Magazine article The Learning Professional

Professional Learning's Spillover Effect Is Real - and a Real Opportunity for School and System Leaders

Magazine article The Learning Professional

Professional Learning's Spillover Effect Is Real - and a Real Opportunity for School and System Leaders

Article excerpt

The benefits of teacher collaboration within and across schools are well-known. Researchers of this study provide empirical evidence about the benefits of teacher interaction as a mechanism to diffuse the effects of professional development (the term used throughout this study) to improve instructional practices.

Study description

This study examined the knowledge flow and spillover effects of teachers' professional development on their peers' instructional practices in writing across multiple disciplines. The current study used data from three school years, 2007-10, which were part of a larger longitudinal evaluation study of the National Writing Project's school partnership.

In the larger study, data were derived from teachers, who had limited or no prior experience with Local Writing Project sites, in 39 middle schools serving 7th- and 8th-grade students. The schools were randomly assigned to partnership (treatment) or delayed partnership (control) cohorts.

Teachers across subject areas in 20 partnership schools participated in customized professional development provided by their Local Writing Project over two years. Nineteen schools, with features comparable in school contexts and teacher characteristics to the control schools, became delayed partnership schools and agreed to defer schoolwide professional development in writing for the subsequent two years except for state or district requirements.

Researchers, building on prior studies of peer effects, impact of professional development, social networks, and knowledge diffusion, studied the effects of professional development on peers' instructional practice.

Few studies have examined the spillover effect of high-quality professional development in content areas and on peer instructional practices. Spillover effect is defined as "the effects of school-based professional development on instructional practices above and beyond the direct effects on teachers who participated in professional development" (p. 345).

Through interactions with colleagues who participate in effective professional development, teachers who do not participate directly benefit and consequently change their instructional practices.

Questions and hypotheses

Researchers posed two questions and corresponding hypotheses:

"1. How do the duration, content foci, and learning strategies of professional development affect the number of colleagues a teacher helps with teaching writing? ...

"Hypothesis 1: Teachers are more likely to provide help with writing instruction if they participated in highquality professional development. ...

"2. How do teachers' changes in their instructional practices result from interacting with colleagues who had gained expertise from their prior professional development? ...

"Hypothesis 2: The expertise that teachers gain from participation in professional development will spread to colleagues through the provision of help and thus change colleagues' instructional practices" (pp. 347-348).


The study's methodology included three annual surveys of certified staffin each school in the spring semester of Year 1 (baseline year), Year 2 (first year of professional development), and Year 3 (second year of professional development), with an average response rate above 90% across all three years and all schools.

Standard deviations for school contexts, including student achievement as defined by meeting Adequate Yearly Progress, and teacher characteristics across partnership and delayed partnership schools were comparable.


Researchers employed separate statistical analyses with mathematical modeling to examine the relationship between dependent and independent variables at the teacher level in the partnership and delayed partnership schools to isolate effects since there were wide variations in professional development across partnership schools and some delayed partnership schools experienced professional development with similar features to those in the partnership schools. …

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