What is Good Professional Development?

A recent twitter conversation with Justin Tarte evoked some thought regarding teacher professional development. His open-ended question went something like this, “how would teachers answer if you asked them how they stayed knowledgeable of innovations and policies in education?” My answer was, “hmmmm…. maybe blogs, social networking, attending conferences, reading journals, and continuing education.”  Continued conversation with Justin and other educators revealed an agreement that professional development must become a part of any teacher’s culture it is to impact student learning.

But what does the research say?  Just what is good professional development? How do school leaders and other policy makers implement programs that positively impact teacher practices and therefore, hopefully, student learning? In their book The Social Life of Information, Brown and Duguid (2000) declare:

Practice, then, both shapes and supports learning. We wouldn’t need to labor this point so heavily were it not that unenlightened teaching and training often pulls in the opposite direction (p. 129).

Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, a leader in professional development research, has recently released a new report by Leaning Forward. She and other researchers studied four states with above-average participation in professional development that also had gains in student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  The paper notes that there’s no causal data to link the approaches to professional development in Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont to their higher student achievement.  But the study could offer insights into better practices in districts across the nation.

The report is the final entry in a three-part study of professional development. Read this story for parts one and two.

The report says the four states shared features, including:

  • Common standards for professional development that are integrated into licensure and certification systems
  • Emerging efforts to audit and monitor the quality of professional development
  • Mentoring and induction requirements for new teachers, some of which are enforced
  • A network and infrastructure that offer support for site-based professional development
  • Stability of resources, even during the economic downturn.

Although many states have professional development standards, it’s sometimes difficult to know the extent to which those standards have “penetrated” the culture of K-12 systems.  The report lists some interesting initiatives for each state studied that suggests the message has come through in those places.  For example, schools in Vermont that miss adequate yearly progress for four years must implement the professional learning community model of professional development.  In Missouri, a state-run network of regional professional development centers review districts’ school improvement plans.

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About mprater

I'm a recently retired school teacher/administrator continuing to help people grow through personal learning. When not blogging, I do consulting work for schools and organizations, make presentations at conferences, and research for publication. At the same time, I have to set aside enough time to enjoy the "good life" of retirement!
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