Research, realism, and relationship: Empowering PD partnership between Faculty and institutions

Parsing “PD”

The shift to Common Core State Standards in 2010 not only changed teaching and learning by greatly increasing and standardizing emphasis on student knowledge construction and problem-solving, but was accompanied by an associated accountability movement that ties high-stakes testing of student outcomes to teacher evaluation. Similar shifts are now taking place in public higher education, where federal and private funding and policy advocacy are also increasingly aligned with accountability structures that are external to academic departments (Addison, 2015).

As a teacher and former writing center coordinator who is eager to pilot and adapt new theories, pedagogies and technologies and who has partnered with administrators to design and implement PD at the program level, I’ve worked hard to support faculty-driven, research-based, and discipline-rooted innovation by, on the one hand, advocating with administrators for the professional development time, resources and opportunities needed by teachers, and, on the other, by suggesting to faculty that they see their roles as including collaborative leadership in defining and achieving the larger institutional values and goals (such as teaching 21st century skills and improving student outcomes) that administrators also contribute specialized expertise toward achieving.

In close to two decades in both postsecondary and K-12 settings, I’ve observed that the term “professional development” (PD) usually has some dimension of negative connotation for educators. Faculty and teachers were hired for their ability to apply epistemological, content, pedagogical, curricular, and technological knowledge (Koehler & Mishra, 2009; Bachy, 2014). Many associate “PD” with training sessions framed by fiscally- or trend-driven institutional goals and with bureaucratic rather than educational paradigms.

Framing PD

Yet institutions do bear responsibility for cultivating environments in which continuous improvement of teaching and learning is supported by PD. New paradigms of teaching and learning and the continuous development of new technologies, often within academic disciplines, call for effective PD. ISTE’s Standards for Coaches call for an approach to PD in which administrators “design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment” (Indicator 4B).

However, when PD is viewed by teachers and institutions as primarily an institutional responsibility, PD practices may variously default into workshops on new initiatives or into piecemeal attempts to impact the teacher learning and improvement that is in fact both a highly individual process and one necessarily embedded in the immediate cultural context of a department or grade level team actively engaged in serving a student population.

Evaluating PD

Soine and Lumpe (2014) found that “not all professional development is effective in improving teacher quality,” nor is there universal agreement on the key factors that make PD effective (pp. 304-305).

One of the challenges faced by educators and administrators alike is that colleges and districts may not have robust professional development programs or full-fledged educational technology support that would ideally help them develop curriculum and instruction by integrating technology with ongoing content, pedagogical, and curricular knowledge development (Soine & Lumpe 2014; Schulman 1986). Yet teachers who are expected to shift to more learner-centered teaching styles must experience professional development that is itself reflective of a learner-centered teaching model rather than a deficit model (Daley, 2003; Lawler & King, 2000).

Last year I designed a faculty-led PD workshop series based on the essential components of data-based assessment, differentiation, collaboration, coaching, communities of practice, and the technologies associated with those learning communities. As I reviewed literature for that project, I found that many researchers have concluded what was aptly summed up in a quote from an article shared with me this week by an SPU cohort member (Center for Public Education, 2013): “Recent education reforms have urged teachers to foster collaboration, debate and reflection among students, in order to develop cognitive processes like those called for in the new standards. Ironically, districts rarely apply these same learning techniques to developing teachers.”

Similarly, Zepeda (2015) notes that professional development that results in professional learning should involve: 1. active knowledge construction; 2. collaborative learning; 3. application in context, over time, with follow-up feedback that can be incorporated into continual learning; and 4. differentiation (Zepeda, 2015).

The principles of andragogy further reinforce these well-established cognitivist and constructivist learning principles (Lawler, 2003). Professional adult learners are self-directed and need to apply new knowledge immediately; as members of local and disciplinary professional learning communities, they need to collaborate in ways that allow each faculty member to co-learn, co-teach, contribute knowledge and benefit from collective knowledge; as those who are learning skills that were often not part of their graduate programs and may be determined by policymakers rather than by disciplinary best practices, thy need access to coaching, technical support, and follow-up as part of professional development projects and infrastructure; and they need access to differentiated learning that engages their particular disciplinary, technological, and pedagogical proficiencies and teaching assignments (Zepeda, 2015). Soine & Lumpe (2014) summarize effective PD as creating “opportunities for teachers to take control of their own learning, deepen their subject knowledge, construct knowledge from previous knowledge and experiences, become comfortable with their role as a learner, and develop intellectual camaraderie with colleagues” (pp. 303-304).

Realism and Relationship

In my current role, I have the opportunity once again to personally experience what K-12 teachers live out. Teachers manage a heavy load of expectations and activities regarding professional evaluations, standardized assessment results, standards-based curricular coverage, and a plethora of technology options. There is never enough time to teach all that is prescribed to be taught. As a leader teacher, it is my desire to continue to grow professionally, but also to see my colleagues, school, and district be all that we can be.

In such a circumstance, what is a realistic approach to providing or improving educational technology professional development for teachers that might be put forward by teacher leaders and other leaders?

Reflecting on the needs of teachers while experiencing their reality, upon the words and actions of administrators and teachers who have inspired me as leaders, and upon my experiences in both teaching and coaching have brought me to focus on the importance not only of research, but of realism and relationships.

While I am looking forward to following Soine and Lumpe’s (2014) example of describing empirical links between professional development characteristics and outcomes, I’m also compelled by the need for realistic solutions for improved teaching and learning through technology-related PD and for the power of authentic relationships between teachers, teacher leaders, and those with coaching or administrative roles.

