Giving Teachers The Freedom To Fail

Learner Experience, Learning, Learning Design, Smart Teachers

By Julie Keane, Director of Research and Evaluation, VIF International Education

Ongoing, embedded professional development is critical to developing and supporting innovative, networked and connected classrooms.

There is much research outlining the ineffectiveness of the one-size-fits-all approach that does not engage or inspire experimentation and critical learning. For teachers and those who work on their behalf, it is clear this model does not work, is expensive and continues to reinforce a de-professionalization of teaching.

The current model struggles to find a way to provide a complex profession — one that requires academic intelligence, emotional empathy, social work, therapy, administrative prowess, knowledge of new technologies and pedagogical skills — with the autonomy, time and resources to continuously build teachers’ expertise. Researchers, educators, policymakers and community stakeholders must continually engage in iterative cycles of research and development to ensure that professional learning opportunities meet teachers’ complex needs.

More evident impact resulting from professional development is necessary in order for schools and districts to justify their investments. For this to happen, systems have to change. Specifically, one-size-fits-all models need to be transformed to encourage personalized learning for teachers. These opportunities need to strengthen collaboration and meet targeted needs in specific educational contexts and communities.

If teachers are expected to design and build innovative learning cultures for their students, it is critical that they learn in trusted spaces that allow them to experiment and fail.

Teachers should be able to choose learning pathways that build upon their existing knowledge, experiences and interests, and support their goals for their students. Most importantly, if teachers are expected to design and build innovative learning cultures for their students, it is critical that they learn in trusted spaces that allow them to experiment and fail.

In recent years, disruptive technologies that support alternative credentialing (e.g., digital badges) have introduced the possibility of transitioning to a competency-based system for professional learning. However, a systemic overhaul is necessary for these new micro-credentialing systems to work, allowing districts and teachers to recognize the value of badges to demonstrate the implementation of professional learning — a critical component for effective PD.

Currently, most badges and/or micro-credentials equate to Continuing Education Units (CEUs) and these, in turn, equate to seat time. This is an important first step, but cannot be the only step. Badges and micro-credentials should unlock further learning opportunities and be awarded based on competency. Most importantly, they need to provide teachers with more benefits than a CEU credit hour, which is received at a traditional workshop with little demonstration of learning outcomes or implementation in the classroom.

Professional development should focus on providing teachers with support, research and tools that allow them a choice in what they make, and how they demonstrate the teaching and learning that best reflects the complexity of these processes.

Through the development of VIF’s Process Lab, supported by the Digital Media and Learning Competition (DML), and integration of Participate Learning into our current work, we will be closer to creating a space where teachers join inquiry groups and have opportunities to engage in building collective competencies toward shared learning goals. This will not impede teachers’ opportunities to pursue individual interests and pathways — it simply acknowledges that effective professional learning cannot occur isolation.

This post is part of a blog series titled “Professional Development: Learning Through Collaboration” produced in  partnership with VIF International Education (@vifglobaled). Join the conversation on Twitter using #collaborativePD. For more, check out Professional Development: Learning Through Collaboration and see:


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