Alison Yin for EdSource

For classroom teachers, professional training can be a mixed bag that too often leaves teachers uninspired with no improvement in student learning, according to a new report by the Learning Policy Institute.

So researchers for the nonprofit institute set out to find what works best in helping teachers to improve teaching methods and their students’ learning and test scores. In reviewing results of 35 previous studies, the new report urges that mid-career teacher training, which is also known as professional development, focus tightly on the academic subjects’ content, incorporate active learning, encourage collaboration, provide coaching, and be of sustained duration, among other things.

“It is obviously most important that what teachers are taught reflects the practices that can actually make a positive difference for student learning. That is, the content of professional development matters, along with its form,” said the report titled “Effective Teachers Professional Development.” Its authors include Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute and chairwoman of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The report reviewed studies that found even some well-funded professional development programs with poor results because they did not take into account teachers’ own knowledge and skills, whether mid-career or new to the classroom, and did not provide any follow-ups. Other studies showed that teacher training sessions were often too short, badly focused and awkwardly scheduled, usually in after-school workshops.

“Even the best designed (professional development) may fail to produce desired outcomes if it is poorly implemented due to barriers such as  inadequate resources, including needed curriculum materials; lack of shared vision about what high-quality instruction entails;  lack of time for planning and implementing new instructional approaches; conflicting requirements, such as scripted curriculum or pacing guides; and lack of adequate foundational knowledge on the part of teachers,” the Learning Institute report said.  The institute, which has offices in Palo Alto and Washington, D.C., urged school districts and teachers to redesign the programs so that teachers can incorporate new and improved practices in the classroom.

On the positive side, the report cited a 2011 study of a program aimed at improving the teaching of biology in California high schools. More than 40 teachers came together for a week in the summer and other sessions during the school year that all focused tightly on texts and classroom exercises, analyzed student work and developed reading logs for students. Participants stayed in touch on a listserv that fostered the exchange of resources and ideas and was moderated by coaches.  The students of these participants later showed significant improvements in both reading and in biology test scores.

“In the end, well-designed and implemented professional development should be considered an essential component of a comprehensive system of teaching and learning that supports students to develop the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need to thrive in the 21st century,” the Learning Policy Institute report stated.

Other report authors were Maria E. Hyler, deputy director of the Learning Policy Institute’s Washington office, and Madelyn Gardner, a research and policy associate.

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  1. Rosalind Henderson 6 months ago6 months ago

    As an educator, it is amazing how often we hear the obvious and yet things remain status quo. Sometimes, the presenters have not been adequately trained, yep a lack of materials as the presenter presents, and poor follow-up. Yes. There are also conflicting agendas given by principals who lack leadership skills, a focus on things non-essential, and overpacked classes, and teacher burnout are all reasons our impact is diluted. Teacher training is nice. A … Read More

    As an educator, it is amazing how often we hear the obvious and yet things remain status quo. Sometimes, the presenters have not been adequately trained, yep a lack of materials as the presenter presents, and poor follow-up. Yes.
    There are also conflicting agendas given by principals who lack leadership skills, a focus on things non-essential, and overpacked classes, and teacher burnout are all reasons our impact is diluted. Teacher training is nice. A more systemic approach to success is needed.

  2. Noreen M 6 months ago6 months ago

    Glad to hear of the research results. When teachers and students realize the need for reading and writing within all content areas, it would seem that learning would be boosted. PD that provided such practical help as the ones with the bio teachers make sense and validate the experience that I have had.

  3. Dale Hair 6 months ago6 months ago

    The conclusions of this review of previous studies certainly aligns with and supports what Learning Forward has been advocating for many years It also supports the definition of professional development in the ESSA. The question now is, With so much evidence of what truly makes a difference, why aren’t more educators experiencing this?