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PD supports

Teachers speak: What PD actually works?


When it comes to effective professional learning, teachers identify the PD approaches they say have the most impact.

Even with the best technology in the world, there is one key element that determines student success: a high-quality, highly-effective teacher.

In fact, some research estimates that teachers can impact students’ lifetime earnings by 10 to 20 percent, which can increase the U.S. gross domestic product by tens of trillions of dollars.

And professional development (PD) is critical in helping teachers as they continue to hone their skills and evolve as educators. But what kind of PD is most effective, and does the kind of PD that helps teachers best change as teachers become more experienced?

A new study series tackles those very questions.

The report, Investing in What it Takes to Move From Good to Great, is the third in a series that (the third in the study series) summarizes findings from a 2016 survey of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) and builds on the results of a similar survey of State and National Teachers of the Year in 2013–2014.

(Next page: PD approaches, along with policy recommendations, for teachers at every stage of their careers)

The study series asked exemplary teachers to share the PD supports and experiences that best helped them increase their effectiveness at various stages of their careers.

For preservice teachers: Respondents ranked high-quality student teaching experiences as their most important PD experience. Components that made those student teaching experience so beneficial include a supportive and cooperative classroom teacher who was a high-quality educator to students and also an effective adult mentor. Other effective PD includes applied learning and content coursework.

Recommendations and considerations: Build partnerships to promote applied learning, build a strong cadre of cooperating teachers, and make the role of cooperating teacher more appealing.

For novice teachers: An effective school principal, along with both assigned and informal mentors, were identified as the most effective PD supports. Appropriate school school placements and
common planning time followed close behind.

Recommendations and considerations: Make mentoring more flexible and accessible, create more opportunities for strong mentor-mentee matches, and remove disincentives for effective educators to become mentors.

For career stage teachers: National Board Certification and other ongoing formal education, such as graduate coursework, were identified as the most important PD experiences, followed by
self-chosen PD outside of the school district and collaboration with peers.

Recommendations and considerations: Streamline and refine certification policies, give teachers flexibility to self-select targeted professional development, and facilitate collaboration time or structures.

For teacher leaders: Surveyed educators said serving as a mentor or coach was the most important form of PD for helping them continue to improve their practice, even after they had already been established as effective teachers.

Recommendations and considerations: Provide training on distributed leadership, establish “stepping stones to teacher leadership,” create career pathways for teachers, and explore innovative models for teacher leadership funding and structures.

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Laura Ascione

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