Many believe that teacher quality and teacher preparedness are the key factors to student achievement. Continuous high quality professional development learning can potentially provide teachers the support they need to increase effectiveness and improve student achievement. However, new research by the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) indicates that although over 90% of American teachers have participated in some kind of professional development, most teachers say that much of the professional development learning available is not useful.
This forum highlights two comprehensive approaches to professional development that include professional learning communities, induction support, and the use of teacher coaches, that have been implemented in school districts and that have proven effects on the quality of instruction in the classroom and student outcomes.
René Islas, Federal Policy Advisor at NSDC, provided an overview of the NSDC’s beliefs about professional development. “Professional development is the key to bringing school improvement to scale,” stated Islas. Islas further explained that the NSDC believes that teacher effectiveness is key to raising student achievement. The purpose of the NSDC is to see that every educator engages in effective professional learning every day so every student achieves. Islas added that professional development learning needs to be embedded in the regular work day of all educators. One goal of the NSDC is to minimize the variation of teacher effectiveness by working with teachers to formalize a practice that enables educators to transfer knowledge to a larger network.
Recently, the NSDC published a research paper entitled, “Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad.” Islas discussed the findings of the paper, which described the differences between U.S. teachers’ professional development experiences and the teachers’ experiences in the world’s highest performing countries. Their findings showed that there were significant differences in teacher recruitment, development, and support. Teacher development abroad:
- Provides ample time for professional development to be structured into teachers’ work lives.
- Encourages teachers to participate in school decision-making.
- Provides beginning teachers with extensive mentoring and induction supports.
- Provides significant levels of governmental support for additional professional development.
Islas added, “Teacher development in the United States goes into subject matter content, but without the necessary depth.” Findings from the NSDC research state that professional learning can have powerful effects on teacher skills and knowledge and that intensive professional development efforts that offered an average of 49 hours of professional development in a year boosted student achievement by approximately 21 percentile points. Furthermore, Islas stated that many school systems in the United States lag in providing teachers the time and structures to work collaboratively on issues of instruction.
Chris Steinhauser, Superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), stated, “Professional development is the key factor to the performance of our students.” Using this as the driving force, Steinhauser explained that LBUSD employs a continuous improvement cycle with four repeating steps: Plan, Do, Study, and Act. Teacher practices, student achievement scores, and professional development scores were analyzed to develop a more data driven education model for professional development. The focus on professional development is grounded by these multiple data sources with the belief that high rates of student achievement are directly related to the quality of classroom instruction.
Through quality pre-service preparation programs and ongoing professional development opportunities, Steinhauser believes that teachers are able to develop the necessary content knowledge and pedagogical skills to deliver effective teaching practices. Partnerships with Long Beach City College (LBCC) and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) have developed into a mutually benefiting partnership. While LBCC and CSULB have worked together with LBUSD to develop professional development for LBUSD teachers, LBUSD and CSULB have been able to redesign CSULB’s teacher education program to more closely align curriculum with a real-world classroom experience.
Steinhauser stated that new teachers are required to be involved in a two-year professional development program while new principals are paired with experienced principals who serve as coaches. Teachers are also provided with opportunities for classroom-based support to implement new content and strategies. Steinhauser added that professional development is effective when it stimulates and supports site-based initiatives, supports teacher initiatives, and is grounded in knowledge about teachers. Thus, professional development strays away from conference participation and focuses on in-depth institutes. “Coaching is critical,” added Steinhauser, “We also have to let our teachers know that it is okay to fail when trying new things.”
Other types of professional development include workshops, seminars, job-embedded learning, action research, professional learning communities, and study groups. One example of action research that Steinhauser described was the MAP2D program that was initiated by a teacher to improve math instruction. The positive results of the teacher’s initiative led the teacher to be released from the classroom to work with other volunteer schools in hopes to yield similar positive results.
Michael Whitmore, Director of the Teacher Residency Program for the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL),stated that the AUSL model is, “built on the notion that teachers matter and that teaching matters.” AUSL serves Chicago’s high poverty, chronically failing schools by using teacher-centric professional development, which in turn trains teachers to transform. Whitmore explained that AUSL is uniquely positioned between teacher quality and transforming underperforming schools. “They necessitate each other,” stated Whitmore.
