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5 Hallmarks of Quality Professional Development for Substitutes

November 30, 2023   •   Insights

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Contributed By: Jessie Weiser, Chief Operating Officer, Substantial Classrooms & Erin Ruegg, Director of Teaching & Learning, Substantial Classrooms

Are you hoping to provide more training and support to your substitute teachers in the coming year? You aren’t alone. Across the country, school districts are increasingly relying on subs to staff classrooms, and are grappling with how to better prepare and support them.  

At Substantial, we work with HR teams around the country to implement meaningful professional development (PD) for subs. Through research and experience, we’ve learned what subs need to know and be able to do to be successful. We distilled the key skills, knowledge, and qualities into a Sub Competency Framework that serves as the foundation of SubSchool, our PD program, and can also guide you, if you want to design your own programming.

Whether you are building your own sub PD or seeking an external partner to provide it for you, keep in mind the “Five Rs” of strong professional learning programs for substitute teachers:

  1. Role-Specific: While it’s a nice gesture of inclusion to invite subs to traditional teacher PD, that typically doesn’t offer subs what they need. As interim staff members, subs need different skills and strategies than their peers in permanent roles. For example, teacher training on classroom management emphasizes building relationships and systems, but because subs often are in a class for only a day or two, they need strategies for quickly establishing rapport and setting expectations. Also, since most subs haven’t completed educator prep programs, they need some foundational knowledge before they can access deeper learning in curriculum and instruction. 

  2. Robust: Substantial’s competency framework outlines three essential things that subs need to be trained on: managing classroom culture and routines, facilitating instruction, and understanding their role on campus. High-quality training programs go deep in each of these areas, giving subs both enough background information to understand why an idea is important and practical tools and strategies that illuminate how to put that idea into practice in the classroom.

  3. Reflective: Research on adult learning emphasizes the importance of active learning cycles - understanding a concept, implementing it, reflecting and getting feedback on what went well and what could be better, and then trying again. The best PD programs for subs invite this type of iteration and guided growth - and are structured to encourage it. Learning for subs should not be a pre-service, one-and-done experience. They call teaching a practice for a reason - it’s not something you master immediately; it’s a skill that you build and hone over time.

  4. Relevant: Professional learning must reflect the current reality of schools and substitute teaching - which has changed since most subs were students (and rather dramatically in the last few years). For example, subs are teaching more diverse groups of students in more active classroom environments. They’re being asked to leverage more technology to facilitate learning. And, they’re serving in more long-term roles as teacher vacancies and absences increase. Subs’ training needs to speak to real-world and contemporary scenarios that they will encounter. 

  5. Rooted in Community: Finally, the best PD programs include opportunities for subs to connect with each other to find peer support and share their learning. Over and over, we’ve seen that the most powerful learning comes from a substitute hearing insights from a peer, and making connections to their own experiences. 

In this post-pandemic moment, with the teacher shortage and increased teacher absences, subs are being asked to teach more than ever before, and the need to provide them with quality professional learning is becoming increasingly urgent. Remember that the ultimate goal of any sub PD program is to support subs to become educators, not just placeholders. Subs must be equipped to keep learning going - and provide students with a positive, enriching experience - in every classroom where they work. It’s what your students - and your subs - deserve.

Substantial offers Red Rover partners a 10% discount on subscriptions to SubSchool, their professional development platform. Learn more at substantialclassrooms.org/subschool, or email info@subschool.org to schedule a demo today!

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