What Makes Professional Develpment Effective?

NOTE: This blog is cross-posted with naea.typepad.com

Many professional development opportunities exist outside school districts. These off-site opportunities often include: professional specialized associations, professional networks, seminars and workshops hosted by non-profit, for profit, and private agencies, and courses offered through colleges and universities (Barrett, 2006). The diversity of these experiences make it hard to talk about all non-school based professional development as a singular entity. Visiting an exhibit at a local museum provides a learning experience that is different than what is expected from a graduate course, for instance.

Art teachers have found professional development opportunities outside their district helpful (Sabol, 2006). This is not surprising, given the fact that the professional development opportunities offered within school districts are not meeting the needs of visual art educators (Charland, 2006; Conway et al., 2005; Sabol, 2006).

However, we should be careful not to automatically assume that the content-specific nature of the professional development we get outside our district is a higher quality than what we receive inside our school districts. Commenting on my previous post, my colleague Jamie wrote, “I think the biggest disservice we do to ourselves and our students is to automatically assume that an inservice doesn’t ‘apply to us’ and tune out. And then I think we assume that PD we receive at our state and national conferences is always valuable simply because it’s content-specific. That’s definitely NOT true!”

I agree with Jamie’s ideas, and believe that this raises the need for a framework through which we can discuss the (potential) effectiveness of professional development opportunities—both those inside and outside our schools. Whether the professional development is school-based or off-site, there are common characteristics that make these experiences effective in transforming teacher practice and ultimately transforming student learning. While Hawley & Valli’s (2007) recommendations are specifically for school-based professional development, Barrett (2006) proposes just four dimensions that summarize much of the professional development research and are useful for all forms of professional development. She identifies the following four dimensions of professional development:
* contextual fit (Would this work with my students and at my school?)
* disciplinary fit (Does this relate to art and art education?)
* collaborative interaction, (I am so alone! Can someone help me with this idea?) and
* self-directed inquiry (Why can’t this professional development be about things that I really want to know?).
I believe that another dimension is necessary:
* focus on student learning (What does this have to do with my students?)
A focus on student learning reminds us that our professional development should be serving our primary goal as educators: facilitating student learning. In the next post, I will demonstrate how these dimensions are useful in assessing the effectiveness of a professional development experience. Stay tuned!

Barrett, J. R. (2006). Recasting professional development for music teachers in an era of reform. Arts Education Policy Review, 107(6), 19-28.
Charland, W. (2006). The art association/higher education partnership: Implementing residential professional development. Arts Education Policy Review, 107(6), 31-39.
Conway, C. M., Hibbard, S., Albert, D., & Hourigan, R. (2005). Professional development for arts teachers. Arts Education Policy Review, 107(1), 3-9.
Sabol, F. R. (2006). Professional development in art education: A study of needs, issues, and concerns of art educators. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.

-Leslie Gates


One thought on “What Makes Professional Develpment Effective?

  1. Arizona Continuing Education Units says:

    Professional development is an essential component of effective teaching in fostering inspiration and growth amongst teachers. Good, effective Arizona Teacher Staff Development helps to build confidence, promotes personal development and attracts quality teachers.

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