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Educational reform includes some reference to the amount of support and training teachers and administrators will need in order to make key reforms real and effective in classrooms. The old traditional model of professional development operated under the premise of a one time workshop because the issue was lack of knowledge for a teacher to affect change (Gulamhussein, 2013). Professional learning models today range from job embedded professional learning, ongoing face to face, online, or blended professional learning models with varied educators, and lesson studies, to name a few. In professional learning, there are key characteristics, the importance of skills training, and support during implementation of the new skill in the classroom was explored to demonstrate successful professional development models (Learning Forward, 2011). Professional learning is the link between the design and implementation of education reforms and the ultimate success of reform efforts in schools (Demonte, 2013). Professional development is as complex as teaching. Researchers found that while 90 percent of teachers reported participating in professional development, most of those teachers reported it was useless. The issue is not that teachers aren’t provided with professional development, but that the offerings are ineffective at changing teacher practice and student learning (Darling Hammond, 2009). Professional development is teaching, just once removed from the classroom. High quality professional learning uses what teachers already know and builds on that expertise to improve their teaching (Demonte, 2013). The standards for professional learning described characteristics of professional learning that leads to effective teaching practices, supporting leadership, and improved student results (Learning Forward, 2011).
According to Bayar (2014), effective professional development models have the following key characteristics: a match to teacher and school needs, teacher involvement in the planning of professional development activities, active participation opportunities, long term engagement, and high quality instructors for ongoing professional development teacher growth. Professional learning is focused on student learning with opportunities for teachers to grow and develop their practice in order for students to grow and develop their knowledge (Gulamhussein, 2013). Structures and features of professional development that have been found to be related to instructional improvement; sustained and regular activities, job embedded, collaborative in nature, centered around improving teaching, coaching, and use of technology. One or more of these features are part of high quality professional development regardless of subject area, grade level, location, or background of teachers and students. Context matters because it dictates success or failure, therefore developing the necessary skills supports a successful professional learning model (Demonte, 2013).
Skills training is key in professional learning. What we know is true for students, is true for adults. Students and teachers learn by doing. Teachers learn by doing, teaching, and building their understanding of the content, rather than being told (Doig et. A, 2011). In Hattie’s work (2009), the characteristics of teachers who students identified as the best were teachers who helped students utilize different and better strategies to process and learn a subject. Professional development that provides teachers with the necessary skill set of varied strategies was beneficial to teachers. Lasen (2017) described ongoing professional learning as a requirement for teachers to develop pedagogies that can promote students’ critical and action-oriented engagement in a learning community. Professional learning models include the dual role of teachers as technicians, implementing the practice and intellectuals, learning the practice (Gulamhussein, 2013). High quality professional learning opportunities for teachers contain alignment with school goals, standards, and assessments and other professional learning activities where there is a focus on core content and modeling of teaching strategies of the content. Additionally, there are opportunities for active learning of new teaching strategies, collaboration, and follow up with continuous feedback. These characteristics connect with the work of teaching. The actual structure may differ depending on the needs of the teacher, school, and district (Demonte, 2013).
Professional development includes a facilitator explaining the skill, strategy, and research. Support for the teacher on how to transfer learned skills or strategies into their classroom. During this process, the teacher becomes an intellectual, in learning the practice, examining research and strategies in regards to their classroom goals (Gulamhussein, 2013). Activities to support learning may include; readings, role playing, open ended discussion, live modeling, and classroom observations with discussion of teaching practice (Gulamhussien, 2013). A balanced collaborative model with teacher and leader led professional development on problems of practice was more effective. Collaborative work included teacher initiated research projects, teacher networks, observation of colleagues, and mentoring and coaching (Opfer, 2016).
