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January 5, 2021

Relevant Research on Effective Professional Learning

[Author’s note: This blog is the third excerpt from the free ebook “From ‘Gotcha’ to Growth: Teacher Evaluation Systems That Work.“]

When looking at what makes for an optimal teacher evaluation system, perhaps one of the key issues we face is that we think about evaluation and professional development as two separate endeavors. We now have access to more and more research about what effective professional learning entails. What if we used this research to drive some of our decisions about how to structure evaluation? What current research might help us understand how to make evaluation about growth?

Although providing a comprehensive overview of current research is beyond the scope of this blog post, there are a few recent studies that I’ve found particularly helpful as we think about this work.


The Impact of Providing Performance Feedback to Teachers and Principals

This report by AIR provides findings on how feedback impacts educator and student outcomes. This study found that when teachers and principals received more frequent feedback with ratings, there was a positive impact on teachers’ classroom practice, principal leadership, and student achievement.

The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement

This meta-analysis by researchers at Brown and Harvard provides great research on the impact of instructional coaching. The study found that PD programs generally fail to produce systematic improvements in instructional practice or student achievement, especially when implemented at scale. The research actually suggests that one-on-one coaching programs hold real promise for improving teachers’ instructional practice and, in turn, students’ academic achievement.

We’ve seen this in practice in Maine Township 207, in suburban Chicago. Dr. Ken Wallace, the district’s superintendent, has implemented a coaching model that provides a coach for every teacher. In a recent blog post, Dr. Wallace states, “Staff development will always improve when we let teachers lead their own learning. I’ve never met a group of teachers that, once allowed to really lead their own learning, have not risen to the challenge.”

Going back to the thoughts in my previous post about implementation of large-scale initiatives (in short, that it’s hard work which produces gradual results), there are some significant challenges with trying to implement one-on-one coaching. But given the fact that traditional PD isn’t working and coaching can work, wouldn’t it be in our best interest to at least try understanding and implementing processes to provide coaching that could indeed move the needle on instruction?

Measure of Effective Teaching (MET) Project

The MET Project, funded by the Gates Foundation, was designed to discover how evaluation methods could best be used to tell teachers more
about the skills that make them most effective, and to help districts identify and develop great teaching. This project, which spanned three years and included analysis of over 20,000 videotaped lessons from 3,000 teacher volunteers, resulted in nine guiding principles to inform the design and implementation of high-quality teacher support and evaluation systems.

I encourage you to spend some time reviewing these studies. And in the coming weeks, my next two blogs in this series will…

  • Offer research-backed traits of effective evaluation systems;
  • Highlight workable strategies to help you build a growth-based evaluation system.

Also, the entire series is available in my new free ebook From “Gotcha” to Growth: Teacher Evaluation Systems That Work.

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