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Want to Boost Teacher Morale? Grow The Field of Curriculum-Based Professional Learning

As the 2022-23 school year continues, teacher morale remains front of mind for educators, students, and families. After almost three years of instability, teachers are demoralized, and in some parts of the nation, teacher vacancies abound.

Still, teachers have been clear about what they need — beyond better pay and respect for their expertise — teachers are calling for collaboration with colleagues, meaningful professional support, and support for work-life balance.

What is one path toward collaboration, support, and balance? Curriculum-based professional learning. At its best, curriculum-based professional learning promotes a collaborative environment where educators build content knowledge, develop plans to meet students’ needs, and test out lessons before delivery.

Because curriculum-based professional learning is grounded in existing standards-aligned curricula, curriculum-based professional learning saves teachers countless hours that might have been spent searching for materials. So, teachers can spend more time on the work that makes the job meaningful — building academic partnerships with colleagues, students, and families. In short, curriculum-based professional learning provides the collaboration teachers crave and supports work-life balance in ways that combat burnout.

But a recent RAND survey revealed that almost a quarter of teachers do not receive any professional learning tied to curricular materials, and over a third receive only 1 to 5 hours over an academic year. This means that more than half of the nation’s teachers deliver instruction without the support they need.

The Center for Public Research and Leadership’s newly released study, Curriculum-based Professional Learning: The State of the Field, explores the field’s progress in scaling curriculum-based professional learning, and provides a path forward. It reveals that the field of curriculum-based professional learning is only emerging. A somewhat diverse group of actors is promoting curriculum-based professional learning, but key voices —school leaders, teachers, students, and families — are often missing. A research base is being built, but key implementation practices (e.g., around scheduling shifts or financial resource allocation) are not yet fully understood. While actors agree on some features of curriculum-based professional learning (e.g., it must be grounded in curriculum), they disagree on key matters (e.g., whether it should focus on EdReports-vetted curricula only). And while the field has access to private and public funding, critical resource gaps remain.

To give teachers the curriculum-based professional learning they deserve

  • Prioritize quality. The field needs to strengthen and expand the evidence base for curriculum-based professional learning practices, testing practices and studying how they support impact, for whom, and under what circumstances. Then, they need to systematically and effectively execute on those ideas.
  • Engage those on the periphery. The field needs to engage more actors that could shape its direction and expand its reach. This includes school leaders, teachers, students, families, educator preparation programs, professional associations, and regional service agencies.
  • Leverage economies of scale. Some schools and districts that want access to curriculum-based professional learning can’t afford it, and some providers can’t afford to reach smaller districts. The field needs to explore delivery methods that enable districts to share resources.

The curriculum-based professional learning field has a long way to go before it reaches its potential, but the sooner the field can strengthen and scale its efforts, the better. As the impact of the pandemic continues to reverberate, our nation’s teachers — and students — simply cannot wait.