Scaling Effective Teacher Professional Development

Writing for Brookings, authors Molly Curtiss and Jenny Perlman Robinson explore the promises and challenges associated with scaling up effective teacher professional development. Excerpts of their piece appear below:

The outsized impact of teachers on student learning makes it clear that successfully improving learning outcomes at scale will require reckoning with how to scale teacher professional development (TPD) in an effective, efficient, and equitable way. As a global education community, we need to learn more about how to sustainably scale quality teacher training opportunities; otherwise, we risk stymying efforts to scale improved learning outcomes more generally.

Many elements of quality professional development that lead to impact at a small-scale can present real challenges when implemented at large scale. Analysis of good practices in delivering effective TPD reveals common issues when scaling and potential ways to address them:

Costs. Cost-effectiveness, not cost alone, must be considered, as it is pointless to invest scarce resources to scale a program that has little effect. In some cases, implementing a cost-effective model more slowly (such as in stages) might make more sense than rapidly implementing less effective training for all. 

Maintenance of quality. One key component to maintaining quality during scaling is building ongoing and rigorous monitoring into TPD at every stage, assessing not just teacher knowledge acquisition or the number of individuals trained, but also the transfer of knowledge to practice in the classroom and the effects on student learning outcomes. This data should be used not just for accountability, but also for identifying challenges and informing decisions about how to address them.

Identification and training of high-quality trainers, facilitators, and coaches. This requires careful consideration of the selection criteria, recruitment process, and training of these personnel when designing a training program and planning for scale, including a clear understanding of the knowledge and skills the trainers or coaches must have to effectively train others (an area where more research is needed.)

Contextualization and addressing variation across contexts. Balancing fidelity to the “non-negotiables” of the training while building in opportunities for adaptation must be carefully considered, including exploring innovative and cost-effective methods for keeping teachers directly engaged and tailoring content to address their needs.

For more, see: