Laura Desimone Would Evaluate our Professional Development Plan . . .

Desimone, L. (2011). A primer on effective professional development. Kappan, March 2011.

Desimone, L., Porter, A. C, Birman, B. F., Garet, M. S., & Yoon, K. S. (2002). How do district management and implementation strategies relate to the quality of the professional development that districts provide to teachers?. Teachers College Record, 104, 1265-1312.

Desimone, L., Smith, T., & Ueno, K. (2006). Are teachers who need sustained, content focused professional development getting it? An Administrator’s Dilemma. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42, 179-214.

Schmoker, M. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

OK. First of all, in a perfect school we would actually have a professional development plan. With increased mandates, much of the time previously available for adult learning has been reallocated to technical training for programs required by legislation. As a result, administrators often feel a pressure to use whatever available time that remains on staff development days for short “one-shot” workshops on hot topics. This too often results in a professional development plan by default; one that looks more like an adult learning buffet, where you can choose from a variety of food, but at the end of the meal you don’t really remember anything you ate. Mike Schmoker (2006) is smarter than me, and he says we too often “[strike] a strange bargain: if [teachers] sit through our workshops, we promise not to make any real claims on [their] time or practice” (p. 26). We don’t have enough time to have a sustained learning program, so therefore settle for isolated, scattershot workshops.
What would a well designed professional development plan look like? I would turn to Laura Desimone, who is a professor at The University of Pennsylvania who I discovered while doing the lit review for my dissertation. One of her studies aggregated national data from district professional development coordinators who received federal funding from the Eisenhower Professional Development Program. The study examined four key management and implementation strategies that could be isolated from the evaluation tool used in the program. The specific district management and implementation strategies examined were “(1) the alignment of professional development activities with state and district standards and assessments; (2) coordination among multiple professional development programs; (3) “continuous improvement” efforts based on indicators, needs assessments, evaluation, and guidance; and (4) how districts involve teachers and other school staff in planning professional development activities” (Desimone et al., 2002, p.1269).
These key factors became independent variables in my research on what an ideal implementation would prioritize. I will write more about implementation of professional development programs later in this blog. Initially though, I just want to emphasize Desimone’s more recent work where she identified  “a consensus on the main features of professional development that have been associated with changes in knowledge, practice, and, to a lesser extent, student achievement” (Desimone, 2011, p.68). Basically, what features the best professional development programs possess:
Active learning, described as teachers having “opportunities to get involved, such as observing and receiving feedback, analyzing student work, or making presentations, as opposed to passively sitting through lectures” (p.70).
Coherence, described as professional development programs that are “consistent with other professional development, with their knowledge and beliefs, and with school, district, and state reforms and policies” (p.70).
Collective participation, described as reflective participation by teachers in “professional development activities together to build an interactive learning community” (p.70).
Duration, qualified by professional development programs that are “spread over a semester and should include 20 hours or more of contact time” (p.70).
In a perfect school, each of our professional development programs would embody these features. These programs would also be implemented well, a topic I will address in a future post. The above features would seem to be common sense, so why don’t we see them more often realized in real life teacher professional development programs?
I would argue that the biggest reason these features are hard to achieve is that they require strategic, long-term planning. They require best-practice implementation of professional development which calls for a multi-year professional development plan. Our systems have the people power to develop these types of excellent plans, but those people are most often assigned to projects that are seen as higher priorities due to current realities (students reading below grade level) or legislative mandates (required bullying training). In the worst cases, principals are just not disciplined enough to say no to staff excited about a new hot topic. Too often professional development is seen as a non-essential meal, so it ends up being the $9.99 fast food buffet instead of a 4 hour Thanksgiving dinner, cooked with love.
Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Rick Stiggins Would Be Our Director of Assessment . . .