Built on a medical residency model, Chicago’s Urban Teacher Residency (UTR) engages residents in a full year Master’s degree program. Residents complete university coursework and spend a full academic year with a master mentor teacher for a teaching apprenticeship. UTR partners with the Erikson Institute, National-Louis University, and the University of Illinois, Chicago to provide university instruction and training. Residents can earn $32,000 plus benefits for their year of service and are required to commit to 4 years of teaching service in a turnaround school for Chicago Public Schools.
Whitmore believes, “Teacher development is typically done in isolation. This model works against that idea that you’re alone in your work. It should not be done in isolation. Fifty-one percent of new teachers drop out within 3 years because they feel so alone in their practice.” Whitmore further explained that UTR develops a professional learning community, cultivated as a cohort that is able to share theoretical practice. He contends that the cohort generates its own momentum where residents begin to believe in themselves and one another.
Another essential component of the UTR is the mentor/resident relationship. Using the Danielson coaching cycle , coaches play an integral role by providing continuous feedback with a common language and set of teaching values. “Real-time coaching is always in play. It’s where university life meets classroom life,” explained Whitmore. He added that residents watch, practice with the mentor teacher, and then perform independently. Whitmore ended by stating that one or two teachers cannot change a school but the UTR model believes that teachers, collectively, can make a change.
2. The Danielson Framework for Teaching: http://charlottedanielson.com/theframeteach.htm
Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director for the National Staff Development Council (NSDC), concluded the forum by discussing the role that federal, state, and local policies can play in advancing effective professional development. “Good policy promotes good practice,” stated Hirsh. At the federal level, Hirsh and the NSDC believe that adopting a new definition for professional development will focus professional development at the school level and require that every teacher become part of at least one learning team in order to engage in a continuous improvement cycle. In addition, Hirsh contends that federal policy should fund programs and organizations that promote promising practices and that the current stimulus investment should require the demonstration of impact on teacher practice and student learning. Hirsh added that qualitative and quantitative measures are needed to set goals, determine growth, draw comparisons, and to assess the impact of professional development on practice and student achievement.
At the state level, Hirsh explained that many states require planning documents that may not be as useful as evaluation documents that focus on results. Furthermore, she believes that there needs to be a shift from individual planning to team planning after examining students’ data and a determination of where students need to focus their learning. Hirsh also explained that while 40 states have adopted standards for professional development, fewer than 5 states actually enforce adopted standards. State policy can also offer more flexibility in teacher schedules to support collaborative learning. To retain great teachers in schools we need to provide teachers “opportunities to impact both the classroom and what happens outside of the classroom,” stated Hirsh, “We need to shift attention from training to continuous learning, an essential component of every educator’s work day. We need to start referring to our profession as the learning profession, rather than the teaching profession.”.
At the local level, Hirsh explained that adopting a new definition of professional development and establishing their own vision for teacher leadership will allow school districts to help meet student needs. After developing their vision for teacher leadership, it is important that local school districts invest in the knowledge and skills that teachers need to serve in these roles. Hirsh cited Michael Fuller when recommending that schools must allocate at least 70% of professional development resources on a school-wide learning and improvement agenda while the remaining 30% can be used to support individual teachers who may be at different stages in their careers.
Highlights of Question and Answer
A question was raised about postsecondary teacher preparatory programs and what they need to do to limit the amount of remediation that is done by LBUSD and AUSL. Steinhauser explained that in Long Beach, remediation is not the case. The partnership between CSULB and LBUSD allows pre-service training by university professors while additional certifications are offered to develop teachers even further. Whitmore believes that there is a massive disconnect between the university and classroom practice. He believes that working closely with their university partners and working together is important to create effective teacher training programs. Hirsh added that despite the highest quality training, teachers will encounter new issues and experiences. Thus, she reaffirms the importance of maintaining a continuum of learning.
A question was asked about how motivation plays a role in professional development. Hirsh responded that understanding what motivates teachers is important. She has seen research and surveys that report if teachers know that they will learn something that will benefit their students, most teachers will be motivated to engage in professional development. Hirsh also noted the importance that teachers be involved in the decision-making process. Steinhauser agreed that teachers who are not motivated need to be a part of the delivery, implementation, and evaluation of professional development. Another strategy is to pair excited individuals with those who are not as enthusiastic.
