What Makes Professional Development Effective?

By MaryEllen Vogt

For the SIOP National Conference next month in Dallas, I’m presenting a keynote titled, “The Adventures of a SIOP Professional Developer.” I’ll be telling some humorous stories as shared by a couple of SIOP consultants, as well as an anecdote or two from my own experiences while teaching the SIOP Model to thousands of teachers and administrators over the past fifteen years.

But, I have a greater purpose for this presentation than just sharing a few funny stories. More importantly, I’ll be sharing information from a review of research about what constitutes effective professional development, and how we can use research findings to create effective PD that will lead to improved implementation of the SIOP Model. As an example, I’ve learned from a research review (and from my own experience) that effective SIOP professional development is:

  • Highly interactive
  • Respectful of divergent perspectives
  • Dialogic (dialogue is valued)
  • Goal-oriented
  • Ongoing (learning to implement the SIOP Model to a high degree takes time; it’s a process)
  • Sustainable (unlike other PD efforts, schools implementing the SIOP Model know they’re in it for the long haul)
  • Embedded in classroom and school contexts
  • Substantive (includes increased knowledge of learning and teaching)
  • Collaborative
  • Designed with adult learning theories in mind.

What do these learning theories tell us about adult learners?   Back in 1968, Malcom Knowles identified characteristics that uniquely describe adult learners. They include (Atherton, 2013; Risko & Vogt, In press):

  1. Need to Know: Adults need to know why they are learning something. (In SIOP, content and language objectives are just as important for adults as they are for children and adolescents.)
  2. Foundation: Adults have had a lifetime of experiences upon which to draw when they are learning something new. Even our mistakes can provide the basis for new learning. (As a SIOPer, reflect about the look on a child’s face when you’ve provided an unclear explanation for a process or task. We do learn from our mistakes, don’t we?)
  3. Self-Concept: Adults want to be responsible for their own decisions as they move from dependence to independence while learning. (Implementing the SIOP Model is about refining teaching practices by making thoughtful, purposeful instructional decisions.)
  4. Readiness: Adults want to learn that which is immediately relevant to their own situations (During SIOP PD, everything that is taught is situated in a teacher’s classroom and school.)
  5. Motivation: Adults respond better to internal motivators than external motivators. (Improvement in ratings on the SIOP protocol is an effective external motivator. However, watching formerly passive students “come alive” in your classroom as you’re improving your implementation of the SIOP features, is what really makes the SIOP journey worthwhile.)
  6. Orientation: Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. (The process of becoming a high-implementing SIOP teacher includes identifying and solving instructional issues and problems.)

I hope this brief introduction to my keynote for the National Conference will generate your thinking about:

  • How you, as an adult, learn something new;
  • How appropriate and effective your school’s professional development is for the adults with whom you work.

I look forward to seeing you in Dallas in July!

For further reading:

Atherton J. S. (2013). Learning and Teaching; Knowles’ andragogy: An angle on adult learning [On-line: UK] retrieved 16 June 2014 from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/knowlesa.htm

Knowles, M.S. (1984). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy. Wilton, CT: Association Press.

Risko, V., & Vogt, M.E. (In press). Professional development: Time to get it right. New York: Teachers College Press.

Rohlwing, R. L., & Spelman, M. (2014). Characteristics of adult learning: Implications for the design and implementation of professional development programs. In L.E. Martin, S. Kragler, D. J. Quatroche, & K. L. Bauserman (Eds.), Handbook of professional development in education: Successful models and practices, pre-K –12. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

One comment

  1. This sounds SO great! Even though I won’t be able to attend the presentation–I’ll be thinking of you all!

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