How Professional Development for Teachers Will Help Students Excel

How Professional Development for Teachers Will Help Students Excel

Never Stop Learning! This should be the new mantra for teachers.

Professional development for teachers has entered a new phase as a result of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and ongoing research on effective professional development. And it’s time to take notice.

ESSA defines professional development in which “activities are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused.” This definition is really a description of characteristics of professional development and can be closely aligned with the latest research.

Evidence Prevails

In their research brief Effective Teacher Professional Development (May 2017) Linda Darling-Hammond, Marie E. Tyler and Madelyn Gardner define effective professional development as “structured professional learning that results in changes in teaching practices and improvements in student learning outcomes.” This is truly what professional development should do. As teachers and leaders change practices as a result of professional development, student outcomes should improve.

I have spoken of John Hattie in a number of Blogs at this point. The research on the impact of professional development on student outcomes resulted in a .41 effect size, which is in the zone of desired effects and just above the. 40 hinge point. Professional development, when done right has an impact on student outcomes.

Professional development, when done right has an impact on student outcomes.

What Works Best for Professional Development for Teachers

Darling-Hammond and her colleagues identified seven attributes of effective professional development. They include:

  1. Content focused
  2. Incorporates active learning using adult learning theory
  3. Supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded situations
  4. Uses models and modeling of effective practice
  5. Provides coaching and export support
  6. Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection
  7. Is of sustained duration.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of the attributes…

Pay Attention to the Content

There are some instructional strategies that the professional development needs to be content specific, such as professional development on better understanding the mathematical practices and effectively teaching the mathematical practices or a specific program such as AVID.

Other professional development sessions are applicable to all content areas such as developing and using Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. The point is, when professional development is content specific, it is more effective than when it is a one size fits all.

Active Participants, Not Receptacles

Throughout the professional development, participants should be not only learning about the new strategy or initiative, but engaging in the strategy or initiative as their students would be doing. Just as you want your students in the classroom to be engaged in the learning, teachers need to be engaged in their learning as well.

Professional development for teachers and instruction for students should not be “sit and get” if you expect any learning to occur.

Just as you want your students in the classroom to be engaged in the learning, teachers need to be engaged in their learning as well.

In my Designing Performance Tasks seminar, teachers engage in creating a performance task for their students. They are practicing each step of the process as the seminar proceeds. They are active participants.

The teachers create a performance task they can use in their classroom. Teachers also have opportunities to engage as a team, process different components of their learning through the use of jigsaws, think-write-pair-share, and reflect on present practices.

Two Heads are Better than One

Effective professional development incorporates collaboration, which allows teachers to engage with each other as they are learning. When the collaboration is job-embedded the professional development is even more effective.

A school that I work with conducts lesson studies at least two to three times a year at each grade level. Teachers plan a lesson together and then one teacher is selected to teach the lesson but not to his/her class. The teachers then meet after the lesson and reflect on the effectiveness of the lesson followed by making adjustments to the lesson before the other teachers teach the lesson.

Both the principal and instructional coach collaborate with each lesson study team throughout the planning, instruction, reflection, and adjusting phases. This process allows the team of teachers to collaborate and practice any new practices such as developing and using learning intentions and success criteria.

Show me the Proof

When teachers are able to view videos of a teacher using a particular practice or strategy or observe a peer doing so, this is another effective attribute of professional development. Models and modeling is no different than providing exemplars of writing to students or completing a think-aloud as you write an introduction to an argument.

Analyzing a quality unit plan or formative pre-assessment as a team is means of using models. Another idea would be to conduct a fishbowl, in which someone proficient in the use of practice or strategy (principal, instructional coach, or a teacher) has a small mock class (of teachers) demonstrating a practice or strategy as the other teachers look on.

Search online for other sources of teacher videos. You could also create your own videos of teachers who are excelling with the strategy or the instructional coach could teach a class and be videotaped.

Many schools and districts now have internal websites or programs to share information such as Schoology. The goal of models and modeling is to show a clear picture of best practices in action or completed such as a unit plan or an assessment.

Expertise Can Make a Difference

Effective professional development also includes having a coach and or expert support that targets the teachers’ needs. The coaching or support could be one-on one in a classroom, a small group such as in grade level or team planning, or it could even be completed remotely through webinars, or calls.

The coaching will target the professional development needs of the teacher(s) whether it is a follow-up from a workshop on a particular strategy such as Writing to Learn Strategies or if it is on classroom management.

My Balanced Leadership Coaching is not just for educational leaders. It can be applied to teachers as well, because it is a combination of coaching and personalized professional development. Let’s call it Balanced Coaching.

During the coaching portion, the coach listens attentively and asks questions that challenge your thinking. The personalized professional development provides knowledge, concepts and skills that meet your individualized needs. Balanced (Leadership) Coaching can be accomplished over the phone, through technology, or on site in a classroom or with a grade level team.

What does it take to Improve?

Just as students deserve targeted and effective feedback, teachers deserve the same as they are implementing a new practice. They also need opportunities to reflect on the new practice either personally, with a team, or with a coach.

Effective feedback allows teachers to make adjustments to an instructional strategy in the classroom or on a unit plan or assessment he/she developed.

Reflecting is an opportunity for teachers to self-assess themselves. This reflection could be of a video of themselves teaching, or watching a video of another teacher modeling a particular strategy and reflecting on what he/she needs to adjust in his or her own classroom.

Effective professional development incorporates both feedback and reflection as the teachers are learning to implement a new practice.

Mastery Takes Time

The days of one shot professional development workshops are gone. As a teacher, back in the 1990’s, the only professional development I received was if I requested to go to a particular workshop on a certain topic. There were no building-wide or district professional development opportunities. The final element of quality professional development includes adequate time for teachers to learn, apply and adjust a new practice.

It is not a one-shot deal but multiple opportunities to practice and receive ongoing coaching or expert support as well as feedback and reflection. This could be over months, weeks or even years depending on the practice.

The days of one shot professional development workshops are gone.

Optimize Your Professional Development

Some of the best professional development I have done included an initial professional development workshop followed by implementation/coaching days. The initial professional development was on focused content: Data Teams and the steps to a Data Teams meeting.

Following the professional development, the district arranged for bimonthly visitations to the participating schools, for us to observe Data Teams conducting a meeting and feedback was provided. If a team was not meeting on that day, the team would provide a videotape of their meeting and the administration and I would review the Data Team meeting and reflect on the steps taken in the meeting. These bi-monthly meetings occurred over two years. This particular model incorporated almost all of the seven attributes of effective professional development.

What’s up Next for Your Professional Development?

As you’re are planning your next professional development days for your teachers, take into consideration the seven attributes of effective professional development. What attributes will make the greatest difference in the professional development?

Don’t sell professional development short for your teachers. If you want your students to thrive and exceed their potential, ensure your teachers and other school professionals receive effective professional development.

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Tracey Shiel

Tracey Shiel is author and consultant with over 20 years in the field of education. Through Thought Partners, she provides research-based educational services including balanced leadership coaching, professional development, implementation planning and execution support, and special educational projects of the highest quality. Her passion is with coaching educational leaders to achieve school and district improvement goals while enhancing leadership capabilities.