The 6 Characteristics of High-Quality Professional Development and Learning: Part 2

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Note: This blog post was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are publishing it now because the content remains relevant.

The 6 Characteristics of High-Quality Professional Development and Learning: Part 2The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 emphasized six characteristics of high-quality professional development (usually considered a generalized workshop) and professional learning (training tailored to the individual needs of each educator). In part one, I shared ideas for how to incorporate sustainability, maintain focus, and create a collaborative culture for learning. Here in part two, I examine the remaining three characteristics.

4. Job-Embedded

Teacher development and learning must be directly linked to the teacher’s work in the classroom. This includes the day-to-day teaching practices and the content-specific instructional practices that are intended to improve student learning. In this case, we are talking about authentic, real, and immediate challenges of practice. Some issues require individual guidance, while others may need teamwork.

Here are some ways to incorporate job-embedded professional development and learning.

Have a mentor or coach observe the teacher in the classroom during instruction. This observation is focused on a specific issue of concern or interest and is intended to provide feedback on the specific issue. During the feedback or reflection time, the mentor or coach may use a video recording of the lesson to show specifics of what occurred.

Have an instructional coach or facilitator conduct a demonstration lesson on a specific strategy or technique while teachers observe. Afterward, the team discusses the implementation of the strategy or technique to reinforce their understanding and comfort with applying the ideas.

Have teacher teams meet in a lesson study. The lesson study design involves a team-created lesson that one teacher implements while the others observe. Afterward, the team discusses how the lesson progressed and what adjustments may need to be made.

Other ways to incorporate job-embedded professional development and learning include:

  • Conducting action research on topics of personal interest
  • Using videos or other multimedia systems to view a classroom over time
  • Examining student work as a team to fine-tune grading and assessment practices
  • Creating portfolios in which (like students) teachers collect artifacts of practice for review by others

5. Data-Informed

Much can be said about using data to improve student achievement. You will often see the term data-driven, which implies that data may be the sole force for making decisions. I use the term data-informed, since there are multiple factors that impact student learning, data being one of those factors. Data can be collected from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Test scores
  • Student work
  • Surveys
  • Rating scales
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Self-assessments
  • Reflections

Now that you have collected the data, here are some ideas for how data can inform our professional development and learning.

  • When reviewing building data by grade level, look for specific content strategies where students need growth—this can then become a focus of either general or job-embedded learning and growth.
  • When reviewing student work as a team, look for areas of growth. Consider what strategies have been used and how they can be enhanced to increase effectiveness.
  • When reviewing surveys, self-assessments, or reflections provided by teachers, look for themes or areas where there is either a lack of knowledge or misperceptions. These then become the focus of your professional development and learning plans.
  • Provide parents with rating scales of how the school is doing on everything from school or classroom culture to building appearance to curriculum alignment. This can provide valuable information for making cultural and curricular adjustments.
  • Bring together groups of students, parents, and teachers to discuss issues or needs of the building. This can offer some insight into areas for professional development and learning.
  • An often-overlooked group are those who no longer attend the school, whether through matriculation, choice, or differing needs. Exit interviews might be painful, but they can provide us with information we may try to avoid or are reluctant to hear. This is rich data that can be useful in making decisions about professional development and learning.

6. Classroom-Focused

Similar to focused and job-embedded professional development and learning, classroom-focused professional development and learning is specific to the management and instructional processes happening in the classroom during instruction. From how the classroom is organized to how students enter the classroom to questioning techniques employed by the teacher, classroom-focused professional development and learning is about the teaching and learning environment.

Ways to incorporate classroom-focused professional development and learning include:

  • Peer observations, specifically less-skilled teachers observing mentors or more-skilled teachers
  • Team planning around developing engaging activities that are aligned to standards and learning targets
  • Rubrics, matrices, or standards of practice that are provided to staff—seeking their self-assessment of their growth potentials
  • Self-video of lessons for personal and mentor or coach review, which can encourage teachers to see their own practice from another point of view; as painful as it may be, seeing yourself in action can be highly effective in changing and refining practice

For professional development and learning to have a significant effect, the focus must be on student learning and achievement. All parties must be committed to a common mission of preparing for the challenges our students will face in their future. Teachers and administrators will always need professional development and learning—let’s make sure it is effective, efficient, and engaging.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners

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Suggested Resource
Croft, A., J.G. Coggshall, M. Dolan, & E. Powers. “Job-Embedded Professional Development: What It Is, Who Is Responsible, and How to Get It Done Well.” Issue Brief. National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, 2010.Darling-Hammond, L., M.E. Hyler, & M. Gardner. Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute, 2017.S. 1177 (114th): Every Student Succeeds Act

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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