- A recently released report from the Council of the Great City Schools details criteria for what constitutes high-quality professional development, providing 13 case study examples from 10 districts including Denver Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools and Long Beach Unified School District in California.
- Based on an examination of research, the report finds four common prevailing features in high-quality professional development, regardless of whether it's focused on in-person, hybrid or virtual models: a focus on content, support for collaboration, the provision of feedback and reflection, and personalized coaching and support.
- Likewise, the most common professional development challenges identified in focus groups with teachers, principals, principal supervisors and other instructional support staff across a variety of districts were: lack of differentiation in opportunities, lack of deep content focus, lack of effective coaching support and a lack of alignment between course offerings.
Just as recent years have seen a focus on rethinking approaches to student learning, so too have school and district leaders turned an eye toward rethinking professional learning for educators. Even before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted public education in spring 2020, forcing a focus on ad hoc PD opportunities to close immediate knowledge gaps with virtual learning best practices, it was widely recognized that traditional "sit-and-get" PD couldn't cut it.
In February, Ken Wallace, superintendent of Illinois' Maine Township High School District 207, told K-12 Dive that not paying careful attention to professional learning conditions is "one of the core mistakes that is made — we put all of our attention into focusing on student learning and not nearly enough on the need for continual processes for real adult learning."
Wallace's district has built a reputation for an "all-in" approach to professional learning that prioritizes strong teacher leadership roles and coaching opportunities, in addition to forging teacher training partnerships with local higher education institutions like Northwestern University. This, in turn, has led to higher teacher retention and student performance.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the critical role of high-quality professional learning in building a successful tech initiative. An August survey from the University of Virginia and the EdTech Evidence Exchange showed a disconnect between the perceptions of teachers and administrators in regard to professional development opportunities for remote learning.
Only 27% of teachers reported receiving formal learning opportunities on these models in spring 2020, saying they relied on informal and self-initiated learning instead. However, 52% of administrators reported that teachers received formal learning opportunities.
"There is an urgent need to update content, learning standards, and methods of assessing student learning," Shari Camhi, superintendent of Baldwin Union Free School District in New York, told K-12 Dive in July. "We can no longer rely on the 'old way of doing things.' It is time to update our practice, allow for educators to create experiences that are meaningful and relevant for our students."
Regardless of the model educators are being prepared for, the Council of the Great City Schools report identifies preconditions for building and supporting a high-quality professional learning program:
- A strong unifying vision for high-quality practices based on rigorous college- and career-readiness standards, inclusivity and high expectations for students.
- A comprehensive assessment of the professional learning needs of all teachers, instructional support staff and leaders, including the available technology and resources needed to deliver strong instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid environment.
- A comprehensive and multi-tiered district professional development plan based on the aforementioned instructional vision and needs assessment.
- A culture of data-driven instruction that regularly collects, analyzes and uses student progress data to inform decision-making.
- A district culture that embraces and prioritizes openness and collaboration for continuous improvement as a norm.
- A sufficient amount of time throughout the school year, negotiated with the local teachers union, for professional development, coaching and focused collaboration of school-based personnel.
- A culture of shared accountability for student achievement across central office departments, staff and schools.
- A breaking down of silos between central office departments to encourage collaboration and strong working relationships.