Planning Tip 1: Make the planning process inclusive. The professional development planning process will benefit from participation by a number of individuals, including teachers, principals and other school leaders, and school-based professional development staff and supervisors. It is especially important to include at least some of the potential participants in the activity in every step of the planning process. In addition, it is a good idea to include the persons who will be responsible for evaluating the activity. Broad-based participation in planning helps generate interest in and ownership of the activity. Involving participants can provide a reality check for the identification of professional learning needs and for the intended outcomes. Involving principals and other school leaders in the process can help define their role in the various learning activities and follow up as well as in making sure that there are adequate resources in place to support implementation and use of new knowledge and skills in the classroom and elsewhere in school programs. Finally, broad-based participation helps to distribute the workload.
Planning Tip 2: Think ahead and map backward to ensure that professional development is of the highest quality. All of your planning efforts should be guided by the axiom that high-quality professional development as envisioned by the Maryland Teacher Professional Development Standards is a critical component of every effort to improve the education for all of Maryland’s students. Therefore it is important to think carefully about the kind of student outcomes that you want to effect and to think just as carefully about what teachers need to know and be able to do to help students achieve those outcomes. As your goals and objectives for improving student learning become more ambitious, so too should your goals and strategies for teacher learning. If you expect significant changes in teacher performance as a result of the professional development you are planning, it is essential that you plan realistically for the kinds of learning activities that will foster these changes and the kinds of follow up and other support that will increase the likelihood that they make it into the classroom. It is also critical to be realistic about time: How much time will the professional learning really require? How much time will be necessary to ensure adequate opportunities for practice and feedback on the mastery and application of new knowledge and skills? When is it reasonable to expect changes in student learning? Attending to these questions and to the “fit” between the intended outcomes and the strategies for achieving your plan will greatly increase the possibilities for success.
As you plan, keep in mind that high-quality professional development has other benefits for teachers that extend beyond improving instruction. Exciting, engaging professional learning activities can stimulate teachers as learners and can boost morale in difficult times. Conversely, professional development that does not engage teachers as active adult learners and problem solvers and that does not acknowledge their knowledge and skills will not have any kind of a positive impact. Indeed, these activities may undermine teachers’ willingness to participate in other professional development as well as their commitment to improvement efforts.
Planning Tip 3: Consider developing a logic model to guide your planning.. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has prepared the Logic Model Development Guide, which is an excellent resource for program planning and evaluation. As the Kellogg guide explains in the introduction, a logic model is
A picture of how your organization does its work—the theory and assumptions underlying the program. A program logic model links outcomes (both short- and long-term) with program activities/processes and the theoretical assumptions/principles of the program.
The Kellogg guide is available at no charge on the foundation’s website: www.wkkf.org.
A logic model for professional development will list the student outcomes that you are seeking as well as the outcomes for teachers and other participants. The logic model will specify the kinds of learning activities that are necessary to ensure that teachers and other participants achieve the intended outcomes. The logic model can also help clarify assumptions about the sequence of the learning activities that you are planning and how much time they will require. The logic model can help you think about the resources that are required. Finally, developing a logic model can help you think about the logical connections among all of the components of your plan.
Planning Tip 4: Learn what the data tell you, but don’t take on too much. A thorough analysis of a variety of disaggregated student data and data on current teacher knowledge and skills may result in the identification of a wide range of needs that could be addressed through teacher professional development programs and initiatives. At this point, planners may be tempted to try to address all of the needs. Doing so could result in frustration as planners tackle too much. More importantly, it could result in designing professional development activities that are too broad in focus and too limited in appropriate teacher learning activities to be successful. Planners are well advised to list all of the needs that they identify and to carefully choose those that be adequately addressed in the activities that they are planning. These choices can be guided by planners’ assumptions about the pace and sequence of introducing and implementing new knowledge and skills, local and state improvement priorities, and the availability of resources, especially money and time. Needs not addressed in the current planning effort represent an excellent starting point for the next round of planning.
