How important is specialized professional development?

Effective PD should be sustained over time, involve coaching or collaborative communities, and include specialized and role-specific content.

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:

  • Induction programs were not effective due to SpEd teachers not receiving role-specific guidance through the program.
  • Portfolio assessments as part of the induction programs felt like “busy work;” these tasks seemed artificial.
  • PD sessions were often introductory or repetitive in nature, ignoring any preexisting knowledge. “Generic PD sometimes failed to match the realities of their work.”
  • The opportunities regarding co-teaching and how to engage with general education teachers were limited.
  • SpEd teachers were often isolated from general education teachers in PD sessions.

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.”

  • Educational literature states that PD must be sustained over time in order to change the nature of teachers’ instruction. “Extended-duration PD allows for increased opportunities for planning, observing, feedback, reviewing student work, and aligning standards and goals.”
  • Schools can use coaches or professional learning communities (PLCs) to support teacher development.
  • Research also acknowledges the benefits of specialized PD (relevant content as opposed to generic or content-neutral). “When SpEd teachers receive targeted, relevant PD, they report greater levels of confidence in working with students with disabilities.”

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103277

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.

You May Also Like
Students often set goals based on teacher expectations. In this study, the implementation of the Se...
As educators, we need to put more emphasis on creating a balance between gaining proficiency as a t...
Children with reading disorder (RD) have an increased risk of anxiety disorders, the most common me...
Comprehensive Solutions

Take professional learning further. Our world-class courses teach educators and assistants how to leverage the MARIO Approach and build a MARIO classroom. Our software empowers learners and makes MTSS implementation easier and more effective.

Learn more
Rectangle-74-1
mario-wp-founder-philip-with-text-join-the-family-subscriber

Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

Subscribe

Please enter the correct email

Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

Subscribe

Please enter the correct email

mario-wp-founder-philip-with-text-join-the-family-subscriber