Stephanie Hirsh, is the executive director of the National Staff Development Council. Stephanie Hirsh has been recognized by the Texas Staff Development Council with a Lifetime Achievement Award; by the University of North Texas as a Distinguished Alumna; and by the Texas Association of School Boards as Master Trustee and a member of an Honor School Board. She has written articles that have appeared in Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, The Record, The School Administrator, American School Board Journal, The High School Magazine, Education Week, and JSD. Her most recent books are The Learning Educator (2008) co–authored with Jollen Killion, Transforming Schools Through Powerful Planning (2006) co–authored with Kay Psencik, and Innovation Configurations Set II (2005) co–authored with Shirley Hord and Pat Roy. Prior to her position with the Council, Dr. Hirsh completed 15 years of district and school–based leadership positions. In 2005 she completed three terms as a school board trustee in the Richardson Independent School District.
Christopher J. Steinhauser, Superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District, is a long-time Long Beach resident and 26-year veteran educator in local schools. He has earned a well-deserved national reputation for improving student achievement here in America’s Best Urban Schools. He is respected as a friendly, tenacious, hands-on leader who helps students reach high expectations here in the most diverse large city in the nation.
Steinhauser has a strong track record of boosting achievement in all geographic areas of the school district – central, west, north and east Long Beach, Signal Hill, Lakewood and on Catalina Island. He has even overseen Camp Hi-Hill, the district’s popular fifth grade outdoor science school near Mt. Wilson.
Beginning as an outstanding teacher at an inner-city elementary school in Long Beach, Steinhauser went on to attain very high student achievement as a school principal. He worked his way up to the position of Deputy Superintendent in 1999 before his unanimous appointment as Superintendent in 2002. During his years as Deputy Superintendent, students in all major racial and ethnic groups throughout the district made unprecedented gains on rigorous state tests.
Steinhauser began his career as a third and fifth grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School. He then worked as Program Facilitator at Grant and Muir elementary schools and Vice Principal at Burnett Elementary School. He was promoted to Principal at Signal Hill Elementary School, which became known as “the miracle on Walnut Avenue” under his leadership. From 1993 to 1996, Steinhauser was Director of Special Projects Services, and from 1996 to 1999, he served as Area C Superintendent.
He is a product of the Long Beach Unified School District, where he attended continuously from kindergarten until his graduation from Wilson High School in 1977. He attended Long Beach City College and California State University Long Beach, earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a master’s degree in educational administration. He earned multiple-subject and administrative services credentials at the university.
Steinhauser’s wife, Alida, is a veteran educator who teaches fifth grade literacy at Signal Hill Elementary School. Their son, Edward, graduated from Long Beach’s Wilson Classical High School in June of 2005. Their daughter, Patricia, graduated in June of 2007. With this background, no one is more committed to the success of all students here in California’s third largest school district than Chris Steinhauser.
Michael Whitmore, Director, Teacher Residency Program, Academy for Urban School Leadership: Chicago, Illinois. Oversees the pre-service and clinical experience of residents, manages university partnerships, and supervises a team of mentor coaches who provide professional support to teachers and residents.
Prior to joining AUSL, Mr. Whitmore taught for fourteen years and received a Golden Apple award for teaching. Mr. Whitmore has also served as an Assistant Principal and Principal of a small, urban school outside of Chicago. He holds a Masters in English Literature and Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mr. Whitmore is currently pursuing his doctorate in education.
AUSL (www.ausl-chicago.org) was founded in 2001 by Martin J. Koldyke, venture capitalist and founder of The Golden Apple Foundation. He inspired and engaged a group of educators, business and community leaders to design a program that would significantly advance and reform the teaching profession. AUSL’s mission is to improve student achievement in Chicago’s high-poverty, chronically failing schools through its disciplined transformation process, built on a foundation of specially trained teachers.
- Policy Points January 2009
- Policy Points April 2009
- NSDC Study Release: Nation Making Progress in Ensuring More Teachers Have Deep Content Knowledge and Mentoring but U.S. Teacher Development Lacks Intensity, Follow-up, & Usefulness
- NSDC Definition of Professional Development
National Staff Development Council report: Professional Learning in the Learning Profession; A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad
- Forum Fact Sheet