The teacher’s greatest challenge is the implementation of newly learned methods into the classroom. The implementation stage must be supported explicitly in professional development offerings, as this is the critical stage where teachers begin to commit to an instruction approach. It’s not the learning, it’s the implementation (Gulamhussein, 2013). In order for teachers to have confidence in the next steps of professional learning, the implementation of a new strategy, Demonte (2013) described the importance of professional learning programs including more than 14 hours of professional development for student learning to be affected. Professional development opportunities that were sustained over a period of time and were associated with improved teaching were more successful. Time of the professional learning activity and implementation opened learning for teachers in regards to time, skills learned, reflection, and accumulated new knowledge. School embedded professional development supported with teacher reports of implementation impacted student learning (Opfer, 2016). The number on average of separate instances of practice it takes a teacher to master a new skill increases if the skill is exceptionally complex. Teacher mastery of new skills takes on average 20 separate instances of practice and that number may increase if the new skill is exceptionally complex (Joyce & Showers, 2002). Fullan (2001), refers to this process as the implementation dip, which is true in learning any new skill. In Yoon’s meta-analysis (2007) teachers need as many as 50 hours of instruction, practice, and coaching before a new strategy is mastered and implemented in the classroom. Corcoran, McVAy, and Riordan, (2003) described teachers who participated in 80 hours or more of professional development, were significantly more likely to use the teacher practice they learned, than teachers who had less than 80 hours of training. Crafting effective professional development means confronting this reality of building a significant amount of support for teachers during the critical implementation phase in one’s actual classroom.
Implementation involves an observation by the coach of the actual implementation of the strategy by the teacher in their classroom followed by a debrief by coach and teacher on improvement and support of next steps (Gulamhussein, 2013). Stephens & Vanderburg (2010), demonstrated how students in classes with coached teachers made higher gains on standardized reading exams than peers who were taught by non coached teachers. Truesdale (2003), studied differences between teachers who attended a workshop with no coaching afterward and how those who attended a workshop with coaching, transferred the newly learned teaching practices, while the teacher with no coaching quickly lost interest in the skill. Cornett & Knight (2009), study of 50 teachers, found those who had coaching along with an introductory workshop were more than likely to use the new teaching practice in their classes than those who only were only exposed to the workshop.
In conclusion, the use of professional learning models support ongoing learning opportunities for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with implementation issues that may occur. Support for the teacher during the implementation stage, teachers initial exposure to the new concept or strategy should not be passive but engaging through varied approaches as active learning occurs, with content tailored to the teacher’s discipline. There are few pedagogical principles that reach across all disciplines and many important areas of analysis and exploration that are highly discipline specific that go unaddressed and unacknowledged in generic professional development (Gulamhussein, 2013). Professional learning experiences are integrated with the day to day work of teaching and the standards guide the work. Choosing a design of professional learning for teachers has few resources or standards in determining the best template to follow. Using a common framework with common goals will help. A further complication is that there are no features or programs that always work in every setting. An analysis of 1,300 studies found only nine of the studies showed clear empirical evidence of the effect of professional development on student achievement. These studies were lengthy and intensive programs (Yoon, 2007). Sustaining change is key, professional development is seen as a process, not an event.
Pre-recession spending on professional development occupied between two to five percent of a typical district’s budget, while many districts did not track their PD spending (Gulamhussien, 2013). Many times increased funding in this area does not always predict the outcomes hoped. As a nation we invest as much as $20 billion annually in total federal, state, and local funds for educator professional development (Demonte, 2013).
The need for some mechanism to improve the quality of teaching which leads to greater student achievment has always been present but many times ignored. The reform efforts of teacher evaluation, high stakes testing, and the shift in standards hinge on the theory that better instruction will lead to better student achievement. Professional learning has looked different in many ways as it moved toward understaning the impact of teacher’s professional practice toward student learning. Awareness of an issue, followed by solutions to an issue, while best practices were implemented, all support key components of meeting teacher and student needs. Despite challenges, there is research on professional learning that shows that it can indeed change the way teachers teach and how much students learn. Seven of the nine studies that showed clear empirical evidence of the effect of professional development on student achievment, resulted in positive growth in student learning. It is critical that we give teachers tools and supports to learn and improve their jobs based on the new accountability measures (Demonte, 2013). The scarcity of research on professional development revolves around the difficulty in carrying it out. It is critical that we evaluate, study, and share findings on professional learning activities so best practices can spread more (Demonte, 2013).

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