DCF Education Research Series: Quality Instruction

All children should be taught by well-qualified, properly trained, and continuously improving great teachers. Educators need experiences for learning that are ongoing, job-embedded, connected to practice, aligned to school and district goals, and collaborative. To do this, it is necessary to go beyond professional development activities that may be isolated learning events and move toward implementing practices that promote professional growth. Professional learning decisions are made in consultation with the educators who are required to make instructional improvements.

We have always known that having a quality teacher is critical to student success.[i] Teachers have an impact on their students beyond just test scores – they can have long-term impacts on other factors such as graduation, college attendance, employment, and future wages. With few exceptions, the best teachers, the ones who make a difference in children’s lives year after year, are made, not born. Some research shows most of the gains from professional development happen in the first five years of teaching, but that research tends to focus on test scores. Additionally, professional development in this country is often lackluster, and a more targeted and thorough approach would have greater benefits to teachers throughout their careers.

The OECD reviewed nations around the world to analyze what good professional development is and how to get it.[ii] They found that effective professional development is continuous, includes training, practice, and feedback, and provides adequate time and follow-up support. It should also focus on clearly articulated priorities; provide ongoing school-based support to classroom teachers; deal with subject matter, instructional strategies, and classroom-management techniques; and provide opportunities for teachers to observe others and try new teaching methods. Professional development should be developed with extensive participation of teachers, principals, other school leaders, parents, and administrators.

A research report from the National Staff Development Council and the School Redesign Network at Stanford University[iii] found that intensive and sustained efforts of professional development over a period of time are more likely to be effective in improving instruction than intermittent workshops with no follow-up. Professional development is most effective when teachers engage actively in instructional inquiry in the context of collaborative professional communities, focused on instructional improvement and student achievement. This work also encourages the use of the term “professional learning” as opposed to development because it encompasses an ongoing process rather than just a one-off event.

[i] Goldhaber, D. (2016). In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most. Education Next, Spring, pg. 56-62.

[ii] Schleicher, A. (2016). Teaching Excellence through Professional Learning and Policy Reform: Lessons from Around the World. International Summit on the Teaching Profession, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[iii] Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., Andree, A., Richardson, N., Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. National Staff Development Council, Dallas, TX.