Why It Matters
Not all professional development is created equal. Research indicates that high quality professional development is essential for high quality teaching. Given the complexity of teaching and learning in today's schools, high quality professional development is necessary to ensure that all teachers are able to meet the needs of diverse student populations, effectively use data and become active agents in their own professional growth.
What We Know
The most effective professional development focuses on the specific content students will learn AND the specific difficulties students encounter in learning the content. Therefore, professional development need not focus on generic teaching behaviors, but on the analysis of curriculum and student responses to it. David Cohen, one of the nation’s leading researchers on teachers’ professional development, advocates that PD should focus on building teachers' ability to assess actual student work and investigate teaching and learning. Offering “in-service” for teachers on the new student standards is insufficient to the task at hand. Teachers need vehicles for analysis, criticism, and communication of ideas and practices.
The National Staff Development Council issued standards for high quality professional development which state that professional development:
should organize adults into learning communities whose goals are aligned with those of the school and district;
requires skillful school and district leaders who guide continuous instructional improvement;
requires resources, including time, to support adult learning and collaboration;
should use disaggregated student data to determine adult learning priorities, monitor progress, and help sustain continuous improvement;
should use multiple sources of information to evaluate effectiveness; and
should prepare educators to understand and teach all students.
Professional development in North Carolina has received a significant amount of attention in recent years. At least six reports have analyzed and recommended reforms to North Carolina's professional development system to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. Teachers added their voice to discussions of reform during negotiations in 2004 on the "calendar bill," when many claimed that the state's twenty (now fifteen) professional development days were not well utilized.
No Child Left Behind calls for sustained, intensive, and classroom-focused professional development that is scientifically based, yet there is still confusion around the issue and little consistency in implemention. A recent study by the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality — which included teacher surveys and school case studies in North Carolina — found professional development virtually non-existent or grossly inadequate in several low performing schools in under-resourced, rural areas. Teachers who need high quality professional development most seem to be receiving it the least. In turn, teachers in high performing schools have more control over professional development decisions, demonstrating the necessity of giving teachers a voice in those decisions affecting their own learning and growth as educators.
What the Toolkit Provides
Above all, professional development should provide educators the knowledge and skills to work with all students. It should also enhance their capacity for analyzing and interpreting data. The following recommendations encourage a data-driven process in deciding what professional development opportunities to provide, implementing the system, and evaluating its impact on student learning. In order to provide high quality professional development to all teachers, stakeholders should consider:
Ensuring professional development provides teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to work with all learners.
Providing extensive resources, including time for PD design, implementation and evaluation, and conducting an assessment of current spending.
Providing opportunities for teachers to assume responsibility for their own PD through formal and informal means.
Developing partnerships that provide expertise and resources to support student success and teachers’ learning.
Planning PD that is aligned with school and district goals and promotes evaluation and follow-up.
Enhancing capacity for analyzing and interpreting data to ensure PD opportunities are based on the needs of students and teachers.
 Most recently, Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University. Professional Development Initiative: Proposal for Action. Durham, NC: Duke University, November 2004.