The importance of ongoing professional development

Research on effective professional development suggests that for teachers to successfully change their practices in ways that lead to meaningful change in student outcomes, teachers need time, opportunities to practice, feedback, and institutional support.

Some key findings:

  1. Teachers need time - Numerous studies show that professional development is much more successful at changing teaching practice and student outcomes if it is sustained over time and is intensive. One-shot professional learning workshops rarely lead to effective, sustained changes because they don’t offer teachers opportunities to practice the new skills and get feedback.

    20 The number, on average, of separate instances of practice it takes a teacher to master a new skill, and this number may increase if a skill is exceptionally complex.

    Joyce & Showers, 2002

  2. Collaboration is key - When teachers within a school collaborate during professional development, they learn from each other and feel more supported.
  3. Concrete connections to practice - Teachers need opportunities to connect what they are learning to their own content area, grade level, and classroom/cultural context. This means they need opportunities to adapt content, test it, and refine implementation of the new material or practices within their own classrooms.
  4. Connected to school initiatives - Professional learning is most effective when there is administrative support. If a teacher is forging ahead as a lone wolf to bring in new ideas, they are less likely to maintain the effort needed to create effective and sustained change.

    If teachers sense a disconnect between what they are urged to do in a professional development activity and what they are required to do according to local curriculum guidelines, texts, assessment practices, and so on—that is, if they cannot easily implement the strategies they learn, and the new practices are not supported or reinforced—then the professional development tends to have little impact.

    Darling-Hammond et al., 2009

To learn more about the research on effective professional development, see these two reports:

Sources: Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R. C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession. Washington, DC: National Staff Development Council. Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the teachers: Effective professional development in an era of high stakes accountability. Center for Public Education. September.
Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
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