Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT THAT WORKS: A Model for Assessment-Driven Professional Development

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT THAT WORKS: A Model for Assessment-Driven Professional Development

Article excerpt

The standards movement has created a sense of urgency in school districts, Mr. Kelleher states, and this has made effective professional development more important than ever. He offers readers a six-stage model of a professional development cycle that can help clarify the connections between adult learning and student learning.

WITH THE increasing expectations for students, manifested through statewide standardized tests in nearly every state and the development of curriculum frameworks throughout the country, a heightened interest in both spending for professional development and the effect of adult learning on student learning has emerged. In addition to these shifts in focus, current research is redefining our notion of professional development.

Traditional professional development activities, such as teacher workshops and faculty meetings with guest speakers, have been criticized as "adult pull-out programs."1 These activities, which may or may not be connected to a particular school or district goal and often have no follow-up, tend to amount to a series of disjointed experiences that do not necessarily have any observable effect on education. Often there is little connection between the diverse workshops and speakers that are made available to teachers throughout a school year. To make matters worse, teachers have insufficient time and skills to be able to develop new teaching strategies based solely on what they have learned from conference sessions or other sources.

Dynamic speakers and interesting workshops may have some value, but schools and school districts must help educators translate their learning into instructional practices and student learning. Professional development is not just about what teachers want to know. Consider, for example, a teacher who might want to expand her knowledge of cooperative learning techniques. While her goal is valid, it becomes relevant only when it is seen in a larger context, one that is focused on student learning, driven by data, and nested within school-level and districtwide goals. In this context, there is an explicit connection between this teacher's learning and the results for students. Current research on professional development, which has shown that professional development must be embedded in teachers' daily work to improve student learning, has led school boards and administrators across the country to evaluate the results of their investment in adult learning. The standards movement, along with the push to increase the use of data in educational decision making, has intensified the pressure on school administrators to prove that professional development is showing positive results.

How do we measure our investment in professional development? It is no longer sufficient to ask teachers what they thought of a particular workshop session or guest speaker. The issue is not the educators' happiness quotient -- how satisfied teachers are with a particular workshop -- but rather what effect professional development will have on student learning.2 And there is no easy way to measure what programs or pursuits will lead to changes in student learning.

Once in a while a fascinating speaker or a stimulating conference, like a good documentary, is a good thing. Consider, for example, the Teachers As Scholars (TAS) programs that have emerged at universities across the country. These programs are designed to feed teachers' intellectual souls through seminars offered as professional development days at universities. The TAS programs are not always directly tied to student learning, yet the initial research has shown that teachers feel renewed after the experience and have been able to incorporate new ideas into their instructional practices.3 The TAS programs are helpful and interesting, yet they are add-ons rather than the primary thrust of professional development in those districts that have access to them.

This example raises an important point. …

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