2010 ). In the US, the time that teachers have for collaborative development corresponds to readiness to implement Common Core teaching (Center for American Progress, 2014).
The Importance of Professional Learning Communities
American school districts have brought about dramatic gains in student performance as a result of investment and focus on learning communities (Learning Forward, 2014). A centerpiece of these districts' efforts are learning communities that provide time and collaborative support for all teachers. Student data, lesson study, and looking at student work are core activities in professional learning communities. Structured, effective professional learning communities have specific targets, timelines, strategies, and rubrics to guide their work, as well as the commitment of all district and school leaders to professional learning communities as integral to the culture. Professional learning communities are a solution to the barriers of time and place for professional learning, and they provide the collaborative experience teachers need to be most effective in their craft.
Online Professional Learning Communities Empowered by Microsoft
Online professional learning communities connect every teacher to high-impact, personalized and collaborative, job-embedded learning in iterative cycles of lesson study, looking at student work, creating content, and inquiry into practice. The Microsoft Educator Network is a global professional learning community helping more than 11 million educators in 119 countries. On the Microsoft Educator Network, professional development for educators and school leaders is available free of charge. In addition, educators have access to ongoing peer collaboration and learning throughout the Microsoft Educator Network, providing mentoring, feedback and inspiration from education innovators throughout the world.
Online professional development communities focus on facilitation and participation. The site facilitator is the driving force behind learning and collaboration, participants derive value from each other's' comments and materials, and teacher leaders serve as role models of how collaborative learning improves practice.
Microsoft empowers local online professional development communities that operate using Yammer, SharePoint, Lync, Office 365, and Skype in the Classroom. To be inspired by how to utilize online professional development communities, join the discussion about professional learning communities on the Microsoft Educator Network.