Planning Tip 5: Student outcomes are important, but think carefully about the indicators. Improvements in the quality of student work are good indicators of the implementation and use of new curricula and new instructional strategies. Therefore, your planning group may want to think about specific changes in student work that should be considered outcomes of professional development. Over the longer term, changes in student test scores and changes in end of course assessments are certainly desirable outcomes, but unless the professional development activity that your are planning is very ambitious and broad in scope, it will be very difficult to identify specific changes in student scores that are attributable to the professional development. Alternatively, results of benchmark assessment or student work samples collected at various points during the year may be reasonably sensitive indicators of the outcomes of professional development.
Planning Tip 6: Consider developing a management plan to guide implementation of the activity you are planning. A solid management plan will spell out the tasks necessary to implement the activity that you are planning, the timeline, and who will be responsible. Developing this plan can help clarify your thinking about key details of scheduling, resource needs, and communications with prospective participants and consultants and others who will help with the activity. The management plan can be a simple as a checklist or it can be more complex.
Planning Tip 7: Focus, focus, focus. Effective professional development has a clearly defined focus. Professional development that attempts to address too many topics is likely to have little or no impact on instruction or student outcomes. This is a good point in the planning process to review your choice of content. As a rule of thumb, if you have selected more than two of the professional development content standards, the activity that you are planning may be too broad in scope. Alternatively, if you have chosen to address more of the content standards, you will need to be sure that the learning activities and follow up that you plan are consistent with the breadth of the content and that you have allotted sufficient time for teacher engagement and practice.
Planning Tip 8: Think about group process. If you expect that participants will engage in the activity in groups, it will be important to ensure that the groups are able to function effectively. For example, if participants are SIT members or members of grade-level teams, they will probably have some experience in working together. Alternatively, if the groups are formed for the purpose of participating in the activity and members do not know each other or have not worked together, your plan should probably include activities that focus on building collaboration skills and that foster setting a norm for collegiality among members of the group. This will be especially important if you expect the group to generate a product, such as a school improvement plan, or to continue working together after the initial learning activities.
Planning Tip 9: Ensure that everyone gets into the action. It is important that all participants have the opportunity to participate in all of the activities that you are planning. For example, if your plan calls for opportunities to practice a new strategy, the plan should ensure that these opportunities are available to all participants. Similarly, if the plan includes feedback on this practice or feedback on materials developed by the participant, it is important to ensure that all participants receive feedback.
Planning Tip 10: Look for strategies and opportunities to share the responsibility for follow up. Too often follow up is left to chance or there are unspoken assumptions about the kinds of things that will happen to support teachers after the initial learning activities have been completed. As you think about options for follow up, think about who can or should provide the follow up. For example, if you are planning a series of workshops or training sessions that will take place at a central location or a location that is some distance from school sites, it may not be feasible or practical for the presenters and facilitators in these sessions to provide school-based follow up to individual teachers or groups of teachers. Instead, principals, other school leaders, school-based professional development staff or district professional development staff and specialists may be in a better position to provide the necessary follow up.
If you decide to include these other staff in follow up activities it will be important to communicate with them about what they are expected to do and to provide them with concrete guidance and other resources that they will need to be effective. For example, you will want to provide some basic information (perhaps in the form of a rubric) that explains what the new strategies and practices that were the focus of the initial learning activities look like in practice. In addition, it may be helpful to provide information about the resources that teachers need to practice and implement the strategies as a way of helping to ensure that teachers have what they need to move forward. In the end, successful sharing of responsibilities means leaving nothing to chance and letting everyone know what is expected of them.
Planning Tip 11: Evaluations that focus on participant satisfaction and ratings of quality have limited value in assessing the impact of professional development on participants’ knowledge, skills, and performance or the impact on student learning. These evaluation strategies can, however, contribute to your assessment of whether the activity took place as planned. If your plan does include these kinds of evaluation strategies, it is better to administer surveys or conduct interviews about these topics at least four to six weeks after they have been completed. It is also advisable to seek these ratings by asking respondents to compare the activity that is being evaluated with other kinds of activities.
