How important is specialized professional development?

Apr 28 2022

Key Takeaway: Special education teachers experience universal challenges when it comes to professional development (PD). Effective PD should be sustained over time, involve coaching or collaborative communities, and include specialized and role-specific content. —Ayla Reau

Sarah L. Woulfin and Britney Jones from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education (2021) conducted a phenomenological study on special education (SpEd) teachers’ experiences with professional development. They found that “professional development (PD) is one component of SpEd teachers’ working conditions which plays a role in building teachers’ capacities and enabling teachers to conduct their work.” However, SpEd teachers in particular encounter some universal challenges while trying to engage in professional development.

Some challenges the authors outlined included:

Woulfin and Jones (2021) hone in on three tenets of effective PD for SpEd teachers: “extended duration, involving collaborative and contextualized learning, and addressing specialized content.”

Effective PD for special educators also would include the following elements: “rely on experts from the district; incorporate technology; infuse content standards and special education curriculum; provide useful strategies and sample lessons; facilitate collaboration with general education teachers; create opportunities for reflection; and give feedback.”

The findings from their study suggest that many SpEd teachers felt a disconnect between their daily work and what was addressed in their current PD opportunities. Ultimately, this is why specialized training matters. The study offered suggestions for how practitioners could improve PD for special educators. As Woulfin and Jones summarize, it helps to develop an “understanding of norms, routines, rituals and the language of [the SpEd] profession.”

Summarized Article: Woulfin, S. L., & Jones, B. (2021). Special development: The nature, content, and structure of special education teachers’ professional learning opportunities. Teaching and Teacher Education, 100, 103277.

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

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