Maintaining PD Momentum

The first month of the school year is coming to a close. One month down, and nine more to go! Maintaining momentum is a challenge in any profession, but something educators are particularly adept at--starting with the basics, scaffolding and reframing information while constantly keeping their finger on the pulse of their classroom.That momentum is just as critical for teachers as it is for their students when it comes to learning and implementing new teaching strategies. Today, we’re bringing you information on how important it is to not only have more PD in your practice, but to have PD support year-round.

According to a 2008 report on “The Effect of School Organizational Structure on Professional Development”, “overall, in order for districts to impact teacher growth, they need to ensure that teachers are participating in frequent professional development. The longer teachers participate in professional development of a certain topic, the greater the effect on teacher learning. Reform-type professional development incorporates activities which extend over a period of time and includes full immersion in the professional development topic.”

These findings are supported by studies from the Center for Public Education, whose 2013 report not only stresses the importance of duration in designing effective professional development, but also emphasizes that how those hours are invested impact the outcome of PD. According to the report, teachers may need to spend a minimum of 50 hours (!) learning and practicing new strategies before they can be seamlessly integrated into the classroom.

“In nine different experimental research studies of teacher professional development, all found that programs of greater duration were positively associated with teacher change and improvements in student learning (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009).”

While the research suggests that providing more professional development is inherently better, it’s not enough to schedule fifty one-hour workshops. PD is most effective when it is ongoing, supported and evaluated at the implementation stage.  

“Support at this stage helps teachers navigate the frustration that comes from using a new instructional method. Studies have found that when teachers are supported during this phase, they change their teaching practices. […]Teaching the Teachers (2003) studied differences between teachers attending just a workshop and teachers attending the workshop and then being coached through implementation. The study found that coached teachers transferred the newly learned teaching practices, but teachers who only had the workshop quickly lost interest in the skill and did not continue to use it in their classrooms.”

Reframing your district’s approach (or your own personal approach) to professional development can maximize positive outcomes--for teachers, and ultimately, students. Instead of investing in multiple, unrelated PD opportunities, these studies suggest that districts would be better off investing in ongoing PD centered around a teaching strategy or theme. Using this research on professional development to lay a roadmap in your district not only improves teacher and student performance, but prevents frivolous spending on ineffective training, as PD hours are more equally distributed between in-house support strategies and more costly workshops.

As with any change in a school district, a restructuring of the professional development program affords teachers and administrators the chance to work on a plan that addresses the nuanced challenges both parties face. A district that is currently spending 2-5 hours in the year on PD may not be able to raise that figure to 50 hours, just as a district with minimal focus on observation may not be immediately prepared for a shift to ongoing strategy implementation support. However small, fostering communication and making the commitment to improve PD will set the stage for change.