Professional Development: Domains of knowledge and connections to practice
Professional development is often structured as a booster shot to reinvigorate teachers or as an inoculation against outmoded ways of teaching. These “one-shot deals” promise a sure cure or quick fix but seldom address teaching systemically or systematically. In contrast to this tricks-of the-trade approach, professional development should support teachers’ “rich and flexible knowledge of the subjects they teach”. Indeed, for years, research has called for sustained professional development that focuses on content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge.
Professional development is most effective when it: focused on content knowledge, offered opportunities for active learning, and worked coherently with other learning activities in teachers’ practice. The value of giving teachers the time during professional development to plan the implementation of what they have learned. Professional development should focus
However, it is difficult for professional development to serve all of these needs. It has been considered as the “essential tension” of professional development – which it seeks to, on the one hand, support teachers’ own learning and subject matter knowledge development, and on the other hand, offer practical pedagogical strategies and curriculum for classroom use.
Rather than ease this tension, professional development often ends up focusing on either content or pedagogy, leaving teachers to figure out the relationship between the two. Thus, teachers who learn disciplinary content then have to figure out which elements of that content are appropriate for their teaching context and how to scaffold lessons to support students’ understanding.
Meanwhile, teachers who learn generalized teaching strategies must adapt these to serve their content and context. In sum, effective professional development seems to involve teachers working together over a fairly extended period of time, deepening subject matter knowledge, and connecting this to classroom practice.