Just as we strive to develop a spirit of lifelong learning in our students, we also realize that our educators must continue to learn to be effective in teaching our students.

You may wonder, "Why do teachers attend professional development or continue to take additional college courses if they already have a degree?" The reason is that it is what's best for our students.

When it comes to student achievement, teachers are one of the most important factors in outcomes.

It is critical to the education of our children that we equip every teacher with the tools and skills necessary to grow and develop our young learners.

Professional development is simply learning in which educators engage to enhance their practice. This learning may look different depending on the educator's desired experience.

Professional learning can be delivered through a workshop, where educators meet with an expert in a certain content area or topic and work with that expert to learn about new teaching practices and receive guidance or advice. They may engage in educational conferences, coming together with others from across the district, state, nation and/or world to network and learn from each other. Educators may choose to research a topic of interest then incorporate their new knowledge into the classroom and reflect on the impact it has on their students.

In the South-Western City School District, we also invest in our own job-embedded professional development through mentoring and coaching.

Mentoring includes matching new teachers with veteran teachers to have an experienced educator help that new teacher reflect on practices and growth as a professional. Coaching includes professional learning that is grounded in day-to-day teaching practices and is designed to enhance teachers' content-specific instructional practices.

Both mentoring and coaching are primarily classroom-based and integrated into the workday, with the goal of improving student learning through assessing and finding solutions for authentic and immediate problems of practice.

Finding the time to engage in professional development is difficult, but technology has made this easier for our staff. The benefit of technology is that not all professional development has to be conducted in a face-to-face environment.

While there is definitely a need for synchronous or 'live' professional development, when time is limited, technology can be utilized to deliver asynchronous professional development that can be accessed anytime from any location. Professional development may include research or articles to read, video examples of what high-quality classroom practices look like, online courses and book talks through discussion boards and social media.

The district also is building a professional development website for easy and efficient access to all of the online materials.

Most educators will tell you they are never done learning and growing as a professional. At SWCSD, we are deeply invested in providing all of our educators with opportunities to grow their craft and be the best they can be for our students.

Maria Boyarko is the coordinator of staff development for the South-Western City School District.