Seven standards for effective professional development

By Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor
February 18th, 2012

The best teacher professional development happens in collaborative learning communities.

Terms like “work collaboratively,” “share what you know,” and “problem-solve as a team” are commonly associated with the kinds of 21st-century skills that most people agree today’s students should learn—but according to a professional development expert with decades of experience in the field, those terms should apply to teachers, too.

During the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education, Stephanie Hirsch, executive director of Learning Forward (formerly known as the National Staff Development Council), discussed how her organization has redefined its standards for teacher professional development to keep up with what is being expected of today’s students.

“What we mean by PD is not some one-off seminar,” Hirsch said. “So many times I hear people say, ‘This was a waste of time. Nothing changed.’ Well, … PD is only as good as its implementation. So let me tell you what we know: PD [should be] ongoing, and it means teachers collectively sharing the responsibility for all students—from grades to lesson plans—and that happens by implementing teacher teams that meet up regularly.”

Hirsch encouraged school district leaders to think of teacher professional development as…

• The glue that fosters collective responsibility for the success of all students;

• The system for engaging all teachers in learning teams committed to continuous improvement; and

• The great equalizer that ensures that all—not just some—students experience great teaching.

“How many times have we heard of principals talking to parents [who are] concerned about what teacher their child will get?” asked Hirsch. “Imagine if this school had collaborative teacher teams using their meetings for continuous PD to foster student learning improvement and achievement. What if the principal could say, ‘I know your child will receive the best education from any of our teachers, because our teachers work as a team to take responsibility for your child and meet continuously to discuss all students in the grade, not just the students part of his or her class.’ Imagine how much better the parent would feel?”

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3 Responses to “Seven standards for effective professional development”

February 21, 2012

Teachers are people, too. We have lives: husbands (or wives), children, aging parents, groceries to buy on the way home, dinner to cook and laundry to do.

Just exactly WHEN are these relaxed interactive meetings to take place? after school? before school? during our lunch hour?

Other industries have on-the-job training sessions during paid work time. Schools just can not turn off their production line (and neither do most industries).

I like the idea. Time must be integrated into the calendar for multiple opportunities for this kind of interaction to take place. Subject teams, rather than age related grade level teams are best gathered at a school wide seminar day (or half day) With lots of parental previous notice so other child care arrangements can be made.

Recorded or taped Webinar type programming might be useful so travel time to discipline association meetings can be saved. These shoud be accompanied with short hard copy summaries of the topics or ideas discussed.

An email-in collection of questions to be addressed in such seminars team meetings – like a blog – might be helpful to pin point the issues. A feeling of isolation is a big concern but so are feelings of inadequacy in new teachers. We older, wiser(?) teachers are wanting to be helpful but do not want to make our coworkers feel bad. Besides, we are busy with our own set of problems. It takes time and effort and planning how to present our helpful hints. My best time is 2:30 AM!

As a former sixth grade science and developmental math teacher, I am eager to see how school districts can make this work.


Marlyn Newhouse
Union University
Jackson TN

February 21, 2012

Our district has attempted to apply these 21st Century skills through our PLCs. However, the focii has been on AYP, development of tests (such as DDC, DQA, & Short Cyle Assessments. After 30 years in education, these 7 standards are not unique, but few accept their importance. In order to truly be successful in applying these, the system needs to be fundamentally turned on its head. Perhaps if we got “politics” out of education…..

I concur with the comment that one-off seminars are not the most efficient means of professional development, with a caveat: when they are mandatory and not based on the individual teacher’s experience, knowledge, or interests. I have attended many useful and informative stand-alone seminars of my choice, and almost none that were required. When my supervisors choose training for me, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach that does not take into consideration my skills (as in, could I teach the training, rather than having to sit through it?) The irony here is that we are expected to individualize for our students, but mandatory trainings never individualize for teachers.

I also agree with the need for collaboration and time. A room full of engaged and motivated teachers working to improve their teaching is a thing of beauty to behold. I just have to wonder where Ms. Hirsch thinks this time is going to come from. At my school, we already have cut so deeply into instructional time to create PLC time that it’s debatable whether the gains outweigh the losses in terms of time. Even so, the sessions are too few and too far apart. Which takes me to the comment about “this new definition of teacher professional development . . . Conducted several times per week”.

We’re talking a whole new reality and mind set for public schools if we’re going to make room for multiple meetings each week. And just what will that do to the instructional practice, routine, and momentum in the classroom? A full five-day week is already an anomaly. Is the goal to eliminate it altogether? Creating time for this much PLC meeting would require, and this is a quick ball park estimate, 30% more staff assuming staggered meeting times for groups of teachers to meet.

So given the national movement to reduce education funding, just where will the money come from for all this, or will it become one more thing teachers are expected to do on our own time and at our own expense? Why do you suppose it is that teachers “plateau” after four years due to lack of access to new research? We teach a full day (with somewhere between 30 and 55 minutes of prep time), we teach the equivalent of 150 students a day, and after school and many weekends we grade papers. We have to feel the stagnation and at the same time have the resources to combat it, which many teachers do not if they’re raising families. I feel very fortunate to have felt the flatness, to have experienced my own boredom and understood that if I were bored, so were my students; and to have had the ability to seek out training on my own to combat that. Not all teachers are so lucky.

To expand teacher professional development as described, we will have to alter the cultural mind-set (among the public and the teachers) of the 180 day school year, with the two-week winter holiday and the one week spring break. Otherwise, you’re simply shoe-horning in yet another unfunded mandate that we simply don’t have the time to fulfill, or that will take away from our primary duty of instruction. What sort of plan is there to implement these ideas, other than asking Congress to include them as expectations, without any funding support?

It’s the lack of any kind of backward design to show how such ideas would be implemented that leads to their becoming only the most recent of the ‘solutions’ to our education ‘problems.’