Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. What We Dont Know and Recommendations for Future Research

12/15/2009

These projects do much to illuminate the process and importance of professional development. Overall, findings suggest that teacher training and ongoing supports can help improve the implementation of curricula, and that such training and support is often associated with improvements in teacher behavior and instructional practice, and enhanced child outcomes. However, benefits are influenced by characteristics of the workplace and teachers, the type of professional development activities, and the intensity of supports. Because most of the studies were not designed to specifically test PD approaches, these findings are suggestive, not conclusive.  Nevertheless, the projects provide clues about areas where future research and exploration would be helpful.

How Can Research Provide a More Complete Picture of Professional Development and Its Effects?

Most of these studies were not designed and did not attempt to trace all the links across the full logic model.

Recommendation for Future Research:  Support analyses in existing and any new studies that trace the links from different types of PD to both shorter-term changes in teacher or instructional practice and longer-term changes in childrens academic achievement or social-emotional skills, while also examining how those effects are heightened or moderated by workplace and teacher characteristics.

What are the Threshold Levels of Implementation, Fidelity, and Dosage, and How Can They Be Measured?

These and previous studies of PD suggest that implementation, fidelity, and dosage are multi-dimensional concepts important for achieving good outcomes, but there is no definitive information about how best to measure these constructs, and how much of any given professional development activity is needed to achieve desired results.

Recommendation for Future Research:  Support the development of measures of implementation that identify the most critical elements of effective program delivery. Include regular reporting on child attendance as part of discussions of dosage and implementation. Conduct additional research to compare the effects of different types and amounts of professional development on these constructs.

How Does Coaching/Mentoring Produce its Effects, and How Should Coaches/Mentors Be Prepared for Their Roles?

Most projects were not designed to study the effectiveness of coaches/mentors, so descriptions of their backgrounds or of the PD they received were limited. While coaching/mentoring appears to be effective, it is not possible to draw conclusions from these studies about how it is producing its effects, or what pre-service or in-service training, professional development, or work experiences an effective coach should possess.

Recommendation for Future Research: Directly assess coaching and mentoring by conducting studies to: (1) determine what specific activities occur during coaching/mentoring that result in the most positive changes in teaching and instructional practice; (2) explore how much coaching and mentoring are needed to produce desired results for different types of teachers (e.g., new, or less educated or experienced teachers); or (3) test the effectiveness of coaches/mentors with varying backgrounds or experiences.

What Professional Development Strategy or Combination of Strategies Produces the Greatest Impact?

Most of the projects delivered multiple professional development strategies (e.g., workshops, coaching, individual/group reflections, etc.) as integral parts of a single training package, making it impossible to isolate the effects of a specific PD strategy.

Recommendation for Future Research:  Compare the effects of individual training strategies to determine the impact each has on teacher behavior/instructional practices and child outcomes.

How Do Teacher and Workplace Characteristics Influence Professional Development and Outcomes?

Generally, these projects produced improvements in teaching practices and outcomes for children, though sometimes those main effects were moderated or heightened by teacher and workplace characteristics (language teachers speak, teacher motivation, poverty status in the classroom, and program auspice).

Recommendation for Future Research:  Conduct studies that explore how teacher and workplace characteristics influence the effects of PD. Develop and test new professional development approaches to better meet the needs of teachers and programs for whom existing approaches may not work as well.

What are the Best Ways to Support All Educators, Not Just Lead Teachers?

A few of the reviewed projects urged future professional development activities be delivered to the whole teaching staff (not just the lead teacher) and involve program administrators. It is not clear from the results of the reviewed projects if these approaches yield greater benefits.

Recommendation for Future Research:  Assess professional development approaches that target not only lead teachers, but assistant teachers and aides as a team, as well as program administrators or school principals who provide supports and set the tone for what educators do in the classroom.

What Professional Development Strategies Will Best Benefit New Teachers and Teachers with Less Education and Experience?

The projects included in this review focus mostly on PD for existing staff, rather than on preparing new entrants for work in the early childhood field. Many participating teachers had BAs and more years of experience than may be reflective of the general ECE workforce. The projects therefore did not address questions related to PD for new entrants into the field, for existing staff with limited experience or degrees, or existing staff who undertake PD to achieve higher levels of education.

Recommendation for Future Research:  Explore the use and test the effectiveness of various PD practices with different populations: (1) new entrants into the ECE field; (2) existing staff with limited professional experience, and (3) existing staff striving for higher levels of education.

What is the Best Way to Alter Hard-to-Change Practices?

In several studies, it appears that some teaching practices are harder to change than others (e.g., working in small rather than large groups; changing instructional processes rather than classroom activity contexts), but there is not much information on how PD can be delivered or targeted to change those practices.

Recommendation for Future Research:  Support analyses of existing data to determine which practices are hardest to change. Conduct new research to test PD approaches that can help teachers alter those practices.

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