Summer can be a good time to boost teacher practices
Opportunities for practicing student-centered skills and developmental feedback is more critical than ever
Ninety-nine percent of teachers engaged in some type of summer professional learning activities in 2019 and applied relevant strategies and tools to improve their school year practices. Yet, according to a first-ever national survey of teachers’ summer professional learning highlighted in a recent RAND Corporation study, opportunities for developmental feedback as part of summer professional learning were uncommon. On the heels of the COVID-19 crisis and extended school closures, access to high-quality professional learning experiences for teachers is more critical than ever.
RAND surveyed K-12 teachers nationally through its American Teacher Panel (ATP) and studied BellXcel Summer (BXS), an evidence-based summer program model that provides academic instruction, rooted in social and emotional learning (SEL), to students and professional learning opportunities for teachers. The study explored the national context of professional learning, including teacher perceptions of their experiences, and investigated how BXS teacher experiences compare with those in other programs across the country.
The research evidence is clear that summer is a prime opportunity for children to strengthen academic and social and emotional skills, and teachers to strengthen their professional development, through high-quality, evidence-based programs. Study co-author, Elizabeth D. Steiner, a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, commented,
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequities that affect students’ ability to learn and nearly all students have been affected by school closures. Our survey of teachers found those employed in summer programs that provide academic instruction could also improve in certain classroom practices during the school year – particularly strategies to support students’ SEL and positive behavior management.”
BellXcel CEO Lauren Gilbert, Ed.D, a former educator and school administrator, remarked,
“Summer programs are more critical than ever to mitigate learning loss, and this study clearly demonstrates that teachers need to be part of that catch-up initiative. Programs such as those powered by BXS offer teachers powerful, on-the-job professional development opportunities to freely explore and expand their student-centered instruction skills and practices - including positive behavior management and social and emotional learning, without the pressures and constraints of the school year.”
Academic summer programs for students—run by school districts and community-based youth development organizations alike—can incorporate teacher professional learning into their own summer programs. The findings in this study can help school leaders and program administrators to make teacher professional learning an intentional piece of their programs and focus on strategies that teachers can use during the school year.
- Nationally, 99 percent of teachers participated in one or more professional learning activities over the summer and believed that they were relevant, helpful for improving instructional practice, and just as useful as other activities the teachers’ schools and districts provided. However, opportunities to receive developmental feedback (i.e., feedback for the purpose of developing instructional skills) about instruction in the summer were uncommon.
- Teaching in an academic-focused summer program may provide teachers nationally with opportunities—such as coaching and observations—to receive developmental feedback about instruction and to practice and improve in certain classroom practices.
- According to teachers, BellXcel Summer (BXS), an academic-focused summer program for students that provides professional learning opportunities to its teachers, had a positive and supportive environment that supported their professional learning.
- BXS teachers reported that the absence of school-year constraints such as testing and curriculum pacing requirements made the use of some student-centered classroom practices easier during the summer than during the school year.
- BXS teachers were more likely than teachers nationally to report that their summer professional learning experiences helped them improve their use of student-centered practices during the school year.
- Academic summer programs may provide unique professional learning opportunities for teachers to practice and improve their use of student-centered classroom practices—particularly positive behavior management and promoting social and emotional learning for students. BXS provided useful insights into the features of academic summer programs that may facilitate teachers’ professional learning, such as the absence of school-year constraints paired with positive and supportive teaching environments.