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Strength in Numbers: Group Learning in Professional Development

02 Jul 2015 by Jessica Swope


The Good

What’s so great about being a preschool teacher? A lot, actually. Working with kids can be an enormously rich, rewarding experience, one that’s regularly sprinkled with “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” moments.

  • Like the moment a child hands you a picture they’ve drawn for you of you.

  • Like the moment a child’s face lights up when you start singing their favorite song.

  • Like that moment when you’ve engaged all the kids in an activity that brings glee (sheer glee!) into the classroom.

How many other professions include daily helpings of glee?

The Bad

But being a preschool teacher is not without its downsides. The demands on preschool teachers—from children, parents, and administration—can feel impossibly high, and the stress can be intense, often even overwhelming.

Preschool teachers also experience a surprising amount of isolation in their profession. They’re surrounded by people all day (tiny ones prone to meltdowns and random bouts of “the sillies"), but the day in the life of a preschool teacher does not often include time to collaborate—or even check in—with their grown-up colleagues.

Combine this multi-directional stress with professional isolation, and it’s no wonder that there’s an alarmingly high turnover rate for preschool teachers. That’s where group participation in professional development can really make a difference.

The Solution: Group Learning

More and more professional development programs include some form of group participation, leaning on group learning activities, teacher study groups, or professional learning communities to connect teachers in shared learning goals. By giving teachers the opportunity to learn with their colleagues and hold each other accountable, group participation in PD can take the edge off isolation and help teachers actually transfer what they learn to the classroom.

The benefits of group learning include:

  • CollaborationTeachers feel more connected to and supported by their colleagues

  • EmpowermentTeachers feel more empowered to implement new teaching practices

  • FocusTeachers feel more focused on what they’re learning

  • AccountabilityTeachers feel accountable by colleagues for both learning and improvement

These benefits aren’t just applicable to in-person group learning; they’re also applicable to online group learning and collaboration. Online professional development programs with some form of group learning (online group activities, facilitated online discussions, etc.) have also been shown to give teachers a boost, both in how much they improve and how empowered and supported they feel to continue learning and improving. 


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