How do we make sure PD has an effect on instruction long after it ends?
The decision to conduct a specific professional development is not one made easily since professional developments require resources that are often scarce in public schools; specifically time and money. Because of this, maximizing the effect of professional development includes considering whether the lessons learned at professional development will still be useful for educators long after the development session has ended.
For that reason, it is understandable that we ask “what factors influence the long-term effectiveness of continuing professional development training for educators?” Fortunately, research helps by identifying these factors, and we can divide them into two broad groups: social and cultural aspects.
Learning is Social
Allen (2020) identifies five elements that predict long term adherence to skills and tools learned during professional development, which occurs when educators do the following:
- build a network of peers and use them
- incorporate the inservice themes into their identity as educators
- apply these skills in practice frequently
- feel a sense of achievement and that their achievements are noticed
- and “going beyond the scholar”
Each of these social elements are specific and provide a facet of the social elements of community that ensure success. As Allen states “The social process of learning should be considered in the design of future CPD” (2020). A school can use the list as a checklist to determine if they have truly set their educators up for success in implementing the training. For example, school leaders can ensure that peer networks have time and space to meet and provide support for the teachers within them, or they can take time to celebrate teacher achievement and build identity around success with the training. These social aspects of training are as essential as the initial training itself.
External Factors Matter
A study in Ireland found that the long term effectiveness of professional development depended on external factors, predominantly structural aspects of the schools in which teachers implemented the skills they learned during their training (Loxley, 2007). Specifically, excellent training could not overcome a work environment (or community) that did not support the outcomes of the training. Without a strong community with clear values and support, any effort at introducing new programs or skills will fall flat. Additionally a clear understanding of community values and strengths allows educational leaders to ensure that their training aligns with those values.
Educational leaders, coaches, and trainers would benefit from considering these external factors prior to engaging in professional development. Each of these groups has a role to play in the long-term success of a training. Educational leaders, for example can foster a school community in which all trainings are valued. Coaches can ensure that they support teachers in strengthening and developing new skills. Finally, trainers can meet with building and district level leaders to emphasize the importance of developing a culture of support and include the creation of this culture in their training process.
Making it work
These two categories seem intertwined, because they are. The ongoing social factors of any learning space are an essential part of building a school community, and that community provides focus and direction to the social elements related to a training. Including external factors seemingly unrelated to a training topic in the planning for that training may make the difference between long term success and wasted time and funds.
Allen, L. M., Hay, M., Armstrong, E., & Palermo, C. (2020). Applying a social theory of learning to explain the possible impacts of continuing professional development (CPD) programs. Medical Teacher, 42(10), 1140–1147. https://doi-org.ezproxy.spu.edu/10.1080/0142159X.2020.1795097
Loxley, A., Johnston, K., Murchan, D., Fitzgerald, H., & Quinn, M. (2007). The role of whole-school contexts in shaping the experiences and outcomes associated with professional development. Journal of In-Service Education, 33(3), 265–285. https://doi-org.ezproxy.spu.edu/10.1080/13674580701487034
Main, K., Pendergast, D., & Virtue, D. C. (2015). Core Features of Effective Continuing Professional Development for the Middle Years: A Tool for Reflection. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 38(10), 1–18. https://doi-org.ezproxy.spu.edu/10.1080/19404476.2015.11658177
You raise some important points about the sustainability of professional development trainings. It seems like PD is much less valuable if there is not a supportive school climate and culture where teachers intend to implement what they’ve learned. As you mentioned, having trainers meet with administrators to seek their buy-in and support seems like an important component of “PD for the long run.” Thank you for your insights!
I appreciated how you framed your solution around the challenges of time and money. Your post had me reflecting on countless examples of “one-off” PDs in my building that never led to any sustainable impact in teacher practice and student outcomes. It was helpful for me that you broke down your learning into two categories of social and cultural. The social point of building a network of peers and use them is a common thread I am seeing in effective PD characteristics from my own investigation and the reading of our peers’ posts. I also appreciated the alignment to build on community values and strengths instead of a deficit mindset of community weaknesses. Thank you for sharing!