Teachers Are Translating Professional Development Into Effective Classroom Practice

Teachers Are Translating Professional Development Into Effective Classroom Practice

In the past decade, states and districts have implemented reforms that hold students to high standards of academic performance and their schools accountable for ensuring that all students meet those standards. Holding districts, schools, and, by extension, teachers publicly accountable for improving student performance reflects a big change from the days when students advanced routinely from grade to grade with little measurement of learning and few repercussions for students or teachers.

The classroom environment has become more challenging, especially in under-performing schools. Increasing numbers of students are English language learners, have special education needs, or come from poverty, unstable families, or unsafe neighborhoods. Accountability measures are requiring more of teachers. Standards and accountability systems show schools what is broken, then sanction them if they don’t fix it.

Most teacher candidates either complete a traditional teacher preparation program or come to teaching through an alternative certification route. Both paths vary dramatically in substance and rigor. Teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities range from five- and six-year programs that require degrees in an academic subject and in education plus extensive clinical classroom experience, to standard four-year programs where teacher candidates take a handful of education classes and spend a few weeks in a classroom.

Alternative certification programs — created in response to concerns about the inadequate supply of qualified teachers and the effectiveness of traditional preparation — bring candidates to the teaching profession through non-traditional routes. Overall, state certification or licensure requirements provide little guidance and few standards by which principals can judge the applicant pool of prospective teachers. Since hiring decisions are made with relatively little information about the skills of the applicants, districts and schools must rely on professional development to improve the skills of all teachers.

Even if all candidates met the highly qualified requirement, there still would not be enough to fill every position, and districts would still have no way of knowing how effective these candidates would be in the classroom. Given the sheer number of people needed to staff the nation’s schools, it is not feasible for districts to hire a brand new batch of highly qualified teachers to replace the ineffective ones they might have in their systems. Furthermore, even the most prepared, genuinely qualified new teachers still have a great deal to learn when they begin to teach full time. The most relevant coursework and extensive clinical teaching experience is no substitute for the daily responsibility and unexpected challenges that come with being in charge of a classroom.

Since these teachers vary greatly in terms of preparation, experience, and expertise, they also vary greatly in terms of their professional development needs. Districts bear the responsibility of responding to all these needs and fostering the development of teachers so that all students receive quality instruction.

States are given significant leeway in defining what constitutes a highly qualified teacher. Every state can create an alternative to the testing or subject-area major requirement. Alternatives proposed to date include measures such as completing relevant coursework and improving student achievement. Some states, however, include fewer demanding measures such as years of experience or sponsoring an academic club. Other states have skirted federal requirements by making their highly qualified standards identical to their certification standards, which means that all certified teachers are automatically considered to be highly qualified.

Given the transformative potential of professional development — and the federal, state, and contractual requirements for districts to provide it — districts invest significant resources in professional development. In many districts, this investment comprises as much as 7% of total operating expenditures, which can translate into millions of dollars. Unfortunately, the money is often spent on professional development that teachers neither want nor need, and rarely is it tied to overall district goals for student achievement.

Districts expend significant resources to provide professional development, not only because they are obligated to do so by law, but because they hope it will help them meet their student achievement goals. As a result, districts need reliable information on what kind of professional development works so they can get a good return on their investment. They need to be able to recognize quality professional development and know what kind of professional development has proven to be effective in raising student achievement.

While the education field can provide guidance on characteristics associated with quality professional development, it is much more difficult to demonstrate that professional development has a causal effect on student achievement since there are so many variables involved — teacher characteristics, student characteristics, changes at school, circumstances in the home. Only a handful of research studies have been able to demonstrate that professional development has resulted in an improvement in student outcomes, and those were studies of isolated and controlled initiatives.

The strongest links between professional development and student achievement can be found in induction programs and in support for new teachers. Professional development in the form of mentoring programs provides critical support to teachers during the pivotal early stages of their careers. Without initial and ongoing support, new teachers are twice as likely to leave the teaching profession. A number of studies have shown that, during the first five years of a teacher’s career, student achievement correlates with years of teaching experience. Professional development, along with a supportive working environment that includes strong principal leadership, helps to keep teachers in the classroom and ensure a return on the substantial investment expended to prepare them.

Research found innovative approaches to professional development such as research-based principles to guide planning, training, and the nurturing of instructional leadership teams; support systems for new teachers; prudent, strategic use of financial resources; and a focus on understanding and using student data to guide decisions.

Innovative approaches to professional development, including opportunities for collaborative learning and planning time, mentoring, and data-driven analysis of achievement:

– Continuous learning, not a one-time seminar

– Embedded in the daily work of teaching, not relegated to special occasions or separated from the learning needs of students

– Cultivated in a culture of collegiality that involves sharing knowledge and experience on the same student improvement objectives

– Based on investigation of practice through case study, analysis, and professional discourse

Teachers must demonstrate subject-matter knowledge and an understanding of how to teach those subjects to their students. Teachers find this lengthy, intense process to be a powerful professional development experience that deepens their content knowledge and develops new instructional methods. A national survey found that over 87% believed the process made them better teachers.

Those teaching Advanced Placement (AP) courses, in which high school students prepare for a rigorous examination in the hope of earning college credits, report that they find the preparation needed to teach AP courses to be highly valuable professional development. AP workshop instructors, who are selected on the basis of their track record of achievement as measured by student success on the exam, often serve as mentors for novice AP instructors. Teachers receive subject-specific training on content and teaching methods. Given their limited resources, districts need to use professional development dollars to help teachers who need it the most, in the most efficient manner. Yet, for a variety of reasons, it is often hard to tell if districts and schools are getting a good return on the professional development dollars they spend.