As I consider how to design a needs assessment that will lead to PD that empowers teachers who are already over-tasked and often presented with many technology options that are difficult to manage, troubleshoot, and realistically engage, Soine & Lumpe provide a good starting place by outlining an empirical study that doesn’t claim to offer PD solutions but simply describes how to measure correspondence between PD characteristics and outcomes. This model could potentially help me link perceived technology-related PD needs to institutional cultures or in some other way help me to qualitatively describe rather than just quantify perceived needs. I want to design a study that is simple, clear, understandable, and that helps to pinpoint real needs.

Daley’s (2003) discussion of three parameters for consideration when designing PD, while theoretical rather than empirical, elucidates assumptions that both teachers and PD program designers have about PD. It is critical that a PD developer understand both her own assumptions about these areas as well as those of the educators she hopes to engage, especially if the two perspectives differ.

Daley asserts that assumptions in the three areas of teaching, learning, and career stage are critical for designing PD that will effectively engage educators. I found her work to have immediate usefulness in helping me reflect upon the nature of my learning from new colleagues. For example, I realized that some of the approaches used in my new setting proceed from a more behaviorist and cognitivist understanding than my own more constructivist understanding of learning, but that these approaches may indeed be better suited to the student demographic. Understanding the nature of my grade level team’s tried and true teaching approach helps me to be willing to embrace it, as does the strength of relationship with my new peers and the fact that they demonstrate higher student learning outcomes than other schools in the district. To build reciprocal relationships in which I might in turn provide support and impetus for peers to experiment with technology-driven instruction, I would need to also both demonstrate successful outcomes and be able to communicate and justify the assumptions about learning present in my teaching.

Similarly, a district PD program that would gain rapid traction with teachers would need to identify and understand teachers’ beliefs about teaching as well as provide a convincing rationale for a differing perspective. Daley discusses teaching orientations in terms of Pratt’s (1998) description of five different teaching perspectives: transmission, apprenticeship, development, nurturing and social reform. Thus she provides a practical way for PD program designers and colleagues to understand how teachers’ epistemologies are formed by their contexts and to consider how epistemology affects training. A free Teaching Perspectives Inventory based on Pratt’s work is available on the University of British Columbia’s website.

Daley (2003) notes that teachers at different career stages learn differently. Similarly, Fetters and Duby (2011) suggest that stages of curriculum innovation should be matched to stages of faculty development in a description of how Babson College successfully accomplishes program development–through the stages of design, launch, revision, growth, and expansion–while also progressing through stages of faculty development. In addition to asserting that realistic PD be aligned with PD program development and long term faculty development, the Babson College model provides realistic descriptions of different faculty profiles with regard to teaching and technology. These profiles range from risk-taking and reflective pioneers and early adopters to late majority and laggards. Fetters and Duby (2011) note that thinking through how to incentivize individual and collaborative PD is also an important part of a realistic and sustainable PD and/or education reform program.

Underlying the work of Daley (2003) and Fetters and Duby (2011) and the larger body of literature exploring the use of embedded and collaborative professional development through approaches such as Personal Learning Networks and Communities of Practice (Teeter et al., 2011) is the assumption that strong relationships in which educators’ assumptions and experiences are respected and in which educators are motivated through relationships with professional peers and mentors are a key to effective PD.

Identifying levels of faculty (and administrator) engagement with innovation, along with their career stages, epistemologies, and beliefs about teaching surely work together with empirical research in determining how institutions and PD professionals can build the relationship capital and incentive capital that will sustain long term education reform.


Addison, J. (2015). Shifting the locus of control: Why the common core state standards and emerging standardized tests may reshape college writing classrooms. The Journal of Writing Assessment, 8(1). Retrieved from:

Bachy, S. (2014). TPDK, A new definition of the TPACK model for a university setting. European journal of open, distance, and e-learning, 17(2), 15-39. Retrieved from

Center for Public Education. (2013). Teaching the teachers: Effective professional development in an era of high stakes accountability. Retrieved from

Daley, B.J (Summer 2003). A case for learner-centered teaching and learning. New directions for adult and continuing education, 98.

Fetters, M.L., & Duby, T.G. (February 2011). Faculty Development: A stage model matched to blended learning maturation. Journal of asynchronous learning networks, 15(1), 77-86. Retrieved from

Jaipal-Jamani, K., & Figg, C. (2015) A Framework for TPACK-in-Practice: Designing Technology Professional Learning Contexts to Develop Teacher Technology Knowledge (TPACK). In Valanides, N. & C. Angeli (Eds.), Exploring, developing, and assessing TPCK(pps. 137-164). New York: Springer Publications.

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), pp. 60-70. Retrieved from

Lawler, P. (Summer 2003). Teachers as adult learners: A new perspective. New directions for adult and continuing education, 98, 15-22.

Lawler, P.A., & King, K.P. (2000). Planning for effective faculty development: Using adult learning strategies. Malabar, FL: Kreiger.

Pratt, D. (1998) Five perspectives on teaching in adult and higher education. Malabar, FL, Kreiger.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher 15(2), 4-14.

Soine, K.M., & Lumpe, A. (2014). Measuring characteristics of teacher professional development. Teacher Development 18(3), 303-333. doi:10.1080/13664530.2014.911775

Teeter, et at. (2011) Using communities of practice to foster faculty development in higher education. Collected essays on teaching and learning 4, 52-57.

Zepeda, S.J. (2015). Job-embedded professional development: Support, collaboration, and learning in schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

One Reply to “Research, realism, and relationship: Empowering PD partnership between Faculty and institutions”

  1. Stephanie, this is a well-researched and thought blog post. I especially enjoyed the section on Realism and Relationship. You have pinpointed what I feel to be the big issue with PD…figuring out what exactly teachers need to improve student learning. Thank you for sharing your work.

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