Every teacher has had to sit through a professional learning (PL) session that has felt long, boring and irrelevant with the only thoughts being, “I’ve got so much to do!”
For school leaders, coordinating professional development can be just as difficult, trying to put together something meaningful for teachers at the same time as writing lesson plans, responding to emails and eating lunch! In this post, I’ll look at what schools can do to support teacher improvement by taking an evidence-informed approach.
I don’t have to tell teachers that you are time-poor, but the Grattan Institute recently published a report showing “more than 90 per cent of teachers say they don’t have enough time to prepare effectively for classroom teaching – the core of their job (Hunter et al., 2020).”
However, “The quality of the individual teacher is one of the most significant variables influencing how much progress students make in school” (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2006). As this quote highlights, teacher quality has a big impact on how much our students develop.
While teacher effectiveness is extremely difficult to measure – how is it measured when there are so many variables (students, environment, culture, family)? Also, as John Mason (Griffin, 1989) has said, “Teaching takes place in time, but learning takes place over time.”
Yet, there is still enough evidence to suggest that improving teachers is one of the best-bets in ensuring school improvement.
In the classrooms of the best teachers, students learn at twice the rate they do in the classrooms of average teachers—they learn in six months what students taught by the average teachers take a year to learn. And in the classrooms of the least effective teachers, the same learning will take two years.Wiliam (2009)
Why we can’t just rely on experience
This graph outlines how teachers can see sharp rises in teacher improvement in the first 5 years of their career, but then it seems to plateau. Policies tell us that teacher development is needed, but as this graph shows, our current methods for supporting teachers improve are not working.
Teacher Professional Learning
Unsurprisingly, on average teacher professional learning/development (also known as CPD) is having minimal impact on improving student learning outcomes (Lynch et al., 2019). This lack of impact can be put down to a number of factors:
- Not having access to evidence-informed programs
- Lack of time to prepare
- The timing of when it is offered e.g. it is often after school when teachers are tired
- Lack of teacher expertise or someone who has been given allocated time
- No practical element of how to apply the new knowledge
- Teacher attitudes towards professional learning
- Poor learning culture in the school
So, without going into all the different ways we can reallocate resources, priority needs to be given to developing teachers. Because the current methods are wasting time and money.
Planning a Professional Learning Curriculum
Last year at my school, I introduced a TPL framework at a planning day with school leaders. We looked at Tom Sherrington’s article on Planning Professional Learning: One system; three streams. For our school, I divided it up like this:
- Whole school: Based on teaching practices that need to be changed across the whole school e.g., curriculum, behaviour, effective teaching. Guided by our Strategic Directions, NSW Curriculum and Department of Education policies.
- Team: Groups to be formed based on shared goals. Focused on research-informed precise teaching strategies that are deliberately practised.
- Individual: Personalised learning based on teacher and student needs, personal interests, and performance and development plan (PDP) goals.
To work out our next steps, I followed the High Impact Professional Learning Framework from the NSW Department of Education.
High Impact Professional Learning
Data was collected and collated from Check-in Assessments, in-class assessments, formative assessment and Progressive Achievement Tests (PAT). This data indicated that teachers were teaching content that wasn’t being retained by students. Teachers also acknowledged that some content would not have been looked at for over 12 months.
As a team, school leaders planned future PL directions by looking inwards (School Improvement Plan, data collected) and outwards (educational research, priorities based on new curriculum changes). This was through a planning day in Term 2 and then weekly discussions in Term 3.
This included analysing the science of learning by reading Teaching Rebooted by Jon Tait. I thought this book was a good starting point for getting school leaders on the same page because it gave a great overview in an accessible way of many of the key concepts when it comes to the science of learning.
Taking into consideration COVID related restrictions, teacher time and expertise; a hybrid form of PL was created. We used a website that I purposefully built for this exercise that incorporated an overview of the research that allowed teachers to go as deep or shallow into the evidence as they wanted. This was followed up with low-stakes quizzes, weekly check-ins and expert-led overviews.
The deliberate practice phase involved collaborative conversations and follow-up check-ins. I will talk about how we followed the Teaching Sprints model more in part 2.
As I wrote earlier, the plan was to take a three-tiered approach to PL (whole school, small group & individual) with student needs, research, departmental obligations, individual professional development plan’s and our school improvement plan to guide our directions.
Looking forward, the school leadership team made the decision to build up teachers knowledge on the science of learning in 2021 before narrowing the focus onto literacy & numeracy in 2022. Based on returning to school after Lockdown, the data collected in Semester 1 and the pre-requisite knowledge required, it was decided that retrieval practice would be a good starting point.
One of the key steps that had been identified as missing in previous professional learning cycles was knowing if PL had made a difference, having a review and a next-step process. Strengthening this evaluation phase will allow us to be more informed in what areas we need to address.
In Part 2, I will go over what we used, how it was run, how effective it stacked up against Education Endowment Foundations Effective Professional Development guidance report and give my final reflections.
Griffin, P. (1989). Mathematics Teaching 126, 12- 13.
Hanushek, E. A. & Rivkin, S. G. (2006). Teacher quality. Handbook of the Economics of Education, 2: 1051-1078.
Hunter, J., Sonnemann, J. & Joiner, R. (2022). Making time for great teaching: How better government policy can help. Grattan Institute. Retrieved March 2022.
Kraft, M. A., & Papay, J. P. (2014). Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Educational evaluation and policy analysis, 36(4), 476–500. https://doi.org/10.3102/0162373713519496
Lynch, K., Hill, H.C., Gonzalez, K, & Pollard, C. (2019). Strengthening the research base that informs STEM instructional improvement efforts: A meta-analysis. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 41(3), 260-293.
Wiliam, D. (2009). Assessment for learning: why, what and how? London: Institute of Education, University of London.