Essential questions about high quality professional

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Essential Questions About High-Quality

Professional Development


Three teachers discussed their day as they walked to the parking lot after school. Their conversation turned to other topics. Josie: I just heard a report from the Education Trust in Washington, DC. I don't

want to believe what Kati Haycock said. Did you know that out of every 100 Hispanic kindergarten children, only 61 will graduate from high school, and only 10 will get bachelor's degrees? She gave statistics for the other groups, but this one reached right into my heart. Kim: I heard that. High schools really have a problem, don't they? I mean, obviously they aren't preparing kids for college. Jeff: Do you really think it's their problem? Based on your experiences and learning, how would you and your colleagues respond?


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To provide the best teaching and learning opportunities for the achievement of all students, what are the essential questions we must ask about professional development practices?

Pause for a moment to reflect on this essential question.

Prior reform efforts have not been buttressed by the ongoing professional development needed to prepare teachers to teach in the complex ways that learner-centered practice demands.

--Darling-Hammond (1997, p. xv)


Comprehensive professional development for educators has generally been a neglected or shallow component of school reform efforts for the past twenty years. To increase student achievement and help all students meet the standards, educators must be well prepared. They must also engage in continuous learning to meet the demands of a changing and diverse student population in a rapidly evolving world. At the core of what schools and districts should be about is recognition of the need for continuous professional growth. No longer can school reform efforts tolerate shallow professional development that never really gets to the heart of providing in-depth experiences for new learning. If reform efforts are to take place, we cannot afford to let quality professional development get lost in the shuffle of shifting reform priorities and the countless time demands that affect the daily lives of teachers, school leaders, and district leaders. Just as a clear focus on student standards provides clarity of required achievement, so is a clear focus on professional development key to building the capacity of educators to help students achieve the standards and sustain their efforts over time. Research has shown that improving educators' (teachers' and leaders') knowledge and skills is a prerequisite to raising student performance.

The goal of this book is to deepen educators' collective understanding about how to create professional development opportunities and practices in a design that enables teachers to educate all students well. To sustain focused efforts, a well-designed professional development program will nourish the growth of educators and foster a learner-centered environment. If we are to dramatically improve schools and schooling, we must insist on professional development designs and practices that make a

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difference in teacher learning and student success. The professional learning, therefore, will permeate the system, resulting in higher academic results for students. When district offices, parents, communities, county and state departments of education, educators' associations, and state and federal legislators recognize and support these designs and practices, and when all of these groups align their goals with student achievement, the key elements will be in place for responding to the question in the title Why Can't We Get It Right?

In framing the book, we challenge readers with essential questions regarding professional development to focus the discussion for each chapter and to cause readers to reflect on their current professional development practices.

Professional development opportunities and practices must provide both the challenge and the support for educators to grow, change, and reflect on their practices. Creating such opportunities requires commitment, understanding, planning, resources, time, and evaluation. This book provides the reader with knowledge, insights, tools, and designs to assist in creating new professional development opportunities that serve the learner-centered school and improve student achievement.

Educational leaders and teachers must design programs to support professional growth along a continuum of each educator's experience to be learner centered and learning centered. The failure by most schools and districts to recognize the importance and need for continuous, aligned, needsbased professional development condemns school reform efforts to ultimate failure. Virtually every effort to improve education since the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) has centered on overcoming deficits in student knowledge or dealing with reshaping the structure and organization of schooling. School reform efforts--ranging from increased course content and rigor to establishing charter schools, from testing schools for accountability to lowering class size, and from changing schedules to creating schools within schools--all have largely left the classroom untouched (Sparks & Hirsh, 1999). Thus, teachers, despite reformers' efforts, generally continue to teach as they have in the past. No wonder we have seen little or no increase in student results. Research and proven practice demonstrate that expanding teacher knowledge and improving teaching skills are essential to raising student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 1997). In the redefinition of teacher and student needs, we have created a new meaning of professional development.


High-quality professional development is a sustained collaborative learning process that systematically nourishes the growth of educators

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(individuals and teams) through adult learner-centered, job-embedded processes. It focuses on educators' attaining the skills, abilities, and deep understandings needed to improve student achievement.

