on Use of Instructional Materials
Context: What the Literature Tells Us
In 2001, the Consortium on Chicago School Research released a report on the state of professional development in the Chicago Public Schools from 1997-1999. This report described a model of effective professional development, evaluated the extent to which the district followed this model, and described the sources, means of delivery, and school-level supports that promoted effective professional development. While much of professional development in Chicago was “individualistic and fragmented”, strong principal and teacher leadership related to more high quality professional development (Smylie, Allensworth, Greenberg, Harris, & Luppescu, 2001). According to the research of the National Staff Development Council, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, the National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching and the National Society for the Study of Teaching, effective professional development should provide content-rich material, include frequent guided participation/exposure to the innovation, promote a community/context approach to adult learning and shared experience, and model the changes in pedagogy teachers are taught.
Professional development should also be closely aligned with the content taught and materials used daily in their classrooms. Development of curriculum-focused professional development is part of the Local Systemic Change Initiative, which predicts, “teachers, with ongoing support, will be more inclined to change their instruction in ways advocated by national standards, and will have more capacity to do so” (LSC Capstone Report 2006). As stated in Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics, “In districts around the country, curriculum selection, adoption and implementation are such common practices in science and mathematics that focusing on teachers’ professional learning around the curriculum is a great way to embed within the work of real teachers” (Loucks-Horsley, et al., 2003).
Researchers have found that professional development programs that are cursory, one-time events, or that provide the majority of training prior to the start of implementation of a reform, are not very effective (McLaughlin, 1978). Therefore, advocates for effective professional development see it “as a process, not an event” (Guskey, 1995). This is consistent with other research that shows sustained professional development, when aligned with standards-based curricula, can positively impact student achievement at the school level (Cohen, Hill, & Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 1998); (Kannapel & Clements, 2005); (Wenglinsky & Educational Testing Service Princeton NJ. Policy Information Center, 2000), 2002).
Curriculum-focused professional development also helps foster a community among new implementers, by providing opportunities where teachers can share their experiences, issues, and support of other teachers (Ball, 1996). This is important because the process of changing instructional practices through professional development creates cognitive dissonance (Ball & Cohen, 1999). A community of new implementers, by sharing their experiences, can help each other resolve that dissonance. Giving teachers opportunities to reflect together on the implementation process over the course of the school year can improve the success of the implementation (Loucks-Horsley, et al., 2003).