Professional Development: The Conceptual View
Unfortunately, a high-quality professional growth experience does not occur by happenstance. According to Norman (1999), top-notch programs, no matter what their topic or purpose, are always focused on students as the critical stakeholder group.1 Teachers are more likely to enthusiastically embrace efforts that directly or indirectly aim to “… strengthen student performance on reading, reasoning, problem-solving, and related tasks drawn from state curriculum standards” (McKenzie, 2002, p. 34). Clearly, however, other stakeholders play prominent roles in the design, implementation and assessment of program quality—among them, teachers, the principal and other key administrators, parents, the school board and community members (Payne & Wolfson, 2000).
A sound grounding in the theoretical underpinnings of professional development can positively inform program planning. Conceptually driven planning is strategic, not merely tactical; application-specific skills are far less important than curriculum, instructional strategies and techniques, and assessment (Bybee, 2001). Activities are well funded, allowing for training customization, ongoing mentoring and follow-up (Hirsh & Sparks, 2000). There is a focus on metacognition and learning awareness that leads to replicable communities of practice (Burns, 2002). Finally, assessment is fully integrated into program activities; both staff and participants recognize that evaluation helps to ensure program relevance, identify points of resistance that might thwart success or reduce impact, pinpoint opportunities for instructional enrichment or remediation, and suggest strategies to build sustainability and/or replicability (Mulqueen, 2001).