Professional Development Week 3: Module 7

Identifying the Essential Elements of Effective Professional Development (Week Three)

Because research clearly shows that teacher expertise is the most significant school-based influence on student learning, one would think that investments in enhancing teacher expertise would be a major focus of school improvement efforts.  However, while virtually all school improvement proposals assert that professional development is important, the level of investment in teacher learning is seldom substantial.  For example, the Stanford Center on Opportunity Policy in Education reported in 2009 that while research shows that 40-100 hours of training in a given area of professional practice is needed to produce solid results, teachers in the United States typically have about eight hours of training on a particular topic.

The research on the positive effects of professional development is not encouraging. Most experts believe that this is because professional development is typically badly designed and poorly delivered. Derogative terms like, “sit and get,” “drive-by,” “irrelevant,” “too limited and truncated” are common descriptions of professional development by both teachers and researchers.

Activity.  The resources below identify essential characteristics of effective professional development. Before you examine these resources, you should use Rubric C to assess whether a school you know well has the characteristics researchers have linked to effective professional development.

Rubric C:  Do the Following Characteristics of Professional Development Describe Professional Development in Your School?

Characteristics of Effective Professional Development



Pretty Much


Not So Much


1. Professional development is based on collaborative analyses of the differences between (a) actual student performance and (b) goals and standards for student learning.

2. Professional development is primarily school-based and built into the day-to-day work of teaching.

3. Teachers are involved in the identification of what they need to learn and the development of the learning experiences in which they will be engaged.

4. The content reflects the best research on the topic of professional development.

5. The content of professional development focuses on what students are to learn and how to address the different problems students may have in learning that material.

6. Professional development provides experiential opportunities to gain an understanding of and reflect on the research and theory underlying the knowledge and skills being learned.

7. Professional development activities mirror the instructional approaches teachers are expected to master and allow teachers to experience the consequences of newly learned capabilities.

8. Professional development is continuous and on-going, involving follow-up and support for further learning, including support from sources external to the school that can provide necessary resources and new perspectives.    

9. Professional development should be connected to a comprehensive change process focused on specific goals for improving student learning.

10. Evaluation of professional development uses multiple sources of information on (a) outcomes for students and (b) the instruction and processes that are the focus of the lessons learned.





From W. D. Hawley & L. R. Valli, (2007) Design Principles for Learner-Centered Professional Development. In W.D. Hawley, ed. The Keys to Effective Schools, Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Pp. 117-138)  


These professional development “design principles” apply to virtually all schools. Unfortunately, there is little research related to whether the race, ethnicity, culture and linguistic facility of the students and faculty in a school affect the implementation of these principles. Here are some issues that might complicate professional development with the characteristics described in Rubric C:

  • If there are differences in the achievement of students of different races and ethnicities, this could lead to stereotyping explanations or the evasion of the possibility that race and ethnicity of both students and teachers may be relevant.
  • Collaboration is critical to effective professional development; there may be racial tensions among teachers that no one wants to talk about.
  • Teachers of color may be expected to know how best to meet the needs of students of color which puts pressures on teachers of color who may not have such expertise but feel that they must respond as though they do. At the same time, if teachers of color are not consulted, this could lead to tensions.
  • When analyzing the variables that affect student learning across classrooms, the race of teachers may be implicated.  This is difficult to talk about.
  • In coaching situations, especially when the teacher being coached is struggling, differences in the race of the teacher and the coach may be of concern.

Can you think of other issues related to student and staff diversity that might affect the efficacy of specific aspects of professional development?

Some of these issues are addressed again in Week Four when possible resistance to CRP focused professional development is discussed.

Resources To Learn More

  • Essential elements of effective professional development are summarized by an expert panel in, American Educational Research Association, Teaching Teachers: Professional Development to Improve Student Achievement.  Research Points, Summer 2005.  Available at  Click on Publications. Research Points.

Before moving to examine the material for the next week, you may wish to summarize what you have learned that you would incorporate in the memo you are going to share with your leadership team.