Dr. Shlomit Avdor was head of the Department of Pre-service Teacher Education and the Center of Assessment and Evaluation at Achva Academic College, Israel. She is currently an independent evaluator and researcher in education, specializing in prospective teachers' training programs and teachers' professional development.
Studies have shown that professional development (PD) activities have an effect on the quality of teaching and, to a certain degree, on students' achievements.
However, trying to maximize the impact of PD programs to the point that they achieve their intended goals is a complex endeavour.
Short and long term outcomes of PD are influenced by multiple variables that are not easily unraveled and measured and therefore difficult to control effectively.
The article describes a study that explores how teachers participating in PD courses perceive the qualities and benefits of such courses, and the variables that affect these perceptions.
A secondary goal of the study was to determine whether it is possible to differentiate between variables inherent in the manner in which the courses are conducted and other variables.
The study focused on 2,854 teachers who represented trainees in a range of 17 PD courses designed by the Ministry of Education in Israel as part of the "New Horizon" reform.
Various statistical procedures were used to develop the research variables and their analyses, including Exploratory Factor Analysis, Manova and Stepwise-Regression.
The independent variables developed in the study were:
(1) Course quality assessment factors: (1a) course contribution to enhanced professional confidence and the ability to apply its materials in the classroom; (1b) quality of course material and instruction; and (1c) planning and organization of the course.
(2) External factors: (2a) trainees' professional and personal motivation to participate in the course; and (2b) trainees' perception of how supportive their management has been towards themselves and the PD course. (3) Background variables: (3a) trainees' teaching seniority; and (3b) the grade level they taught (kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, or secondary school).
The dependent variables were complete summative assessments of:
(4a) course quality; and (4b) likelihood trainee would recommend the course to colleagues.
1. Course appraisals:
a. Detailed as well as the summative assessments tended to be high in most courses. Significant differences were found between and within the courses (p<0.001).
The lowest assessment was given to the course contribution to the enhancement of professional confidence and the ability to apply its materials in the classroom (factor 1a).
b. The most prevalent recommendations for course improvements were related to its duration. Most courses were perceived as being too short and in need of follow-up in the form of practical guidance in a school teaching environment, both during and after the course.
2. Teachers' seniority and the grade level they taught had a significant effect on course assessments.
Teachers with 16 years of experience or more and those teaching in elementary school tended to provide lower assessments (p<0.01). Significant differences were found between courses (p<0.001).
3. Trainees' perception of their school management support, both for themselves and the PD course (variable 2b), had a significant effect on the assessments of course qualities as measured by factors 1a, b and c (p<0.001).
Yet, these findings were indiscernible in the two regressions concerning the complete summative impressions of the course (variables 4a, and b).
4. Teachers' professional and personal motivation to participate in the PD course (factor 2a) was the most predictive variable in the analysis of the two complete summative impressions of the course as evidenced by the stepwise regression model (β=0.53; β=0.50, respectively).
The second predictive variable was "course contribution to enhanced professional confidence and the ability to apply its contents in the classroom environment" (factor 1a); (β=0.25; β=0.26, respectively).
The study findings validate the strong connection between two key compounded variables affecting outcomes of PD programs: teachers' professional and personal motivation towards the program and the relevancy of the program contents to their needs.
Motivation is further enhanced through the trainee's participation in the program, thereby constituting a major leverage for reaching the PD goals and achieving beneficial outcomes.
Both variables are strongly emphasized in Guskey's level model (2002), which relates to teachers' PD, and in Coldwell and Simkins' heuristic level model (2011), which describes intermediate and final outcomes of leadership development programs in education.
The findings underpin the notion that improving the quality of PD programs needs to be supported by an ongoing dialogue with teachers to ascertain that programs are relevant to their professional and personal needs.
It is imperative that policy-makers and all levels of management in charge of PD cooperate closely and develop meaningful communication based on sound evaluations in order to guarantee that offered programs are relevant to the target subjects.
Avdor, Shlomit (2015). Teachers' in-service is only the beginning of a road: personal and organizational contexts of teachers' continuous professional development (in Hebrew) Dapim, 59, 231-263, Israel: The Mofet Institute.
Coldwell, Mike & Simkins, Tim (2011). Level models of continuing professional development evaluation: A grounded review and critique. Professional Development in Education, 37(1), 143-157.
Guskey, R. Thomas. (2002). Does it make a difference? Educational Leadership, 59(6), 45-51.