Supporting Research

Why is professional development important?

Building support for professional development requires building knowledge! Here is the research that can be cited and shared to support your advocacy on behalf of investments in professional learning.

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Standards-based professional learning leads to improved teacher and student outcomes. Professional learning aligned to Standards for Professional Learning result in the kind of ongoing, job-embedded, systemic professional learning that results in equitable and improved outcomes for all students.

Garrett, R., Zhang, Q., Citkowicz, M., & Burr, L. (2021). How Learning Forward’s Professional Learning Standards are associated with teacher instruction and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Washington, DC: Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research.

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Professional learning is most effective when it includes several key components. A recent review of 35 methodologically rigorous studies demonstrated a positive link between teacher professional development, teaching practices, and student outcomes. This study identified key features of effective efforts and describes the models in some detail.

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

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The combination of high-quality materials and curriculum-focused professional learning has impact. Recent research highlights the positive impact on both educator and student outcomes when educators have access to high-quality curriculum and instructional materials.

Boser, U., Chingos, M., & Straus, C., (2015). The hidden value of curriculum reform. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress.

A recent meta-analysis of STEM-focused curriculum and professional development studies found positive effects on teachers’ instructional practices and student outcomes when the professional learning strengthened educators’ content knowledge.

Lynch, K., Hill, H.C., Gonzalez, K.E., & Pollard, C. (2019). Strengthening the research base that informs STEM instructional improvement efforts: A meta-analysis. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 41(3), 260-293.

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Investments in school leaders and future school leaders improve teaching and learning. Research shows a strong correlation between investing in effective principals and student achievement and teacher retention. New research sponsored by the Wallace Foundation reviewed of two decades of evidence including six quantitative, longitudinal studies involving 22,000 principals – found that principals have large positive effects on student learning.

Grissom, J.A., Egalite, A.J., & Lindsay, C.A. (2021, February). How principals affect students and schools: A systematic synthesis of two decades of research. The Wallace Foundation.

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Coaching is an especially productive use of professional learning resources.

Research shows that coaching helps teachers improve their practice at a relatively fast rate. A recent meta-analysis of 60 rigorous studies of coaching found large positive effects on teachers’ instructional practices. Researchers found that coaching accelerates teacher growth at the rate that typically occurs as a teacher acquires years of experience. Several comparison-group studies cited in the meta-analysis found that teachers who experience high-quality coaching are more likely to enact new teaching practices and apply them more appropriately than teachers who engage in more traditional professional learning, such as workshops and conferences.

Kraft MA, Blazar D, Hogan D. The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence. Review of Educational Research [Internet]. 2018;88 (4) :547-588.

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Attending to students’ and educators’ backgrounds in professional learning leads to better outcomes. Research shows that culturally responsive teaching has a positive impact on student engagement and learning, especially for students “whose experiences and cultures are traditionally excluded from mainstream settings”. Professional learning at the system, school or individual level can expand beliefs and strengthen skills related to the teacher-student relationship, instructional language and routines, classroom climate and expectations, and assessments.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2014, Spring). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, (84)1, 74-84.

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Social and emotional learning is part of professional learning because it supports and complements academic learning. Instructional strategies and professional learning related to social and emotional learning must be integrated into professional learning systems. Several large meta-analyses found that participation in SEL programs improved students’ academic performance, their social and emotional competencies, and their well-being and social behavior. For a research summary, see here.

Research shows that the best SEL approaches focus on concrete, specific, observable, and teachable skills and competencies – outcomes that well designed professional learning can achieve.

Jones, S.M. & Kahn, J. (2017, September 13). The evidence base for how we learn: Supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development. The Aspen Institute.

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