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What is the research evidence on successful practices for teacher professional learning?

May 2017

Following an established REL Northeast & Islands research protocol, we conducted a search for recent research on practices for teacher professional learning. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed research on successful practices for teacher professional learning. Our searches prioritize the use of Institute of Education Sciences sponsored databases and organizations, including the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), Education Resources Information center (ERIC), and National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE). For more details on the search process, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Please note that we have not comprehensively evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. Further, while we searched commonly used databases and organizations for educational research, other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Akiba, M. & Liang, G. (2016). Effects of Teacher Professional Learning Activities on Student Achievement Growth. Journal of Educational Research, 109(1), 99–110.
    From the abstract: “The authors examined the effects of six types of teacher professional learning activities on student achievement growth over 4 years using statewide longitudinal survey data collected from 467 middle school mathematics teachers in 91 schools merged with 11,192 middle school students' mathematics scores in a standardized assessment in Missouri. The data showed that teacher-centered collaborative activities to learn about mathematics teaching and learning (teacher collaboration and informal communication) seem to be more effective in improving student mathematics achievement than learning activities that do not necessarily involve such teacher-centered collaborative opportunities (professional development programs, university courses, individual learning activities). Teacher-driven research activities through professional conference presentation and participation were also found to be associated with student achievement growth in mathematics. The districts and schools may benefit from investing their professional development funds and resources in facilitating teacher-centered collaborative and research-based learning activities in order to improve student learning.”
  2. Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A. (2008). A Review of Research on the Impact of Professional Learning Communities on Teaching Practice and Student Learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(1), 80-91.
    From the abstract: “After an overview of the characteristics of professional learning communities (PLCs), this manuscript presents a review of 10 American studies and one English study on the impact of PLCs on teaching practices and student learning. Although, few studies move beyond self-reports of positive impact, a small number of empirical studies explore the impact on teaching practice and student learning. The collective results of these studies suggest that well-developed PLCs have positive impact on both teaching practice and student achievement. Implications of this research and suggestions for next steps in the efforts to document the impact of PLCs on teaching and learning are included.”
  3. Carroll, T., Fulton, K. & Doerr, H. (2010). Team Up for 21st Century Teaching and Learning: What Research and Practice Reveal about Professional Learning. Condensed Excerpts. National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.
    From the abstract: “This document contains excerpts from Team Up for 21st Century Teaching & Learning. This document includes the excerpts of five articles that provide a substantial evidence-based argument for the power of collaborative communities to improve teaching and learning. These articles are: (1) Professional Communities and the Artisan Model of Teaching (Joan E. Talbert and Milbrey McLaughlin); (2) Professional Learning Communities: A Review of the Literature (Louise Stoll, Ray Bolam; Agnes McMahon, Mike Wallace, and Sally Thomas); (3) A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of Teacher Collaboration for School Improvement and Student Achievement in Public Elementary Schools (Yvonne L. Goddard, Roger D. Goddard, and Megan Tschannen-Moran); (4) Moving the Learning of Teaching Closer to Practice: Teacher Education Implications of School-Based Inquiry Teams (Ronald Gallimore, Bradley A. Ermeling, William M. Saunders, and Claude Goldenberg); and (5) Tracing the Effects of Teacher Inquiry on Classroom Practice (Bradley A. Ermeling). Case studies written by skilled practitioners who are working today in PLCs in schools around the country are also presented. The teachers in each of these schools have redefined their roles as they have become members of a professional community composed of accomplished teachers, novice and student teachers, and teacher coaches. Each case study tells the story of the process of developing learning teams, overcoming obstacles, and ultimately changing teaching to improve learning and student achievement through collaborative work. Individual excerpts contain resources.”
  4. King, M. (2016). 6 Key Features of Successful Community of Practice. Journal of Staff Development, 37(6), 12-14.
    From the report: “Most educators probably know what it feels like to be part of an unproductive professional learning community--one where the topics range from last night's TV episodes to everyone's weekend plans before coming around to instructional issues. Other communities might just feel like another staff meeting with a list of announcements. But there are ways to create strong communities of practice that allow schools to address common challenges while also benefitting individual members. The Redesign PD Community of Practice involves representatives from 21 districts and one charter management organization who are all facing professional learning challenges and working toward solutions that can improve teaching and learning in their districts and across the nation. Facilitated by Learning Forward, the community is also demonstrating how a productive community functions. Successful communities have six specific characteristics that allow the experience to be rewarding for the members, the students they serve, and the education field in general. This article details those six characteristics.”
  5. Darling-Hammond, L. & Richardson, N. (2009). Research Review/Teacher Learning: What Matters? How Teachers Learn, 66(5), 46-53.
    From the article: “To help young people learn the more complex and analytical skills they need for the 21st century, teachers must learn to teach in ways that develop higher order thinking and performance. To develop the sophisticated teaching required for this mission, education systems must offer more effective professional learning than has traditionally been available. What does research say about the kind of professional learning opportunities that improve instruction and student achievement?”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

Teacher professional learning

Successful teacher professional learning

Effective teacher professional learning

Successful professional learning community

Successful practices for teacher professional learning

Databases and Resources

We searched WWC, ERIC and NCEE for relevant resources. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including WWC, ERIC, and NCEE.

Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Northeast & Islands Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, and Vermont), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at Education Development Center. This memorandum was prepared by REL Northeast & Islands under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0008, administered by Education Development Center. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.