Recently, the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) released a report on the current status of teacher development in the United States and abroad. The report, a joint effort by the NSDC and the School Redesign Network at Stanford University, is the first in a multi-year study, The Status of Professional Development in the United States.
The purpose of the study is to examine the state of professional development for educators, both in the United States and in competing nations, to determine how best to define effective professional development. Policymakers and school leaders can then use the resulting research as a basis for establishing the framework that will lead to powerful professional learning, instructional improvement, and consequently, increased student achievement.
The report identifies four characteristics of effective professional development—i.e., training that improves a teacher’s instructional practice and thus ultimately improves student outcomes.
1 Professional development is intensive, ongoing, and connected to practice.
When professional development occurs over time, offering teachers 80 or more hours of training in a year in ways that connect the topic of study with classroom practice and activity, teachers are more likely to put the strategies they learn into practice. Ongoing, intensive training gives teachers the opportunity to practice what they learn and to reflect on its efficacy. This is the approach that Safe & Civil Schools takes in all of its professional development. For example, CHAMPS offers Self-Assessment Checklists and Peer Study Worksheets to encourage teacher self-reflection and peer collaboration.
2 Professional development should focus on student learning and address the teaching of specific curriculum content.
The report suggests that teachers learn best when they attend professional development that “addresses the concrete, everyday challenges involved in teaching” and in which the subject matter bears on what students need to know. Furthermore, teachers are more likely to try techniques they have seen modeled for them in their training or “hands-on” techniques they have the opportunity to explore while in training. All Safe & Civil Schools professional developers follow these precepts, taking care to model procedures and allow ample time for participants to practice during training sessions.
3 Professional development should align with school improvement priorities and goals.
When professional development ties into a larger school improvement effort, teachers are more likely to use the things they have learned. Within a larger movement, teachers receive the support and reinforcement to sustain changes in practice. This is largely the reason that Safe & Civil Schools offers comprehensive professional development on the three levels of school organization—schoolwide, classroom, and individual student. It is much easier for a teacher to devise an effective classroom management plan when other teachers are doing the same thing within the framework of a larger schoolwide effort to manage student behavior.
4 Professional development should build strong working relationships among teachers.
The report cites a wealth of evidence that working in a collegial atmosphere in professional learning communities contributes to improved instructional practice and increased student achievement. Safe & Civil Schools encourages this type of team effort in all of its materials and professional development services, from the Leadership Teams in a schoolwide behavior improvement effort, to teacher Peer Study groups in classroom management efforts, on to the collaborative intervention planning for individual student behavior change.
The report offers two strategies for professional learning that show promise in the research.
School-based coaching may enhance professional learning by encouraging collaborative reflection and revision of instructional practice. Mentoring and induction programs for new teachers may also support teacher effectiveness for the same reasons. Teachers, new teachers especially, benefit from ongoing coaching and mentoring because these activities provide helpful support and encouragement.
The report concludes with the proposition that a new paradigm in professional development is needed that incorporates the properties outlined above. Professional development in the United States lags behind that of our international counterparts. As a rule, teachers in the U.S. currently acquire professional development in brief, disjointed workshops that are frequently disconnected from their everyday classroom practice. While the U.S. has made some progress with instructional coaching and induction programs, it falls behind in:
...providing public school teachers with chances to participate in extended learning opportunities and productive collaborative communities in which they conduct research on education related topics; to work together on issues of instruction; to learn from one another through mentoring or peer coaching; and collectively to guide curriculum, assessment, and professional learning decisions.
For a copy of the full report, visit the NSDC site and download the PDF.