Policy makers are setting ambitious goals for student achievement that depend heavily on the work of teachers in and outside the classroom.
- In the last two decades, research has defined a new paradigm for professional
development—one that rejects the ineffective “drive-by” workshop model of the past in
favor of more powerful opportunities (Stein, Smith, & Silver, 1999).
- Professional development that focuses on student learning and helps teachers develop the
pedagogical skills to teach specific kinds of content has strong positive effects on practice
(Blank, de las Alas, & Smith, 2007; Wenglinsky, 2000).
Teachers’ professional development should be refocused on the building of learning communities.
To revolutionize education and achieve learning goals for students, teachers require a great deal of learning, support and guidance ( Ball & Cohen, 1999; Putanm & Borko, 1997).
“Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action” – a report released by The Teaching Commission( 2004) reminds us of the important role played by the teachers and calls for provision of “ongoing and target professional development” to help teachers meet the new demands.
Saxe, Gearheart, and Nasir (2001) compared three types of support for teacher learning:
(1) traditional professional development workshops, (2) a professional community-based
activity that offered support to teachers using new curriculum units, and (3) the Integrated
Mathematics Assessment (IMA) approach, which directly engaged teachers in learning
the mathematics in the new curriculum and developing pedagogical content knowledge
necessary to teach the curriculum.
Professional development is more effective when schools approach it not in isolation (as in the traditional one-shot workshop) but rather as a coherent part of a school reform effort.
Research on effective professional development also highlights the importance of collaborative and collegial learning environments that help develop communities of practice able to promote school change beyond individual classrooms (Darling- Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Hord, 1997; Knapp, 2003; Louis, Marks, & Kruse, 1996; Perez et al., 2007).
McLaughlin and Talbert (2006) have been studying school-based learning communities for more than 15 years. Their seminal work has taught us that school-based communities are uniquely situated between “macro-” or system-level directives and resources and the “micro”realities of teachers’ classrooms.
The design of professional development experiences must also address how teachers
learn. In particular, active learning opportunities allow teachers to transform their
teaching and not simply layer new strategies on top of the old (Snow-Renner & Lauer,
2005). These opportunities often involve modeling the new strategies and constructing
opportunities for teachers to practice and reflect on them (Garet et al., 2001; Saxe et al.,
2001; Supovitz et al., 2000).
In addition, teaching practices and student learning are more likely to be transformed by
professional development that is sustained, coherent, and intense (Cohen & Hill, 2001;
Garet et al, 2001; Supovitz, Mayer, & Kahle, 2000; Weiss & Pasley, 2006). The
traditional episodic, fragmented approach does not allow for rigorous, cumulative
learning (Knapp, 2003).
In a review of nine studies, Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, and Shapley (2007) found that
sustained and intensive professional development was related to student achievement.
The three studies of professional development lasting l4 or fewer hours showed no effects
on student learning, whereas other studies of programs offering more than 14 hours of
sustained teacher learning opportunities showed significant positive effects. The largest
effects were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours spread out over 6–12
Number of researchers highlight the effectiveness of sustained, jobembedded, collaborative teacher learning strategies. An approach that meets these criteria, and that has been increasingly featured in the literature, is the professional learning community. In this model, teachers work together and engage in continual dialogue to examine their practice and student performance and to develop and implement more effective instructional practices