Professional Development: What really works?

High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers
High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers

The goal of all professional development (PD) ultimately is improved student achievement. What differs is the means by which PD organizers attempt to reach that goal.

From "make-it-take-it" and "one-shot-wonder" sessions to semester-long graduate courses, every teacher has attended professional development sessions of one kind or another. And every teacher is likely to have an opinion about which sessions were helpful and which were not. Regardless of our preferences, research tells us that certain PD components are necessary in order to really make a difference.

The Center for American Progress ( recently released an article summarizing research conducted on what comprises quality professional development that really results in improved student achievement. The article, "High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers: Supporting Teacher Training to Improve Student Learning," features the work of top education researchers in the United States and offers recommendations which transcend specific subject areas.

According to the study, teachers' complaints about professional development are well documented. Do any of these sound familiar?
• It is usually disconnected from the everyday practice of teaching.
• It is too generic and unrelated to the curriculum or to the specific instructional problems teachers face.
• It is infrequent and implemented as a one-shot event or led by an outside consultant who drops in to conduct a workshop and never returns to the school or

In contrast, according to the research, the components of effective PD programs include the following five characteristics:

• Aligns with school goals, state and district standards and assessments, and other professional-learning activities
• Focuses on core content and modeling of teaching strategies for the content
• Includes opportunities for active learning of new teaching strategies
• Provides the chance for teachers to collaborate
• Includes follow-up and continuous feedback

While the basic structure of each of these components may differ depending on the needs of the teacher, the school, and the district, quality professional development in essence "meshes" with the work of teaching.

Read the full article for more details.