Resolving Insanity: Improving Professional Development Structures to Support Student Success
Henry, Gary Allan
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Background: Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.” This definition rings true in education, specifically in Texas, as leaders continue in their attempt to improve test scores while providing professional development which is rarely structured to the needs of the educators who provide instruction to students. The constant pressures applied to leaders regarding improving test scores adds to this insanity. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) adds pressure to leaders to improve scores while at the same time requiring leaders to provide teachers with high quality professional development. Purpose: Unfortunately, the missing element is a structure for leaders to provide to their teachers in order to meet all of these mandates. Fortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) within the campus communities and a growing body of evidence supporting the personalization of teacher professional development. This study contributes to the resolution of this insanity by providing a model of personalized professional development within a professional learning communities (PLC) structure. Methods: Over a six-month period this study focuses on the description and analysis of a PLC structure that was implemented within a suburban campus in the Houston area. The PLC provided a group of fourth grade teachers with personalized professional development within that same structure. This study reviewed the model used to implement the PLCs; the professional learning opportunities and instructional actions in which teachers engaged; how they personalized their professional development; reviewed pre and post student math and reading achievement data in each teacher’s class; and, provides recommendations to update structures to the PLC processes used in the model that are based on outcomes of this project and current research. Results: Teachers in this PLC study followed the steps involved in the PLC process, gained in their professional expertise as a result of engaging in the process, and transferred those gains into student gains over time. This study confirms the research findings that teachers have a strong desire to be included in the planning of their own professional activities. Outcomes demonstrate the need to provide structures that support that engagement. However, when reviewing the metrics used to determine the impact that professional development activities have on student achievement, we were unable statistically to assess the impact of the teacher activities on student achievement over time due to measurement anomalies that relate to changes in the metrics, cut-scores, and reporting of state standardized testing. Conclusions: The results of this study would include providing leaders and educators with structures to implement and support the PLC process while implementing job-embedded professional development activities specific to the needs of each teacher. This could be achieved by utilizing the teacher self-analysis instrument as a baseline tool for identifying professional development needs while assessing levels of use and concerns during the PLC implementation process.