It is the authors' premise that in schools the focus of professional development must be to improve student learning. As fostered in a learner-centered environment, professional development is embedded in the daily work of educators; offers choices and levels of learning; builds on collaborative, shared knowledge; employs effective teaching and assessment strategies; expands teacher knowledge of learning and development; and informs teachers' daily work. It is sustained and intensive, with opportunities for practice, collaborative application through problem solving and action research, mastery, coaching, and leadership. Professional development includes an evaluation of progress as it builds teacher and leadership capacity and as it affects student learning.

The lack of professional development, as well as its misuse by educators, explains the chronic failure of school reform. New professional development models exist that will help propel school reform efforts when used systematically over time. The knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors, and practices of teaching are only minimally challenged by current practice. In addition, districts do not provide consistent support and leadership for improving teaching practice. If this is the dilemma, what essential questions should educators ask that would cause them to rethink their current professional development practices?

Essential Questions for High-Quality Professional Development

Essential questions challenge educators' thoughts about professional development practices and help us transform schools into vibrant learning centers for both students and educators (Table 1.1). The questions help shift the focus from what is to what could be. They engage educators in a reflective process that generates new ideas and designs. They help teachers and administrators in schools continue their growth and challenge their current practices in professional development. Through the examination of professional development practices, educators will better understand what it takes to bring about change and reforms in education that can be sustained to support all students and their success. We challenge the reader to think deeply and reflect on the essential questions for high-quality professional development (Table 1.1), which provide a focus for each chapter in this book.

Examining the big picture (Figure 1.1, see p. 6) provides the reader with a visual of the interactions of the focus areas and the corresponding essential questions. The dynamics of professional development designs and tools interconnect to help drive the outcome of student achievement using the improvement process. As you view the dynamics, you can see that the processes and conditions for high-quality professional development are

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Table 1.1 Essential Questions for High-Quality Professional Development

? To provide the best teaching and learning opportunities for the achievement of all students, what are the essential questions we must ask about professional development practices?

? How will schools and districts design professional development opportunities and policies that create, shape, and sustain the culture of a learning community focused on student achievement? (Chapter 2)

? What conditions and processes using cycles of improvement (inquiry) will be used to address high-quality professional development focused on student achievement while addressing teacher, team, and school concerns? (Chapter 3)

? What professional development designs and tools will be used to focus a learning community on student achievement? (Chapter 4)

? How will schools and districts evaluate their professional development programs based on student achievement and continuous improvement? (Chapter 5)

? What expertise, knowledge, and tools do we need to rethink professional learning in the schools? (Chapter 6)

interwoven and not linear. Each of the parts is working simultaneously in the learning community to create a force for sustainable change to increase student achievement. Visualize the dynamics in motion within your own school. Are there missing pieces? Why?

We hope that by reading each chapter, your own experience, knowledge, and subsequent reflections will add to your understanding of how to provide high-quality professional development, leading to increased student achievement.


Educators need to explore the change process for sustaining educational improvement, recognizing the simplicity of the concept and the complexity of implementation. The visual representation of the change process (Figure 1.2, see p. 7) provides a conceptual framework of the interactive components supported by research and proven practice. Because of the interactive qualities of the parts, no one element is more important than the others, and, conversely, no one element can be omitted if the design is to be successful. It is of critical importance that the focus is on improving

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Figure 1.1 Big Picture: Focus of and Essential Questions for Professional Development


Focus on student achievement

Create the culture that forms a learning community

Use the cycle of inquiry to guide professional learning for individuals, teams, and school

Engage and align the learning community to focus the work

Evaluate continuously


How do we connect student achievement and high-quality professional development? Is it data driven?

How can we shape a learning community with opportunities and policies?

What conditions and processes do we need to guide professional learning?

How do we design our work?

How will we know when we are successful?

student learning and achievement. This is a change from past practice. Prior to the emphasis on standards, educators considered professional development to be whatever someone in the system thought interesting or useful. Without the focus on improving student learning, educators often could not connect what happened in one year with the next. In fact, using "the pendulum swings" as an excuse for waiting for the next change--not doing any serious thinking about the current thrust because it would be gone next year--is a direct consequence of unfocused professional development practices. Anticipating four to seven years for the change process to become culturally significant allows educators to continuously analyze needs using a data-driven process centered on student achievement. Designing the work within a learning community provides a foundation for improvement using ongoing monitoring systems and job-embedded professional development practices.

Addressing the essentials illustrated in Figure 1.2 (focuses on improved student achievement with needs assessment, creates a school culture, provides professional development, and evaluates goals) in a systematic way through relevant content and interactive processes provides coherence and sustainability to ongoing professional development plans

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