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Thursday, 19 September 2019

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How Can I Best Plan My Professional Development?

By Gordon Eldridge, TIE Columnist


Despite mounting evidence indicating that traditional professional development (PD) programs based on workshops alone usually do not produce the hoped-for improvements in instructional practice and student achievement, this model is still all-pervasive in international schools. There is some evidence to suggest that programs that are focused on embedded practice, are of longer duration, build explicit skill sets, and are based on active learning may be more effective than those that don’t, but how often do we systematically apply these criteria when organizing or selecting PD opportunities?

One of the promising recent developments on the international school scene is the growing number of instructional coaching programs designed to support teachers in building their skills in an individualized, time-intensive, and context-specific way. Are these programs any more successful than traditional workshops? Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan conducted a meta-analysis of 60 studies of instructional coaching programs to find out.

What were the results of the meta-analysis?

Overall, instructional coaching programs produced:

• a 0.49 standard deviation improvement in teacher practice

• a 0.18 standard deviation improvement in student achievement.

These represent quite significant improvements. To put them in context, they are the kind of effects achieved by interventions such as large reductions in class size or major changes in curriculum.

The impact on student achievement is of a similar or greater magnitude as “the degree to which teachers improve their ability to raise student achievement during the first five to 10 years of their careers ,with estimates ranging from 0.05 SD to 0.15 SD” (p. 569).

Were some coaching programs more successful than others?

Size of program

• The larger the coaching program, the smaller the impact on both teacher practice and student achievement.

• When researchers distinguished between “small” and “large” programs (those involving 100 or more teachers), they found that the smaller programs raised student achievement by 0.28 SD. In fact, as compared with large programs, small ones had approximately twice the positive effect on teacher instructional practice and three times the positive effect on student achievement. These differences were statistically significant.

There are many factors that may explain this difficulty in scaling programs up, but one potentially significant difference is that smaller programs are often tailored for teachers in a particular context.

Virtual vs. in-person

• There appears to be no significant difference in impact between programs that are delivered online and those that are delivered in person.

Programs paired with other forms of PD

• Instructional coaching programs that are paired with group training add an extra 0.31 SD to the improvement in instructional practice and an extra 0.12 SD to the improvement in student achievement.

• Instructional coaching programs that are paired with instructional resources and materials add an extra 0.21 SD to the improvement in instructional practice.

It seems that building some foundational knowledge and skills prior to engaging in work with an instructional coach can be helpful. Additionally, specific trainings and materials support coaches and teachers in focusing their collaboration in productive ways.

What might this mean for me as I think about my own PD?

Evidence strongly suggests that impacting student achievement requires quite a large shift in instructional quality. The authors of this article estimate that a 1.0 SD improvement in teacher practice generates an improvement in student achievement that hovers around 0.21 SD. This weak relationship suggests that implementing a few strategies we learned in a PD session is unlikely to have a significant impact on our students’ learning.

The results of this meta-analysis suggest that the most promising way for us to make significant improvements in our practice is to build some basic skills and knowledge through workshops and other PD events, then engage with an instructional coach as a reflection partner so we can:

• thoroughly consider how our learning from the workshop might affect our theories about the ways in which students learn;

• reflect on and experiment with the connections between learning activities and instructional purposes;

• adapt strategies to best meet the instructional purposes in our classroom and the needs of our individual students; and

• build confidence so that our new learning becomes embedded in our ongoing classroom practice.

If your school has a good instructional coaching program, make the most of it. It is potential gold for your students!


Kraft, M., Blazar, D., & Hogan, D. (2018) “The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence.” Review of Educational Research Vol. 88, No. 4, pp. 547–588.

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