Sunday, October 17, 2010

Helping Teachers Teach Well: Transforming Professional Development

Corcoran, T. B. U. S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research. (1995). Helping teachers teach well: transforming professional development Washington, DC: The Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Retrieved from

As the idea of professional development changes for public schools in this country, the government and educators must think about what professional development means, what is currently happening in most schools and where policymakers need to take action to help it move forward.  This issue from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education Policy Briefs  shows how professional development can be organized, what the costs can be, how to ensure its effectiveness, and how to assess whether or not the programs are working.  It is designed to support state policymakers in making decisions about how to spend public professional development money for the millions of teachers in the over 85,000 public schools in our country. 

While some of the lessons in the 15 year-old brief appear outdated, many hold true.  Some of the lessons that ring true and school leaders can learn from as they prepare professional development in their own schools are listed here:  States (and schools) need to continue to allocate money for teachers to grow, to reflect on and to improve on their own practices.  The professional development (PD) will be more successful if it is linked closely to the school site initiatives and if the expertise of the teachers on the ground are taken into account.  The PD should provide opportunity for the teachers to grapple with, explore and debate issues in a constructivist manner.  At school sites, PD needs to be accessible and available to everyone with sufficient time allocated for follow-up and support.  Perhaps the most compelling lesson from this brief is that there is no magic solution for professional development.  Educators need to be involved in the process of developing effective PD for their school sites and schools should experiment with offering different types of PD.  Finally, the article provides examples of schools that are trying different types of collaboration, research and professional development that can serve as good models for policy makers and school leaders. 

Essential quotes from the brief that may help school leaders in developing their own professional development are listed below:
  • "There is a growing body of opinion among "experts" that the conventional forms of professional development are virtually a waste of time. In this view, lectures, workshops and other conventional forms of information delivery and training are too top-down and too isolated from classroom realities to have an impact on teachers' practice."
  • "A number of organizations have proposed setting standards for teachers' professional development... Standards might help improve the quality and efficiency of professional development. However, while these proposals are useful for discussion, it is important that state and local policymakers engage teachers in the process of setting standards for states or districts. Teachers have a great deal of insight into what has made professional development effective or ineffective in the past, and will be more likely to support changes to the current system if they have been a significant part of the improvement process.
  • "Given the sparse evidence about what works, it makes sense to avoid heavy investments in any single approach to professional development. All professional development strategies should be treated as hypotheses to be tested, and encouraging multiple strategies would be more prudent than mandating a single approach." 

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