There are also no accountability measures for how effective professional development is in helping teachers improve classroom practice — teachers tend to be asked if they enjoyed the training, not how they will use it in their classrooms. Furthermore, the degree to which professional development content and/or strategies are integrated into classroom practice is not part of teacher evaluations, nor is it part of the performance assessment of those who select which professional development activities are provided. Data management issues further add to the difficulty of tracking the difference professional development makes in specific classrooms.

The federal government may set the tone of the national education agenda, but a great deal of the decision-making power for policies related to professional development is at the state and district level. States, however, have a great deal of flexibility in determining how the funds should be used and discretion in distributing the funds to districts and schools. States also set standards, allocate resources, require program evaluations, and sometimes administer statewide training programs and academies. Some states go even further and require districts to offer professional development in certain content areas, such as technology or mathematics.

Districts make the ultimate decisions on what professional development their schools and teachers receive. They decide how to build leadership skills in principals and teachers; how much time will be allotted for teachers to collaborate; how — or, in some cases, whether — professional development will be evaluated; how new teachers will be mentored; and how to comply with state and federal requirements. Districts also negotiate contracts with teacher unions, or with teacher professional associations in right-to-work states without collective bargaining, that specify how many days of the school year will be devoted to professional development and how much planning and collaboration time teachers will have.

In addition to deciding how much control individual schools and teachers have over professional development programs, districts set policies that provide incentives for individual teachers to obtain master’s degrees or additional certification and to participate in other professional development activities. Districts often offer a menu of development opportunities from which to choose; in exchange, participating teachers receive continuing education or license renewal credits.

If a teacher decides to pursue a master’s degree, districts will typically provide tuition reimbursement and an increase in salary once the degree is completed — irrespective of whether the degree is in education or the teacher’s subject area, how well the institution conferring the degree is regarded, or the grade point average maintained by the teacher. Funding for professional development is also fragmented, with funds coming from federal, state, local, and private sources.

Few states or districts have the data management capacity to link student achievement to teacher performance. Currently, there is no way to tell if the students taught by teachers who received a particular type of professional development are reaping any benefits. Data analysis is one way to evaluate what type of professional development works best for specific teachers so that teachers and districts can design programs that translate into student achievement. Another daunting data management issue is how to use district budgets to allocate resources for student achievement goals. Professional development is expensive and disentangling its many parts — teacher salaries, professional development curricula, facilitation costs, incentives for advanced certification — from a complicated education budget is more work and expense than many districts are prepared to undertake. Many of the challenges in designing and delivering effective professional development arise from aspects unique to the teaching profession. Unlike other professionals, teachers have little financial or professional incentive to improve their skills through professional development. Teachers do not have a career ladder whereby promotions are earned upon mastery of new techniques or successful demonstration of new skills. In addition, teacher performance evaluations seldom measure whether teachers are translating professional development into effective classroom practice and student achievement. Instead, teachers tend to be rewarded solely for length of service. Professional development must be of high quality to be enticing and perceived as valuable. But professional development initiatives are rarely evaluated in a constructive manner. This overall lack of evaluation and accountability not only contributes to a lack of information about the usefulness or effectiveness of professional development, it gives teachers no incentive to take professional development seriously. Without incentives, teachers are not likely to participate in the professional development available to them.

Great teachers produce high-achieving students. At a time when raising student achievement has become the focus of national, state, and local education policies, reform solutions must serve all students, particularly those most in need of quality teaching. We have a responsibility to allocate our scarce resources effectively, investing in the development of great teachers so that all students can have high-quality instruction. That means all stakeholders — from the statehouse to the schoolhouse — have a responsibility to create a system of public education that provides quality teaching in every classroom as well as strong leaders in schools and district offices who strive to sustain professional learning for all staff.

Professional development is a necessary ingredient for improved student achievement. Parents can support in the following ways:

• Inquire about the commitment to professional learning opportunities when choosing or assessing a child’s school. Check with teachers to see if they find their professional development options useful.

• Volunteer to serve on the school improvement committee, which makes countless decisions that impact the quantity and quality of professional learning opportunities for teachers.

• Attend teacher recognition and award ceremonies. This, in turn, can motivate teachers to work on their instructional practice and deepen their skills.

• Take time to understand school funding or bond referenda issues so that you can vote with confidence in support of schools and quality professional development.

• Pressure districts and states to move beyond talking about professional development and make the structural changes and resource allocations needed to turn rhetoric into reality:

– Teacher evaluations that look at the degree to which teachers take what they learn and incorporate it into their pedagogy

– Reimbursements for master’s degrees — and salary increases related to master’s degrees — that meet standards of quality and relevance

-Evaluations of professional development that examine whether it is tied to state content standards, whether teachers find it helpful in their classrooms, and, ultimately, whether it leads to improved student learning

Megan Wilson is a teacher, life strategist, successful entrepreneur, inspirational keynote speaker and founder of https://Ebookscheaper.com. Megan champions a radical rethink of our school systems; she calls on educators to teach both intuition and logic to cultivate creativity and create bold thinkers.

Source: https://cxnewyork.medium.com/teachers-are-translating-professional-development-into-effective-classroom-practice-80178325cc5c

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