Professional Development Transformed

Education Week American Education News Site of RecordIn a recent post in Education Week, Marc Tucker examines the teacher professional development systems in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, British Columbia, and Shanghai.

Professional development looks very different in all these places than it typically does in the United States.  It is the main driver of school improvement.  Far from something that takes the teacher out of her school and away from her students, it is woven into the very fabric of the teacher’s work in every way.  Professional development is not synonymous with workshops.  In the United States, teachers appear to develop increasing expertise during their first three years on the job and then stop.  But in the systems researched, they never stop learning-from other teachers, from their reading, from the research they do, from the data they get on the results of their work.

That is because their workplace has been restructured so that almost everything they do in the course of a normal workday is intended to contribute to their learning.  First, in all of these systems, teachers spend less time facing students than American teachers do and more time working collaboratively to improve student performance.  Teachers work in teams organized by the subjects they teach, by the grade or grade span they teach in and the research and development projects they choose to work on together.

Second, when teachers are working together, they are not just hanging out in discussion groups.  They have specific goals, whether it is to develop a much more effective way to teach a particular topic in mathematics or to figure out why a whole group of students in the fourth grade is falling behind and fix the problem. They collect data on the problem, identify the best research related to the problem, formulate a response to the problem, put together a research plan that will enable them to collect data on the difference that their intervention makes, implement their intervention, collect data and analyzing it, and revise their intervention in the light of the data. The cycle repeats, and groups of teachers write up their results and systematically share their write-up with other educators.

A continuous improvement cycle is a very powerful engine for school improvement.  Indeed it is a model of school improvement that puts classroom teachers, not university researchers or the central office, in charge of improving schools.  It is a professional model of school improvement.

Read the full blog here:

For access to the two original studies that prompted this blog post, see:

Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems
Developing Shanghai’s Teachers