How Effective Teacher Professional Development Relates to Student Achievement
Not All PD Is Created Equal
Despite how effective teacher professional development (PD) is frequently envisioned, structured, and executed, its purpose should not just be increasing the knowledge of adults. The purpose of teacher PD should be to enhance or change teacher behavior and ultimately impact student learning.
Professional development by itself does not have a large impact on student learning. When PD changes teacher behaviors and increases teacher effectiveness, however, you're well on your way. Student achievement is directly correlated with and affected by teacher professional learning and effectiveness, and not all PD to that end is created equal. PD must be ongoing, job-embedded, and collaborative to be most effective.
What Did PD Look Like in 2018?
The 5 most common types of teacher development are as follows:
1. Periodic workshops
According to Schoology's 2018 Global State of Digital Learning Survey, 60% of institutions participate in this type of professional development, represented by a series of workshops presented over time. For example, a math department might meet quarterly to develop assessment writing skills and to develop common summative assessments across their courses.
2. Single session workshops
This type of PD could entail anything from one shot, large group "sit and get" style sessions to one-day guided field trips. Schoology's survey revealed that 44% of institutions participate in this type of PD.
3. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
The brainchild of Rick DuFour, PLCs represent purposeful, collaborative group efforts to ensure student learning and stay laser-focused on producing results. 40% of institutions participate in this form of PD, according to Schoology's study. A caution here: Many districts and schools often claim they are completing PLC-style work but the PD falls short of what that should look like in practice.
4. In-class observation
Schoology's 2018 Global State of Digital Learning Survey stated that 35% of institutions participate in this type of PD. Potentially one of the most powerful forms of professional development, in-class observation involves observing the instructional methods of colleagues and engaging in modeling, coaching, and feedback activities.
5. Regular ongoing coaching
Periodic workshops can feel like silos. Ongoing coaching feels more like continuous engagement and improvement. For example, a first year teacher might work with an instructional coach to implement literacy strategies in the classroom. Instead of a series of separate meetings, the coach would provide ongoing, embedded support throughout the year. According to Schoology, 24% of institutions participate in this type of PD.
Unfortunately, the two most common types of PD are not the most effective. Fortunately, that is changing. Many institutions are now embracing a PLC and coaching culture, and that represents progress for education as a whole.
What Effective Teacher Professional Development Means for Students
When professional development improves teacher learning, enhances or changes teacher behavior, and increases student learning, you have hit the PD sweet spot. Effective teachers must take part in high-quality professional development "that is focused squarely on increasing teachers' content and pedagogical content knowledge and teaching skills" and combined with continuing coaching, support, and a focus on results. When those conditions are met, students learn more. After all, as Hayes Mizell said: "Good teaching is not an accident."
Let's say your middle school is planning to roll out a new teacher-based team (TBT) approach. In addition to an introductory series of workshops, teacher teams meet to review, discuss, and model TBT protocols and processes for each other using real student data. Ongoing support from school and district leadership helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and the initiative soon becomes a system. Teacher teams begin to use student data collectively to implement instructional strategies, review data, reflect, and adjust accordingly. Students benefit from the guaranteed and viable curriculum that has been created as a result of the professional development their teachers have received.
The Definition of Insanity…
…is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. A misattributed quote and a cliché to be sure, but appropriate in this case! Student achievement gaps tell us that teacher professional development is still mired in the popular workshop model that may or may not produce student learning gains. You can end this unproductive PD cycle by having deeper, embedded, ongoing effective teacher professional development, utilizing 21st century learning platforms to do so.
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