Planning Tip 12: Consider seeking help from an evaluator. You may find it useful to consult with an evaluator on your plans for evaluation even if you do not expect to conduct an external evaluation. An evaluator can help you identify appropriate outcome indicators for both teachers and students. An evaluator can also suggest ways of collecting and analyzing data on the indicators. In addition, an evaluator can help you determine whether it may be appropriate to concentrate on a sample of participants in ways that will generate valid results and that may also reduce the overall cost of the evaluation. If you do decide to seek assistance from an evaluator, you may want to include this person in the initial planning activities, particularly the decisions about intended outcomes and the appropriate indicators. In the end, it is important for the planning team to keep in mind that it is not necessary for them to be skilled evaluators. Rather, team members can think of themselves as clients and the audience for the evaluation.
Cost will certainly be a concern when considering seeking help from an evaluator. One role for an evaluator is to help organize the work of teachers and others in collecting and analyzing data on the indicators that will be the focus of the evaluation. This arrangement will reduce the costs of hiring an external evaluator. At the same time, teachers and other staff may simply be too busy to do a thorough job of data collection and analysis and their time has costs associated with it even those these costs will not show up as direct expenditures for the activity. Nevertheless, in the long run, you may find it less expensive to hire an evaluator.
If your district has a research office, you might begin your search for an evaluator there. Staff in the research office may be able to help plan and conduct the evaluation as part of their regular work. They may also be able to suggest the names of evaluators with whom they have worked in the past. Alternatively, you may want to contact the dean of college of education at a nearby college or university for recommendations of faculty or staff who could serve as a evaluator. You may also want to contact college or university departments with a special focus on research and evaluation. Finally, MSDE program staff may be able to recommend evaluators with whom they have worked on program evaluation tasks.
As you begin thinking about your evaluation, you may find it useful to review Evaluating Professional Development (2000) by Thomas R. Guskey (available from the Corwin Press, Inc.). The author provides detailed suggestions and numerous concrete examples of how to plan and conduct evaluations of professional development activities.
Planning Tip 13: Consider using products and artifacts from learning activities and follow up as evaluation data. A number of learning activities and follow up opportunities can generate data that are extremely useful for evaluation purposes. For example, feedback to participants on their mastery of new knowledge and skills can be aggregated to provide an overall sense of how effective the activity was. Similarly, if either the initial learning activities or follow up include observations of teachers applying new knowledge and skills, using rubrics for those observations and feedback to the teachers can easily generate quality data to gauge the impact of the activities. If you are planning a multi-session activity that includes “homework” assignments between the sessions, systematic ratings of these assignments are yet another source of data on program effectiveness. There are several advantages to using these kinds of data for an evaluation. First, collecting them does not add much to the cost of the activity or the evaluation. Second, they are readily available and can help generate evaluation results quickly—often in time for making mid-course corrections when early results suggest that the activity is not achieving the intended outcomes.
Planning Tip 14: Elements of your evaluation plan that focus on outcomes for teachers and for students should explicitly reflect your assumptions about the pace and sequence of change. Changes in teachers’ instructional practices, their use of curricula, and their use of new assessments all take time. Changes in student learning outcomes and outcomes in other areas that result from changes in what teachers do take even longer. Your evaluation design, especially the plans for data collection, should reflect your assumptions about how long these will take. For example, if you assume that full implementation and use of a new instructional strategy requires 15-20 opportunities to practice it and to receive feedback, you will need to think about how long it will take for those opportunities to occur and think about assessing the extent and quality of implementation after that period. If the timing of your evaluation is not consistent with your assumptions about the pace and sequence of changes, the evaluation is very likely to underestimate or overestimate the impact of the activity—possibly by wide margins. A good evaluator can help you think through the alignment of the evaluation plan with your theory of change.