As we get closer and closer to a nation that has fully aligned with the Common Core State Standards, educators are looking for ways to continually improve the teaching process. The Common Core State Standards initiative brought about sweeping change in terms of curriculum and testing protocol and standards. an effort to keep up with the ever-changing education landscape, proponents of continuous education have long thought that participation in professional development opportunities proves the most successful option. In fact, according to a new report issued by the National School Boards Association, this IS true and the success of the Common Core State Standards is contingent upon effective teacher professional development.

The report, “Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability,” by the NSBA’s Center for Public Education, also argued that Common Core standards will require new teaching methods for effective implementation; further, the support for training teachers in those new methods and ensuring those methods are put into practice effectively is simply not there. However, fixing the problem is still within the realm of possibility, even with recessionary budgetary constraints.

“While professional development might not be the most controversial topic in education, its importance must not be minimized,” said Jim Hull, NSBA senior policy analyst, who spoke with reporters at a press briefing today. He said the new standards will require teaching techniques that are substantially different from practices that are in place today, and it will take time not just to teach those techniques but to give teachers a chance to implement them effectively.

In particular, the report identified several barriers to effective teacher professional development. It found that workshop-based professional development is ineffective, yet more than “90 percent of teachers participate in workshop-style training sessions during a school year.”

Also, for teachers, the “steepest learning curve” has to do with implementing new teaching technique, not learning about them. Hull argued that, just as a football player can easily learn a new play but will require time and practice to get it right on a consistent basis, teachers might be able to learn a new teaching technique quickly but will need time to get it right.

“In fact,” the report said, “studies have shown that teacher mastery of a new skill takes, on average, 20 separate instances of practice and that number may increase if the skill is exceptionally complex.”

In order to help fix the problem, the report suggested:

  • Professional development needs to be ongoing and carried out over time, rather than presented in one-day workshops;
  • Professional development should be delivered “in the context of the teacher’s subject area”; and
  • Peer coaches and mentors “are found to be highly effective in helping teachers implement a new skill” and so should be employed when possible.

The barriers to delivering more effective professional development are not insurmountable, and the payoff will be significant. An investment in teacher professional development will have a “substantial” impact on student learning, Hull said.

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