How to Help Teachers Develop Professionally

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Professional development in education has gotten a bad reputation, and for good reason. Everyone on all sides of the education reform and improvement debate agrees that what most teachers receive as professional opportunities to learn are thin, sporadic, and of little use when it comes to improving teaching. According to Harvard University Professor Heather C. Hill, the “professional development ‘system’ for teachers is, by all accounts, broken.”

One likely reason for this view held by Professor Hill and others is the reliance on short-term, episodic, and disconnected professional learning for teachers—the kinds of training programs that are unlikely to positively influence teaching and improve student achievement. It takes sustained investment of time into teacher training to change instruction and improve classroom outcomes. A review of research on the effect of professional development on increased student learning found that programs had to include more than 14 hours of professional development for student learning to be affected. None of this is lost on the educators on the receiving end of professional development. “Perhaps the most damning indictment of PD [professional development] is that even teachers themselves regard it with contempt,” writes Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

Yet the education industry—including federal, state, and local education policymakers, plus all those who work to deliver teaching and learning to students—has recently made a sizable bet on the power of professional support to change teaching and boost student learning.

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