How to Plan Teacher Professional Development for School Improvement

by | Feb 16, 2021


Why do you want to invest in professional development for your teachers? Maybe you want to equip teachers with specific tools, such as remote instruction strategies that serve students during the pandemic. Perhaps your school is a Title I “Needs Improvement” school, and you need teachers to understand their role in boosting student achievement. Whatever your goals are, you’ll find dozens of PD options that claim to meet your needs. Let’s take a step back to unpack the evidence about high-quality teacher professional development.

Evidence That Teacher Professional Development Impacts Student Achievement

First of all, how do we know whether teacher professional development is worth your team’s time and financial investments? Educational research continues to show evidence that high-quality PD has a positive impact on student achievement:

  • RAND reports that teachers have the most significant impact on student achievement, compared with all other school factors.
  • In their 2017 study, Gore et al. find that professional development significantly improves teaching quality.
  • REL Southwest’s 2007 report finds that teacher professional development can improve student achievement by 21%.

However, not all PD is created equal. PD must meet teachers’ current skill levels, target specific areas for improvement, and include follow-up to help teachers implement what they have learned.

What Makes Teacher Professional Development High-Quality?

In their 2007 review of research on teacher professional development, REL Southwest identifies high-quality PD as:

  • Intensive, sustained, and implemented with fidelity — A “one-off” PD workshop is not sufficient to improve teaching quality. In studies where teachers had less than 15 hours of PD, student achievement was not significantly affected. Instead, school leaders should prepare regular PD sessions that build upon each other to train teachers on increasingly more challenging skills and instructional strategies. These sessions should be supplemented with coaching to help teachers actually implement what they have learned.
  • Content-focused, coherent, and well-defined — PD should be aligned with your school’s curriculum and grade-level standards. Training must draw a clear connection between instructional strategies and tools, and curriculum standards. Additionally, a PD schedule should be finalized well in advance to ensure teachers have the time to practice relevant skills before they need to implement what they’ve learned in the classroom. A well-planned PD plan also sets expectations for teachers’ learning so teachers understand where they should focus their professional growth efforts.
  • Evidence-based — The PD should be informed by an evidence-based theory of teacher learning and change. REL Southwest recommends that school leaders look to research that meets What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards to decide which PD strategies they should use.

Principals and other school leaders have a seemingly endless list of demands on their time, and analyzing all the research on teacher PD can feel overwhelming. At the Center for Student Achievement Solutions, we have already done the hard work of narrowing down evidence-based PD strategies. Now, we’re ready to learn about your teachers’ specific strengths and needs. Schedule a free call with one of our consultants to start customizing your PD strategy to meet your school improvement goals.

How to Create a Teacher Professional Development Strategy That Works

As we work with schools, districts, and Departments of Education around the country, we continue to find that a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for professional development is not effective. Your teachers each have unique backgrounds and professional experiences that influence their individual knowledge and skills.

Here are the steps you can use to customize proven PD strategies to meet your schools’ needs:

  1. Using a diverse mix of data sources, identify target areas for teacher improvement.

Leadership teams should use data to identify just two or three specific areas for improvement they want to target with professional development over the next year. Having too many focus areas spreads resources too thin to provide meaningful, effective PD in any one area. Your team may want to work with a professional consultant who can draw upon their past experiences with other schools and districts to advise your leaders about how to prioritize PD focus areas.

CSAS consultants always recommend that you analyze teacher performance and student achievement data to inform your PD priorities. School leaders must look at more than just end-of-year test scores. Principals can understand the bigger picture of their school’s performance by analyzing data that:

  • Is collected at the school, district, state, and national levels
  • Is provided not only by official sources, but also from teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders
  • Contains a mixture of quantitative and qualitative information
  • Represents different student performance factors, including test scores, attendance and graduation rates, etc.
  • Is gathered through a variety of data collection methods

Trends in data can help your team decide which areas of focus will have the greatest overall impact on your school performance.

  1. Set clear goals and decide how you will measure progress.

Ensure everyone, including your school leaders, teachers, and support staff, is on the same page with your school improvement goals. Specific, clear goals help everyone on your team understand their roles in driving your school’s success.

Also, define what progress will look like and how it will be monitored and measured. CSAS consultants often recommend measuring factors such as:

  • Teacher proficiency with new instructional skills and tools
  • Teacher morale and commitment
  • Student engagement
  • Student achievement at end of the unit study, formative and summative assessments

Your consultant can also advise you on the systems and tools your school will need to collect data to measure this progress. We find that many schools simply don’t have systems in place to track school performance data. We can help your team develop sustainable routines that build the foundation for data-driven decision making.

  1. Outline a professional development schedule.

At a minimum, your professional development schedule should include:

  • Dates, times, and locations (including virtual locations) for all PD sessions
  • Assessments to measure teachers’ existing knowledge and skills so that PD can be differentiated
  • Training sessions for small groups that model effective instructional strategies teachers are expected to use in their classrooms
  • Follow-up coaching sessions to help teachers implement what they’ve learned
  • Regular Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings to empower teachers to support one another
  • Teacher evaluations to measure individual progress

Your consultant can help you develop a customized PD schedule for your school.

  1. Review progress at regular intervals, and adjust professional development to meet your teachers’ needs.

Using the measurement tools established in Step 2, carefully monitor your school’s progress. Remember that professional development is an ongoing, evolving process, not a rigid, fixed set of rules. Your PD plan should be responsive to changes within the school community, teacher effectiveness, and impact on student outcomes.

Experienced Educator Professional Development Consultants

CSAS would be honored to have the opportunity to partner with your school or district.

Let’s get started creating a customized professional development plan for your team. To begin, schedule a free call with one of our experienced consultants. You can also read more about our approach to customizing PD on our “About” page.