Best Practices in Professional Learning and Teacher Preparation Series: Author Q&A
Best Practices in Professional Learning and Teacher Preparation Series: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, July 22, 2020 by Andilynn Feddeler

The Best Practices in Professional Learning and Teacher Preparation series provides specific strategies for professional development in a variety of settings using research-based methods. Learn more about the series and how to address the needs of gifted and talented students in this interview with the editors, Angela M. Novak, Ph.D., and Christine L. Weber, Ph.D.

Q: How are the volumes in the series organized? How did you decide what to include in each volume?

A: There are three volumes in the series. We decided that the first volume should set the stage with a discussion of various methods and strategies for gifted professional development, emphasizing the research and best practices in the field. For the second volume, we knew educators would benefit from insightful strategies for planning professional learning related to special populations and programmatic issues. In the third volume, we discussed what a big-picture view of professional learning for curriculum development would look like and also included a series of chapters with a content focus. How could professional learning be organized or structured? What resources are available to help plan professional learning specific to that discipline? 

In all three volumes, the authors emphasize what those working with gifted students should know and how educators can develop the skills to be more effective in their classrooms. We tapped a variety of experts in the field to help guide us away from a professional development outcome to a professional learning model that promotes valuable strategies to support successful programs and services for gifted learners.

Q: How can educators best apply the theories and strategies in the series to their own practices?

A: In the volumes’ chapters, readers will find an introduction of the chapter topic, an overview of the needs within that topic, professional development/professional learning strategies specific to chapter topic (content chapters in Volume 3 focused on K–12 learners), implications/new insights, a summary, and resources, if appropriate (required for Volume 3). Novice and veteran educators could benefit from the chapter contents when designing professional learning in their schools. We made sure to include a wide range of topics and asked ourselves how we might best proceed in designing and implementing effective professional learning, addressing what would it look like, what would be important to include, what the research says or what are best practices related to the particular topic, what resources could be provided, and more. 

Q: Why is it important for professional development/learning to be a continual process?

A: The work in all three volumes supports the 2019 NAGC Pre-K–Grade 12 Gifted Education Programming Standards, specifically Standard 6: Professional Learning. From Learning Forward, a professional organization devoted to quality professional learning in education, we have an additional set of standards promoting sustained and supportive data-driven collaborative learning communities that utilize well-developed resources, are aligned with student and educator performance outcomes, take place within a research-based learning design, and are facilitated by skilled leaders. Although professional development practices in the past have focused on passive learning, such as forums, workshops, or lectures, professional learning now represents an evolution in this thinking—an interactive, modernized approach to continual education for practitioners, as espoused in the three books.

Q: What specific populations of learners are addressed in the series? How are their different needs accounted for?

A: Volume 2 has a specific emphasis on special populations, including twice-exceptional learners, those within the LGBTQ community, students with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse and underachieving gifted learners. Finding English language learners, acceleration, and social-emotional issues are programmatic topics addressed. Authors focus on what is important to learn (goals for the professional learning) and what is unique about these special populations before learning how to best meet their needs in the classroom, highlighting professional learning strategies that would enhance that knowledge and understanding.

Q: How do you see all three volumes being used, or how can these books be used within a professional learning workshop/training? Who is the ideal audience?

A: Where to begin? This series contains such a wealth of resources, including a chapter on how professional learning facilitators can help those who demonstrate a fixed mindset move toward a growth mindset when attending professional learning opportunities. Professional learning is essential for all educators (administrators, teachers, counselors, and other instructional support staff) involved in the development and implementation of gifted programs and services. We include a chapter devoted to professional learning for parents, as many educators understand the need for a family partnership, complete with a suggested parent needs assessment to help identify topics to get you started. These books were written to support the ESSA Standards reflecting the definition of professional learning, “meaning activities that . . . are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom focused” (S. 1177, Section 8002, p. 295, para. 42). 

As authors and editors, we knew what was lacking in our own personal experiences when either facilitating or attending professional learning. We wanted to be sure to provide strategies that would help those of us new to the field and those who have been in the field for some time with inspiration and ideas, especially about topics that may not be within our areas of expertise. Perhaps, we may even challenge ourselves to reflect on what is effective professional learning and our role in educating others. We hope that these volumes encourage educators to organize professional learning that makes a difference. We hope to model what those best practices look like in effective professional learning environments. Finally, we endeavor to raise the bar for professional learning in our field.

Christine L. Weber, Ph.D., is a professor of Childhood Education, Literacy, and TESOL at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville. Angela M. Novak, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of elementary and middle grades education at East Carolina University, in Greenville, NC.