Published on 2012/07/26

Why Professional Development for Teachers is Critical

Teacher development has moved beyond simple in-service workshops and has expanded into a more robust system of continuing education. In order to advance in their careers, teachers should seek out professional development opportunities which are ongoing and aligned with standards and assessments. Photo illustration by Tiero.

Educators must understand the concepts in processing professional development and what it means to education. The National Staff Development Council (2007) created a set of nine standards that all professional development should follow. They include content knowledge and quality teaching, research-basis, collaboration, diverse learning needs, student learning environments, family involvement, evaluation, data-driven design, and teacher learning.

However, it does not determine whether accountable measures are being gathered to determine if this information has benefited the education system as a whole.

Professional development refers to the development of a person in his or her professional role. According to Glattenhorn (1987), by gaining increased experience in one’s teaching role they systematically gain increased experience in their professional growth through examination of their teaching ability. Professional workshops and other formally related meetings are a part of the professional development experience (Ganzer, 2000). Much broader in scope than career development, professional development is defined as a growth that occurs through the professional cycle of a teacher (Glattenhorn, 1987). Moreover, professional development and other organized in-service programs are deigned to foster the growth of teachers that can be used for their further development (Crowther et al, 2000). One must examine the content of those experiences through which the process will occur and how it will take place (Ganzer, 2000; Guskey, 2000).

This perspective, in a way, is new to teaching in that professional development and in-service training simply consisted of workshops or short term courses that offered teachers new information on specific aspects of their work (Brookfield, 2005). Champion (2003) posited that regular opportunities and experiences for professional development over the past few years had yielded systematic growth and development in the teaching profession.

Many have referred to this dramatic shift as a new image or a new module of teacher education for professional development (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001: Walling & Lewis, 2000). In the past 15 years there have been standards-based movements for reform (Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 1993; Hord, 2004; Kedzior & Fifield, 2004: Sparks, 2002). The key component of this reform effort has been that effective professional development has created a knowledge base that has helped to transform and restructure quality schools (Guskey, 1995; Willis, 2000).

Much of the available research on professional development involves its relationship to student achievement. Researchers differ on the degree of this relationship. Variables are the school, teacher, student level related to the level of learning within the classroom, parent and community involvement, instructional strategies, classroom management, curriculum design, student background knowledge, and student motivation (Marzano, 2003). Based upon a review of several studies, Marzano (2003) concluded that the professional development activities experienced by teachers have a similar impact on student achievement to those of the aforementioned variables.

Opportunities for active learning, content knowledge, and the overall coherence of staff development are the top three characteristics of professional development. Opportunities for active learning and content specific strategies for staff development refer to a focus on teacher application of learned material. Overall coherence refers to the staff development program perceived as an integrated whole and development activities building upon each other in a consecutive fashion. Marzano (2003) warned, however, that standardized staff development activities which do not allow for effective application would be ineffective in changing teacher behavior.

Richardson, (2003) published a list of characteristics associated with effective professional development, stating that such programs would optimally be:

“statewide, long term with follow-up; encourage collegiality; foster agreement among participants on goals and visions; have a supportive administration; have access to adequate funds for materials, outside speakers, substitute teachers, and so on; encourage and develop agreement among participants; acknowledge participants existing beliefs and practices; and make use of outside facilitator/staff developers.” (p. 402)

Kedzior and Fifield (2004) described effective professional development as a prolonged facet of classroom instruction that is integrated, logical and on-going and incorporates experiences that are consistent with teachers’ goals; aligned with standards, assessments, other reform initiatives, and beset by the best research evidence. Elmore (2002) described professional development as sustained focus over time that is consistent with best practice.

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Brookfield, S. (2005). Power of critical theory for adult learning and teaching. Berkdire, Great Britain: McGraw-Hill Education.

Champion, R. (2003). Taking measure: The real measure of professional development program’s effectiveness lies in what participants learned. Journal of Staff Development, 24(1), 1–5.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2001). Beyond certainty: Taking an inquiry stance on practice. In A. Lieberman & L. Miller (Eds.), Teachers caught in the action: Professional development that matters (pp. 45–61). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Elmore, R. (2002). Bridging the gap between standards and achievement: The imperative for professional development education [Brochure]. Washington, DC: Albert Shanker Institute.

Ganzer, T. (Ed.) (2000). Ambitious visions of professional development for teachers [Special Issue]. National Association for Secondary School Principals, (84)618

Glattenhorn, A. (1987). Cooperative professional development: Peer centered options for teacher growth. Educational Leadership, (3)45, 31-35.

Guskey, T. R. (1995). Professional development in action: New paradigms and practices. (T. R. Guskey & M. Huberman, Eds.) New York: Teachers College Press.

Guskey, T. R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hord, S. M. (Ed.). (2004). Learning together leading together: Changing schools through professional learning communities. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Kedzior, M., & Fifield, S. (2004). Teacher professional development. Education Policy Brief, 15(21), 76–97.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in school: Translating research into action. Alexandria,, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Miles, K. H., Olden, A., Fermanich, M., & Archibald, S. (2004). Inside the blackbox of school spending on professional development: Lessons from comparing five urban districts. Journal of Education and Finance 30(1) 1-26.

Richardson, V. (2003). The dilemmas of professional development. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(5), 401–406.

National Staff Development Council (2001). NSDC’s Standards for Staff Development. Oxford, OH. Author.

National Staff Development Council (2007). Professional development. Retrieved

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Walling, B., & Lewis, M. (2000). Development of professional development pre-service teachers: Longitudinal and comparative analysis. Action Teacher Education, 22(2a), 63-67

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