This time of year, principals and other school leaders are finalizing professional development plans for the summer by choosing conferences and workshops for their teams to attend. Although back-to-school professional development institutes can help your team learn about best practices and new ideas to bring back to your school, research suggests that one-time PD events do not have a significant impact on school improvement. Summer PD sessions lack two key characteristics of high-quality teacher professional development: First, effective PD is ongoing. Second, effective PD is job-embedded.
In this article, we summarize findings from the 2009 report “Professional Learning in the Learning Profession” by Darling-Hammond et. al. to inform your school or district’s professional development strategy. This report provides a survey of research about effective practices in professional learning that lead to greater student achievement and added benefits for teachers and school leaders. Here are two of our biggest takeaways from this report:
First, effective teacher professional development is ongoing.
For many teachers, professional development occurs only through one-off professional development workshops that each focus on a single skill set. For example, in the 2021-2022 school year, teachers will likely attend workshops about hybrid instruction and helping students recover from COVID-related learning loss.
Unfortunately, piecemeal workshops don’t allow teachers to practice and improve upon what they’ve learned over time. Teachers may try to implement new strategies in their classrooms; however, without follow-up PD sessions, coaching, or collaborative meetings with other educators, they won’t have the feedback they need to significantly improve their practice. When PD is ongoing, teachers are allowed to make incremental, sustainable improvements to their instruction.
Additionally, ongoing PD allows the facilitator(s) to engage teachers in more intensive professional learning. While one-off workshops provide a brief introduction to new concepts and skills, ongoing PD can help teachers continue to build upon what they’ve learned in previous sessions to achieve deeper mastery of their new skills.
What does “ongoing” professional development really mean?
Darling-Hammond et. al. highlights an analysis of education studies which find the duration and intensity of professional development is positively associated with student achievement:
- PD programs, including 30-100 hours of PD spread over the course of 6-12 months, resulted in significant student achievement improvements.
- Programs with an average of 49 hours of PD per year resulted in a 21% boost in student achievement.
- However, PD programs that offered 5-14 hours of PD per year did not significantly impact student achievement.
This research suggests that teachers need professional development over a sustained period to recognize significant improvements in student learning.
Second, effective teacher professional development is job-embedded.
Professional learning seminars may help teachers learn the theory behind new concepts and skills, but they usually don’t help teachers apply new practices to the classroom. Teachers need job-embedded PD that allows them to practice new skills in the classroom, receive actionable feedback about their practice, and continuously improve.
Job-embedded PD is transformational for teachers because it does not occur in a vacuum; it is collaborative and content-specific. Teachers are able to work together with expert consultants, school-based leaders, and their peers to ask specific questions, share their concerns, and collectively address the classroom challenges they face every day. They also develop a deeper understanding of instructional best practices because the PD is not overly broad or generalized; it is directly connected to the curriculum. The PD facilitator(s) models an evidence-based teaching strategy, and then the teacher is provided with support as they practice the strategy in their classroom.
What does job-embedded professional development look like?
When teacher professional development is job-embedded, it is:
- Aligned with the curriculum and your school’s targeted improvement goals.
- Hands-on, building teachers’ knowledge of the content they teach as they learn instructional best practices.
- Informed by your school and community’s unique resources, systems, and challenges.
- Collaborative, bringing in school leaders and other teachers who can help analyze student data and improve instruction based on this information.
- Responsive to the teacher’s individual performance, allowing space for personal reflection and outside feedback to promote continuous improvement.
Examples of job-embedded PD include:
- Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
- Teacher observations and instructional rounds
- One-on-one coaching
- Data teams, which help make data-driven instructional decisions
For more information about job-embedded PD, check out this collection of FAQs from the Minnesota Department of Education.
How to Plan Ongoing, Job-Embedded Professional Development
Your school district or state department of education can probably provide you with best practices on planning ongoing, job-embedded professional development for your team. However, you may also need an outside set of eyes to look at your strategy, offer expert recommendations, and facilitate PD sessions.
You can schedule a free call with the Center for Student Achievement Solutions to discuss your school or district’s PD needs. One of our educational consultants can help you identify practical next steps for your PD strategy to address your goals related to:
- Whole school improvement
- Boosting student achievement
- Closing the opportunity gap for underserved students
- Recovering from COVID-related learning loss
- Developing a sustainable blended learning strategy
- Managing problematic student behaviors
- And more