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What Drives Successful Professional Development?

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Teacher quality is at the top of everyone's minds these days. Most of the mainstream dialogue is about rooting out the bad teachers and the evils of the teachers' unions. While it's easy to understand why this captures people's imaginations -- who is for keeping bad teachers or paying people for sitting around? -- ultimately the tougher nut to crack is the question that will be left to administrators, principals and the educators themselves: how do we provide the ongoing professional development that will support teachers that need improvement and that will strengthen and even stretch those who are already doing great? And how do we do this in a rapidly changing educational environment when the needs are different across classrooms, across districts, and across the country?

At the National Academy Foundation (NAF) we are focused on ensuring the ongoing quality of the academies that we support around the country and there are some lessons here that can inform how we think about making every teacher an effective one.

Recently our nearly 500 career academies each completed their own self-evaluation. Academy stakeholders met in teams to assess their progress as measured against effective practice using NAF's self-assessment tool. Academies then reviewed their results and submitted their information to NAF, who examined these scores and validated the highest scores through site visits in hopes of learning best practices that could be shared with the network. NAF shared the results with each academy, highlighting which areas present the greatest challenges, and are directing them to targeted resources related to their challenges.

I see two fundamental differences between the way we have approached this process and the teacher quality movement.

One: the self-assessment is a tool for academy improvement in the elements of our educational model that have been proven to drive student success -- not just those that might result in a student scoring higher on a standardized test. Success is measured through our 90 percent graduation rate, the rate of students going on to two- and four-year colleges, their ability to be successful there, and the demonstrated likeliness of their increased earnings throughout their careers. Success to us means students are prepared to thrive in post-secondary education, work, and in life. District administrators, principals and teachers are more than willing to make changes to their schools and in their practice when it's clear how meaningful the outcomes are for students.

Two: The self-assessment process will help us to know how academies are not measuring up to our standards and if they are not willing to change they will be disaffiliated from our network, but for the vast majority it will help guide their ongoing improvement which means better outcomes for students. The self-assessment is not intended to serve as a scolding to academies, but rather to point them in the direction of tools and information that can enhance their performance.

The self-assessment process has reenergized our network and has driven academies to strive for higher status (aka better performance). "The self-assessment process encouraged our team to sit down and revisit our priorities," said Julie Oster, Academy Director of the Academy of Information Technology at Apex High School in Apex, North Carolina. "We learned that we really need to revise our IT course requirements to keep up with industry standards. NAF has provided carefully developed, industry-validated curriculum that will provide our students with opportunities for industry certifications as well as NAF certification that is/will be recognized by colleges. Our teachers feel supported by the NAF network while learning new curriculum and then are able to teach the latest in technology."