Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the U.S. and abroad.

Author: Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., Andree, A., Richardson, N., Orphanos, S.



This report builds upon the foundational concept that effective teachers are the primary method for increasing student achievement. It explores the current methods of professional development in the U.S. and around the world. The National Staff Development Council in conjunction with the School Redesign network at Stanford University use this report to outline criteria for strong and effective professional development: 1) school leaders become instructional leaders by learning from peers and experts; 2) they create a school culture and framework for continuous professional development; and 3) they provide a supportive environment that pushes teachers to improve pedagogy, use data to make instructional decisions, and maintain an environment of high expectations. This report, as does most research that studies professional development, touts collaborative learning teams as the foundational structure for improving student achievement. By providing a comprehensive look at professional development across the world, this report offers policymakers and educational leaders a starting point for considering the most effective methods for professional learning.

The first section of this report reviews current research linking teacher professional development and student learning. The overarching finding of the research extols that professional development is most effective when focused on concrete conversations about student work, lesson development, assessment and reflection, rather than abstract conversations about teaching in general. Student learning must also remain the highest priority for teachers as they increase their pedagogy. Another critical element is the importance of content-specific learning for teachers to understand the relevance of professional development and strive for effective implementation of new learning. The duration and intensity of professional development is a prominent factor in its effectiveness and must be combined with meaningful content. This report also explores the impact of external professional learning – workshops, courses, conferences, and school visits – versus the use of job-embedded professional learning – professional learning communities, study/inquiry groups, grade-level teams, peer observations of practice, and collaborative analysis of student work.

The analysis of current research also reviewed research concerning school-based coaching and identified mixed results. Differences in coaching quality and coaching structures are possible reasons for mixed conclusions regarding the effectiveness of school-based coaching. There is evidence from current research that teachers who receive coaching tend to implement new learning more so than teaching working within the realm of more traditional professional development. Some of the research reviewed showed a link between school-based coaching and literacy development. More research needs to be done using comparison methods and more sufficient controls on a larger scale to conclude a causal link between coaching and student achievement. Job embedded mentoring and coaching appears to have more of an effect on teacher implantation of new instructional practices than traditional workshop models of professional development.

While reviewing professional learning practices from around the world, this study found common features of professional development in high achieving countries: 1) extensive opportunities to learn both formally and informally, 2) professional learning time built into teachers’ work days, 3) professional learning activities grounded in teachers’ context that continued over time, 4) school leadership that involved teachers in decisions around curriculum and instructional practice, and 5) induction programs for new teachers that includes release time for new and mentor teachers. This study does not draw causal relationships between staff development and achievement levels of students; however, the differences in the intensity, structure, content, and duration of professional development in countries with high student achievement versus the professional development in countries with lower student achievement suggest a strong link between the two. The most interesting and eye-opening part of this report is its review of professional development from other countries. High achieving countries often provide many hours of professional learning above and beyond job-embedded collaboration and encourage or even require graduate level work that is supported both financially and through release time. Singapore, specifically, trains teachers to undertake action research, focusing on teaching and learning problems; solutions to these problems are then shared with colleagues. Some countries implement national training programs that employ a trainer of trainers model. Overall, teachers from high achieving countries, spend much more time in professional development and less time in direct contact with students. High achieving countries maintain the expectation that professional learning is a right of every teacher and the foundation for increasing student achievement.

This report is most helpful for national policy-makers when considering the structure of schools and monies allocated for professional development. It would also be of interest for State and district educational leaders as they consider the role that professional development plays within state and district planning and policy. School administrators and leaders can learn from the recommended themes and structures that this report provides. There is a 36 page report that provides conclusions about the study and also a 162 page technical report that can be found on the National Staff Development Council website.

Date Added: 05/13/2009


  • People » Administrators
  • People » Departments of Education
  • People » Literacy Coaches
  • People » Policy Makers
  • Practices » Federal Programs
  • Practices » Gr. PreK-12
  • Practices » University Programs
  • Research » Research on Literacy Coaching