Is your current professional learning (PL) program aligned with the federal definition of professional learning?
Can you measure your progress against your organizational goals?
How does your organization stack up to the rest of the nation?
The Frontline Research & Learning Institute set out to answer these questions in our four-part Bridging the Gap report series. We started with building a common understanding of the criteria recognized by Learning Forward and ESSA as measurements of effective professional learning (PL): sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused. Next, we paired each criterion with metrics and data collected from more than 200 school districts across 27 states over the last five years. While these are not the only metrics districts might measure, it gives us a starting point for measuring the effectiveness of professional learning.
The startling findings suggest that 80 percent or more of PL falls short of criteria for effective professional development (PD). This knowledge and the comparison against national norms provides a baseline from which schools can develop a strategy for improvement.
So, what can we learn from national data on PL effectiveness? And more importantly, how can you use the findings to measure your own program effectiveness and determine strategies for improvement? Let’s take a closer look.
Defining sustained PL
Sustained PL takes place over an extended period of time, which includes activities with more than three meeting dates or with start and end dates more than seven days apart. According to our data, only 13 percent of PL enrollments met this definition. But, growing sustained PL can happen with incremental changes like the ones being made by Pitt County (NC) School District.
Since 2014, the district has been steadily working to increase the average length of time its 1,600 faculty members spend on individual PL. They first focused on whether educators had adequate time to develop key competencies necessary to improve instruction for the district’s mostly minority student population. From there, the district began offering a variety of learning designs and extended individual learning opportunities. For example, they augmented initial activity by adding follow-up sessions with an instructional coach or principal, provided initial induction training for new teachers, and added ongoing, weekly reflection to identify lessons learned. Teachers and principals in the district have reported thinking differently about the design and utility of their PL, leading to improvements in satisfaction with learning experiences that can clearly have in-classroom impact.
Defining intensive PL
Intensive PL is focused on a discreet concept, practice, or program. Establishing school or districtwide goals is essential to achieving truly intensive PD. Leaders must also be clear with educators about their skills targets and set goals for each individual’s improvement.