Academic journal article Rural Educator

High-Quality Teaching: Providing for Rural Teachers' Professional Development

Academic journal article Rural Educator

High-Quality Teaching: Providing for Rural Teachers' Professional Development

Article excerpt

This article was adapted from a Policy Brief with the same title, published by the Appalachia Educational Laboratory. This work was sponsored wholly or in part by the Institute of Education Sciences(IES), U.S. Department of Education, under contract number ED-01-C0-0016. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of IES, the Department, or any other agency of the government.

Policymakers and educators see professional development as a way to improve the quality of instruction in classrooms across the nation, but the empirical literature linking professional development to improved student achievement is extremely thin. Logically, though, it would seem that the right kinds of professional development would improve instruction, and that better instruction would result in higher student achievement. Very limited empirical evidence suggests that such linkages may exist.

Quite a number of studies report that teachers believe professional development improves their teaching (Sandercock, 1996; Nadolny, 1999). A few studies-particularly case studies-report changes in teachers' practice that seem to result from their participation in professional development (Bodone & Addie, 1999; Borko, Elliott & Uchiyama, 2002). In addition, some experimental evidence suggests that certain instructional practices that teachers can learn to deploy are, in the main, somewhat more successful than other practices (Baker & Beisel, 2001; Burrowes, 2003).

Other research is less sanguine, however, suggesting that traditional teaching often persists even after participation in programs that seek to foster improved instructional practice (Caret, Birman, Porter, Desimone & Herman, 1999). Furthermore, an accumulating body of research about teachers who "add value" (i.e., help students achieve at higher-than-expected levels, given their previous attainment) suggests that high-performance teaching has less to do with particular instructional practices than it does with content knowledge (Goldhaber & Brewer, 1997) or with some as-yet-undiscovered set of characteristics (Sanders & Horn, 1998).

Three Proposed Principles of Organizational Learning

Which features of professional development actually might serve to increase schools' instructional capacity? Because so little education research exists, we turn to recent organizational research and theory, which reveal three principles that are thought to contribute to expanded organizational capacity.

1. Learning must be situated (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998).

2. Learning requires open and sustained dialog among members of the organization (Senge, 1994).

3. Learning depends upon the propensity to reflect on data about organizational performance (Choo, 1998).

Several approaches to professional development draw on these principles.

Professional learning communities

Some authors have advocated sustained programs of school-level professional development under the aegis of "the professional learning community" (Boyd & Hord, 1994; Hord, 1997; Hord, 1998; WaId & Castleberry, 2000). With this approach, all educators in a school assume responsibility for students' success by themselves becoming learners. Educators engage in learning collaboratively and share widely what they learn. Typically, the focus of professional learning communities is on teaching practice, so these efforts feature reflective inquiry in a variety of ways.

Data-based improvement

Grounded in management approaches such as Total Quality Management, some improvement strategies involve educators in the establishment of standards and benchmarks followed by an ongoing process of assessment and classroom-level reform. The Malcolm Baldrige program is perhaps the best-known approach of this type, but there are other, less prescriptive alternatives (Walpole & Noeth, 2002). With all such approaches, the processes used to set standards and periodically assess performance constitute professional development Feldman & Tung, 2001). …

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