Districts cannot just do more of the same. They have to develop new approaches to teacher learning on their campuses, approaches that create real changes in teacher practice and improve student achievement. Hence, the real challenge schools face is how to create opportunities for teachers to grow and develop in their practice so that they, in turn, can help students grow and develop their knowledge and ability to think critically
In this high-stakes era of higher standards and teacher evaluations based in part on student achievement, professional development has to have a laser-light focus on one thing— student learning. However, at present, most professional development misses the mark. One-time workshops are the most prevalent model for delivering professional development. Yet, workshops have an abysmal track record for changing teacher practice and student achievement. (Yoon et al, 2007).
Professional Development with Ease
“The Common Core standards focus on teaching for critical thinking, but research shows that most classroom instruction is weak in this area. Therefore, professional development needs to emphasize practices that will turn students into critical thinkers and problem solvers.”
Most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning. However, research suggests that effective professional development abides by the following principles:
The duration of professional development must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation problem.
There must be support for a teacher during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice.
Teachers’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage teachers through varied approaches so they can participate actively in making sense of a new practice.
Modeling has been found to be a highly effective way to introduce a new concept and help teachers understand a new practice.
The content presented to teachers shouldn’t be generic, but instead grounded in the teacher’s discipline (for middle school and high school teachers) or grade-level (for elementary school teachers).
Create Relevant Content
The overwhelming message of current accountability reforms is that student achievement is what matters most in a school building. However, the million-dollar question for districts is how to get there. This section makes the case that teacher learning is the best investment. Research suggests that the paradigm of instruction needed to prepare students for college and 21st century careers is not the paradigm of instruction most teachers currently use in their practice. In other words, teacher learning is the linchpin between the present day and the new academic goals.
“Research estimates that pre-recession spending on professional development occupied between two to five percent of a typical district’s budget. However, many districts do not track their professional development spending at all, leaving them in the dark about their costs..”
First, districts should recognize the problem isn’t that teachers don’t participate in professional development. It’s that, on the whole, the majority of the professional development they do participate in is ineffective. As mentioned, over 90 percent of teachers report having participated in professional development in the past year, but the majority also report that it wasn’t useful (DarlingHammond et al., 2009). This is because most development happens in a workshop-style model which research shows has little to no impact on student learning or teacher practice (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009).
The Implementation Problem
Why isn’t the workshop effective? Simply put, traditional professional development operates under a faulty theory of teacher learning. The one-time workshop assumes the only challenge facing teachers is a lack of knowledge of effective teaching practices and when that knowledge gap is corrected, teachers will then be able to change. Research finds otherwise. It turns out teachers’ greatest challenge comes when they attempt to implement newly learned methods into the classroom.