Improving Teacher Professional Learning: Inquiry Cycles and the Whole Teacher

Improving Teacher Professional Learning: Inquiry Cycles and the Whole Teacher

Addie Kelley
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6803-3.ch007
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This chapter examines the role of effective teacher professional learning as a support for early career teachers. It establishes the importance of teacher professional learning as a mechanism of increasing student achievement and investigates traditional professional development models' ineffectiveness. This chapter also includes a discussion of the merits of the cycle of inquiry model of teacher professional learning and explores the need to develop teachers as whole persons. The author identifies effective professional learning for teachers and asserts best practices for school administrators, district leaders, decision-makers, and other stakeholders to design and implement effective teacher professional learning that ultimately increases student achievement. This chapter concludes that cycles of inquiry that develop the whole teacher will enhance teacher professional learning and offer the greatest and most effective support for early career teachers.
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Professional development is widely accepted as a crucial part of many career fields, including medicine, architecture, engineering, and education, as a means for generating more effective and efficient best practices. It is an essential element of a teacher’s career, whether a novice or a veteran in the field. This idea is likely not surprising because teachers are considered “core lever[s]” in school improvement (Jensen et al., 2016, p. 11). Professional development plays an essential role in developing teachers’ knowledge and instructional expertise (Birman et al., 2000). Furthermore, Goldschmidt and Phelps (2009) have called professional development “the most promising intervention for improving existing teacher quality” (p. 432). One researcher estimates that American teachers spend approximately 5–10 percent of their work time on professional development activities (Gulamhussein, 2013). Moreover, schools and districts spend billions of dollars annually on such initiatives (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014; The New Teacher Project, 2015), but with little gain in student academic achievement (Guskey & Huberman, 1995; Ball & Cohen, 1999; Guskey, 1999; Guskey & Yoon, 2009; Salinas, 2010; Borko, 2004; Buczynski & Hansen, 2010). The problem is simple: traditional professional development models are not always effective.

A growing body of research examines the characteristics of effective professional development (Guskey & Yoon, 2009; Birman et al., 2000; Webster-Wright, 2009; Darling-Hammond, 2000) and its essential role in school improvement (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999; Ball & Cohen, 1999; Borko, 2004; Sowder, 2007; Darling-Hammond, 2000; Hattie, 2009; Goldschmidt & Phelps, 2010). However, teacher professional development as a means of school reform has garnered inadequate evidence as to which models most effectively lead to increased student academic achievements. It is important to note the subtle nuanced differences between the terms “professional development” and “professional learning”. Although often used interchangeably throughout the literature, this chapter draws an important difference. “Professional development” communicates a worldview that teachers need developing or have some amount of improvement to make. The traditional view of teacher professional development suggests teachers are “knowledge-deficient” (Webster-Wright, 2009) and need intervention and instruction from external experts through passive development. While not all school leaders, district administrators, and policy makers hold this belief, this chapter offers a paradigm shift that honors teachers as experts in their field and acknowledges their learning needs as whole persons. This chapter employs the term “professional learning” to represent this shift from “improving” to “enhancing” teachers’ instructional practice. Professional learning represents the innovative, collaborative, inquiry stance that teachers take as life-long learners in control of enhancing their own professional expertise. The term “professional learning” offers a more holistic, reflective, and collaborative approach to the training that teachers experience every year. Professional learning focuses on constructivist and active-learning strategies for teachers that ultimately increase student academic achievement.

This chapter distills current best-practices for teacher professional learning so that school administrators, district leaders, decision-makers, and other stakeholders can develop and deliver effective teacher professional learning with the primary goal of increased student achievement. This chapter will accomplish this goal in three main sections. First, it examines the importance of teacher professional learning. Second, this chapter identifies the primary problems around traditional professional development. Third, and finally, it identifies potential solutions and makes recommendations for effective teacher professional learning that supports early career teachers. The goal is that the vast time commitment and monetary expenditures on teacher professional learning leads to greater student achievement. This chapter proposes that a cycle of inquiry model of teacher professional learning yields the increase in student learning by supporting early career teachers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Curriculum: The instructional lessons, activities, texts, and resources that teachers, schools, and districts employ to create learning experiences for students and ensure students’ mastery of the academic standards within subject.

Traditional Teacher Professional Development: Archaic forms of professional development that yield little increase in student achievement such as workshops, lectures, and other “one-off” training designs.

Teacher Professional Learning: An innovative, teacher-centered approach to professional development that focuses on the whole teacher and is grounded in improving student academic achievement.

Professional Development: The strategy schools and districts employ aimed at increasing teachers’ knowledge to better inform instructional practice.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge: The intersection of teachers’ subject-matter content knowledge, pedagogy, and specific contextual and student knowledge.

Content Knowledge: The deep understanding teachers possess of the domain-specific subject-matter and substantive topics they teach.

Cycles of Inquiry: Continuous learning for teachers that happens in iterative phases and is grounded in evidence of student learning.

Social Capital: The multifaceted relationships that teachers have within and across grade-level and subject-matter teams in a school or district.

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