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Toward Better Teaching: Professional Development in 1993-94 / Chapter 5

5. Support for Professional Development

Effective professional development is dependent to a large extent upon institutional and financial support of teachers' professional development efforts and a school culture that nurtures teacher learning. Recommended principles for effective professional development address the way schools are organized and managed, recognizing that teachers need substantial time and opportunities to work with other teachers both within and outside their own schools in order to develop their knowledge and skills. The 1993-94 SASS data contain useful information on the types of support for professional development that teachers receive and on aspects of the organization and management of schools that may affect teachers' professional development.

Institutional Support

Institutional support to teacher development includes scheduling time during the school day and year for professional development and providing incentives and rewards that encourage teachers to participate. Examples of incentives and rewards include advances on salary schedules; reimbursement of tuition and fees for courses and programs; consideration of participation during evaluation and recertification processes; and paying the fees for obtaining certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Districts and schools can also facilitate teachers' communication with colleagues outside their school by providing Internet connections, informing teachers of opportunities outside the district, and supporting membership in professional associations, among other activities.

Time Available for Professional Development

It is widely recognized that to realize the new vision of professional development, teachers need to have more time available to devote to their professional growth. Teachers already have very full work days, and typically must scramble for staff development time (Massell and Fuhrman 1994; Renyi 1996). Finding large blocks of time for concentrated work and collaboration with other teachers is a particular challenge. Consequently, professional development is frequently relegated to a few scattered days before school begins and during the school year.

Suggested options for making more time available have included extending teachers' contracts to cover more time when students are not in school, reallocating existing time during the teacher's day, and team teaching, for example (Renyi 1996). Some have urged a complete restructuring of how time is used in schools so that teachers have more time during the school year for planning and preparing to teach, observing and assisting colleagues, group work, and individual study (National Education Commission on Time and Learning [NECTL] 1994).

The average teacher was required to be at school 33 hours a week in 1993-94 (table 15). In addition, on average, teachers reported spending another 3 hours per week outside of school hours in activities with students (such as coaching, field trips, tutoring, and transporting students), and 9 hours per week on other school-related activities not directly involving students (such as lesson preparation, grading papers, parent conferences, and meetings). Whether teachers included voluntary professional development activities in the latter category is unknown.

Types of Support for Professional Development

SASS asked teachers to identify the various types of support they had received during the current school year for in-service education or professional development in their main teaching field. What was reported is related both to whether they had participated in in-service education or professional development on topics related to their main teaching assignment field and to whether their district or school offered this type of support. Twenty-two percent of all public school teachers and 30 percent of all private school teachers reported having received no support when asked about release time from teaching, time built into their schedules, travel expenses, tuition or fees, and professional growth credits (figure 15 and table 16). The most common types of support were release time from teaching and time for professional development built into teachers' schedules. Overall, 47 percent of teachers reported having received release time from teaching to participate in professional development activities, and 40 percent reported having had time built into their schedules. In both cases, public school teachers were more likely than private school teachers to receive these types of support. In the public sector, as district size increased, teachers were less likely to be supported with release time and more likely to have time for professional development built into their schedules. In the private sector, as school size increased, teachers were more likely to have received release time.

As district size increased, public school teachers were less likely to have their travel expenses or tuition or fees reimbursed. This suggests that in smaller districts these types of support may be an alternative to subject-specific in-service programs that are district sponsored.22

Although almost all public school teachers had participated in some type of professional development since the end of the last school year (figure 7), only about one-third of all teachers reported having received professional growth credits for participation in professional development programs (table 16). This may mean that the types of activities in which they participated were not the types that their districts, states, or both recognized for credit. It may also reflect the fact that most participation was in activities that lasted one day or less (figure 14 and table 14).

The percentages of teachers who received various types of support varied by state as well, reflecting variation in state involvement in professional development (table 17). For example, in Kentucky, where local districts were required to use 4 days of the school term for professional development and were permitted to request up to 5 additional days, 60 percent of the teachers reported having had time built into their schedules for subject-specific professional development. In Rhode Island, on the other hand, where teachers must bargain with their local districts for in-service days beyond the 180 instructional days dictated by state law, 29 percent of teachers reported having had time built into their schedules for subject-specific professional development. In total, 14 states and the District of Columbia mandated the amount of time that local districts were required to dedicate to professional development in 1996 (CPRE 1997).23

School Culture

The principles for effective professional development referred to in the Introduction emphasize the importance of a collaborative environment where teachers and administrators develop common goals, share ideas, and work together to achieve their goals. The 1993-94 SASS included several questions that permit some judgments about the extent to which school cultures support teachers' professional development. Teachers were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements regarding how often their principal talked with them about their instructional practices, the amount of cooperation among staff members, and the extent of coordination among teachers with regard to class content. In responding to these questions, teachers were given the option of strongly agreeing, somewhat agreeing, somewhat disagreeing, or strongly disagreeing.

Overall, 11 percent of all teachers strongly agreed that their principal talked with them frequently about their instructional practices; 37 percent strongly agreed that there was a great deal of cooperative effort among the staff members; and 39 percent strongly agreed that they made a conscious effort to coordinate the content of their courses with other teachers (table 18).24 To the extent that the responses to these questions can be used as indicators of a collaborative school culture, private school teachers were more likely than public school teachers to see their schools as collaborative places in which to work (figure 16 and table 18).

In both sectors, teachers were more likely to strongly agree that there was a great deal of cooperative effort among the staff members at the elementary level than at the secondary level and in small schools than in large ones.25 Also, in both sectors, as school size increased, teachers were less likely to strongly agree that their principals talked with them frequently about their instructional practices.

Conclusion

While SASS provides limited information on the resources devoted to professional development or on management processes in schools, it does provide some useful data on how much time teachers spend on school-related activities, the types of institutional support they receive for professional development, and their perceptions regarding the organizational culture in their schools. A number of reform-minded writers and commissions have asserted that as currently structured, teachers' workdays and weeks do not permit the time and collegial interaction necessary to foster their professional growth (Little 1993; NCTAF 1996; NECTL 1994). The SASS data indicate that, in fact, teachers already spend more than 40 hours per week on teaching and school-related activities, a finding that supports the concerns of reformers. Some types of tangible support provided for professional development varied with school and district size and also with state policy. Barely more than one-third (37 percent) of all teachers strongly agreed that there was a great deal of cooperative effort among staff members at their school.26


FOOTNOTES:

[22] Although the percentage of teachers who participated in any district-sponsored programs was about 88 percent regardless of district size (table 7), these workshops were not necessarily subject specific.

[23] These states included Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

[24] At the other end of the scale, 22 percent of teachers strongly disagreed that their principal talked with them frequently about their instructional practices; 5 percent strongly disagreed that there was a great deal of cooperative effort among staff members; and 3 percent strongly disagreed that they made a conscious effort to coordinate the content of their courses with other teachers (1993-94 SASS [Teacher Questionnaire], not shown in table).

[25] These two characteristics are, of course, interrelated.

[26] See Henke et al. (1997) for a more extensive discussion of teachers' work environments using SASS data.


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