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New Findings Suggest that Increasing Teacher PD Agency and Relevance can Increase Their Satisfaction

As I have had some time to reflect on my time at ISTE for this year, it feels as if we are living in this world of limbo. Educators are excited and happy for in-person conferencing and schooling, while also being burnt out and overwhelmed at what lies ahead.

To the latter point, so many friends and colleagues shared just how many teacher and staff openings their districts have. There have long been shortages in areas such as math, science and special education, but many districts have never seen a shortage like this.

So what do we do? How do we better attract and retain talent? How do we keep the excitement (good) from outweighing the burnout (bad)? How do we keep veteran teachers to train up the next generation of educators?

It seems to me the best place to start is with teacher voice –and giving them options for their own learning. We often talk about meeting students where they are; it’s critical that we do the same for educators!

Where are teachers in their learning?

In a recent survey done by Interactive Educational Systems Design and released by D2L, 1,000 U.S. K12 teachers and district administrators were asked questions about professional learning. The results of this survey are interesting, as we may have been making assumptions about what teachers do or don’t want when it comes to their professional learning (PL).

The survey showed that:

  • “A growing educator interest emerging out of teachers’ pandemic experiences in professional learning that is ongoing, on-demand, online and targeted. However, likely due in part to their limited access to frequent and personalized professional learning, only 20% of surveyed educators identified strong satisfaction with the professional learning opportunities made available by their school and district.”

  • “91% of educators identified interest in professional learning that is targeted to meet each teacher’s specific, unique needs,” … [but] only 20% reported increased availability and 24% reported decreased or no availability.”

  • “71% identified interest in professional learning that is online, on demand (e.g., video segments, learning modules, courses), with 55% indicating their interest increased since the pandemic started.”

These are significant numbers to really think about when it comes to both attracting and especially retaining talent. In fact, ”In general, the more experienced an educator is, the more they viewed ongoing PL as important to a teacher’s effectiveness.” This finding suggests that, if you want to retain teachers, then it is important to give them opportunities to be lifelong learners!

In fact, professional learning availability is strongly connected to satisfaction. “For example, educators who expect that their district will make PL available more frequently—on a regular, ongoing basis are more likely to be satisfied with the teacher PL opportunities provided by their district (82%) compared to educators with availability only once or twice a semester or less (43%).

Another key finding that may challenge our assumptions about what teachers want comes from this statistic: “District administrators most frequently cited educator time required as a barrier to implementing various forms of online PL (82%), while only 48% of teachers cited the time required as a challenge. This finding suggests that teachers may be more willing to commit their time to online PL than administrators believe they would, perhaps in part because they like the flexibility, timeliness and targeting to their unique needs that is afforded by online PL.”

School district leaders should take heed. These findings further suggest that Increasing teacher agency and access to professional learning that is more relevant, timely, and flexible is not only a path to increasing teacher effectiveness, but also a path to their satisfaction, reduced burnout, and retention. We must overcome the disconnect between administrators and educators It’s time to open up communication to educators to provide them with PL that will keep them engaged and excited. Our school success depends on it.

See full survey here for these and other findings, an alignment to prior research, and recommendations

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