The Kern High School District offers professional development training programs and workshops for staff. Our goal is to provide opportunities for each employee to gain knowledge and skills and to offer training opportunities in the areas of district goals.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools receiving Title I funds that do not make AYP for at least two years to commit at least 10 percent of Title I funds for professional development. Too often, however, teachers, support professionals, and educational specialists find that professional development is poorly supported, poorly planned, poorly implemented and disconnected from their job responsibilities and other professional development. Educators, researchers, and others know from research as well as experience what constitutes high-quality professional development. Specifically, professional development that helps educators grow and learn has six characteristics.
1. High-quality professional development is embedded in a well-structured system with supportive leadership.
School leaders need to foster at least seven characteristics to support professional growth in their school:
- Build a shared vision around a small number of school goals
- Foster a sense of community, not top-down implementation of a program
- Market the need for change
- Organize the work of teachers around student learning
- Use data wisely
- Foster innovation and calculated risk-taking
- Invest in professional development for every staff person, not just teachers
2. High-quality professional development usually takes place during the school day, is sustained, and is embedded in the work of teachers.
There is simply no substitute for finding time during the day for educators to collaborate, apply new ideas, and share their learning. Evidence shows that effective professional development needs to be seen as a regular, on-going part of school life. Training needs to be accompanied by coaching during the school day, and educators need to have opportunities to share experiences and learn from each other. In order to accomplish this, school leaders may have to employ substitutes to allow educators to observe and collaborate, alter scheduling so that key groups of teachers can have shared planning time, provide early-release days so that teachers can work together during afternoons, and use existing meeting time in new ways to foster professional collaboration.
3. High-quality professional development is comprised of appropriate methods and instructional design to meet specific goals.
Professional development can take many forms: not all lectures are bad, and not all classroom coaching sessions are good. The most important consideration in deciding how to structure a particular element of professional development is the goal associated with the professional development experience. Just as with good classroom instruction, the form of the lesson should always be derived from the goals associated with it. When structuring professional development, it is critical to do so on the basis of what educators should learn. From that point, planners can work backwards, asking how the desired learning relates to school goals, defining the intended outcomes, deciding what evidence will measure those outcomes, and then planning a professional development experience to meet the intended goals.
4. High-quality professional development has appropriate resources committed to it.
Understanding district expenditures on professional development is complicated; so complicated, as a matter of fact, that few districts have an accurate idea of what their investments are. In one study of staff development, annual district expenditures varied from $1,500 to $5,000 per teacher. Almost universally, districts in this study spent more than they thought they did on professional development. Most importantly, though, the study pointed out that most professional development expenditures are fragmented, uncoordinated, and not based on specific learning goals (Miles & Hornbeck, 2000). Professional development expenditures need to be targeted, organized, tracked, and evaluated.
5. High-quality professional development is built on collegiality and collaboration among school staff to solve important problems.
In some countries teachers have 10 or more hours a week to work together on instructional issues; teachers in the U.S. report having less than an hour a week to examine instructional issues together. Nevertheless, evidence is growing that working collaboratively is important: when educators work collectively, they are more likely to believe that what they do has a positive effect on students. This belief changes our behavior in important ways and improves student achievement (Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2000; Lee, Smith, & Croninger, 1995). Because of the link between collegiality and student achievement, successful professional development helps educators think about their practice in the context of a professional community. It also gives educators opportunities to use their collective expertise and support to make decisions about instruction (NRCELA, 2002).
6. High-quality professional development is evaluated according to goals.
Professional development has commonly been evaluated by what some call the “happiness scale” measures of how much attendees liked the session or activity. Like any other school program, the results of professional development need to be evaluated in relation to school goals. Evaluating sustained professional development activities should also be ongoing. Evaluating professional development programs in this way may require very different criteria and strategies than those that schools and districts currently use.
When professional development possesses these six characteristics, it can improve the school culture, increase student learning, and improve educational practice.
Issues to Consider
Good professional development takes time, often during the school day. Schools and districts that have developed highly-effective professional development programs have found ways for educators to work together during the school day. Often, this involves creative scheduling or the use of substitutes to free educators’ time while school is in session.
One Size Does Not Fit All.
All educators bring their own strengths to their work, and all educators have specific areas where they would like to grow professionally. Effective professional development programs encourage educators to define and then meet their own learning needs.
Effective professional development requires that teachers feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions, and requesting help. It also requires that teachers invite each other to observe classroom practices. All of these activities require a high level of trust. Building that trust can only happen when teachers believe that their questions, requests, and other kinds of sharing will never be referred to disparagingly, that no information shared for the purpose of professional development is ever used for evaluation, and that educators who are engaged in professional development together do not report to administrators about the challenges faced by their colleagues.