A recent national report from Learning Forward, the National Education Association and Corwin Publishing (The State of Teacher Professional Learning) provides insights into how teachers view their own professional learning. The nationwide survey asked 6,300 teachers if the professional learning they receive aligns with what research shows improves teaching and learning.
The good news is that teachers believe school and district leaders are committed to good professional learning; the bad news is that this kind of learning was, for the most part, not happening.
Teachers reported that their school and district leaders are committed to professional learning and believe that teachers can improve their practice. This commitment to the goal of improvement, and the belief that teachers can improve their practice with the right support, is critical to improving classroom instruction.
Where things fell apart according to many of the respondents was in the "how"—the implementation of effective professional learning.
The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) has been working with school and district partners over two decades to support their efforts to provide effective professional learning to teachers and school leaders. Our partnerships have focused on how to improve classroom instruction across the faculty, so that student academic achievement increases.
Using a research-based model called the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, as well as individual best practices learned in TAP schools, we help schools build the capacity to deliver job-embedded professional learning using trained teacher leaders and administrators in their building. We support school leadership teams—which include administrators and teacher leaders—to create the time, authority, resources and expertise in their buildings to deliver effective and collaborative professional learning.
We have helped districts and schools to address the shortcomings of current professional development that were highlighted by teachers in the survey:
Teachers Want a Role in Shaping Professional Learning.
Teachers in the survey reported that leaders did not include them in decision-making about professional learning. "Only 4% of respondents named teachers as the primary decision-makers regarding professional learning." In contrast, NIET surveyed TAP teachers in spring 2017 and, with over 4,700 teachers responding, 81% were satisfied with their ability to influence decision-making and 92% of teacher leaders reported they participate jointly with administrators in decision-making.
Teachers Want Professional Learning to be High-Quality and Assessed for Impact.
In the Learning Forward survey, teachers reported that while student outcome data drives professional development planning, data are not used to assess the effectiveness of professional learning. Teachers indicate that "assessment of a professional learning experience is not even determined prior to the experience."
In TAP schools, teacher leaders implement strategies in classrooms to ensure they are effective before introducing them in weekly professional learning. Teachers know that learning strategies are high-quality and assessed for impact with students in their school.
Teachers Want Time During the School Day for Professional Learning and Regular Feedback.
The Learning Forward, NEA and Corwin Publishing report also found that few teachers receive adequate time for job-embedded professional learning, such as opportunities to get or give actionable feedback through observation of a colleague or being observed.
The report notes, "Although they express a strong preference for on-campus collaborative learning during the workday, just 25% of teacher respondents indicate that the majority of their professional learning takes place during school hours." It goes on to state, "Nearly 25% report spending fewer than 1 hour each week on professional learning."
In contrast, 100% of the professional learning in TAP schools takes place during school hours, including 60-90 minutes in small groups led by a teacher leader, along with coaching by teacher leaders and administrators in individual teachers' classrooms. This is combined with multiple cycles of observation and feedback for each teacher throughout the year.
TAP teachers report strong support for the professional learning that occurs in their schools—when asked how well the professional learning aspect of TAP was implemented in their schools, teacher responses averaged 4.2 on scale of 1.0 to 5.0.
Note: Finding for "Non-TAP Schools" comes from "The State of Teacher Professional Learning" by Corwin, Learning Forward, and the National Education Association; Finding for "TAP Schools" comes from the 2017 TAP Teacher Attitude Survey.
What Are Key Elements of Effective Professional Learning?
Learning Forward and its partners’ recommendations based on the survey results include:
- Provide opportunities for continuous, job-embedded professional learning
- Use a variety of sources of data to plan and assess professional learning
- Include teachers in decision-making about their own professional learning
We wholeheartedly agree, as we have found making improvements in these areas increases educator effectiveness and student learning in our partner high-need schools and districts. Teachers in TAP schools demonstrate steady improvement in instructional quality over time, and students in TAP schools achieve consistently higher growth compared with students in similar schools (Barnett, Hudgens, & Logis, 2017).
A significant majority of teachers report these improvements in overall teaching performance and student achievement are a direct result of the ongoing applied professional growth component of the TAP System.
TAP provides a way for district and school leaders to improve systems for professional learning to align with research and what teachers want.