Evaluating professional development... " Are you making a difference?"

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Schools and systems vast amounts of money and time in the professional development of their staff, individual teachers devote their time to improving their professional skills, knowledge and understanding. How can we just the effectiveness of this investment? How can we evaluate the impact professional development has on the capacity of schools to improve their practice?

I suggest in this post that a possible model for evaluating the success of professional development and the establishment of professional learning communities would look at five levels o9f evaluation in a blend of qualitative and quantitative assessments. These five levels are:

Participants reaction This is the easiest and simplest form of data to collect and involves questions such as; Did participants like and enjoy the activity?, Do they think it will be useful?, Was their time well spent?. People who enjoy an experience are more likely to talk positively about it and see the time invested as being well spent.

Participants learning Professional development activities must have specific learning goals but in the development of new skills and the key understanding goals. Participants should be able to answer the simple question," Did I acquire the intended knowledge and skills that were promised?". Will what I learnt be useful in improving the way I work? Remember it is just important to know what will not work for you. Professional learning is about improving the capacity of individuals to make knowledgeable decisions about their practice, just not to copy what others do and say.

Organisational support and change Teachers on the whole work within an organisation and consequently have a responsibility to support that organisation and its goals and conversely the organisational must support and encourage individual staff members. Successful professional development will be cultural and strategically aligned. There will be a collective will to improve the organisational through personal endeavour.

Participants use of new knowledge and skills. " Did participants effectively apply their new knowledge and skills in their schools? In other words did what the participants learn actually make a difference in their professional practice? Was this change sustained over time? Did it impact on the professional practice of others and did the school have procedures in place to ensure that there were opportunism for people to share their new learning and thus grow the capaxcity of all, staff members

Impact on student learning outcomes. Typically the bottom line in education in the impact any activity has on student learning outcomes. We must take a broad view of what this means to include academic, social and personal achievement. Did in influence student attitudes to learning? Make learners more confident or influence well-being? All such factors scaffold successful learning. The outcomes may be focused into much more specific goals such as retention, participation or engagement for target groups. But it should make a difference!

Evaluation of professional development does not have to be costly, nor do they demand the use of sophisticated tools. What it does require is the ability to Ask good questions and a basic understanding of how to find valid answers to these questions. Good evaluations provide sound, useful, and sufficiently reliable information that can be use to make thoughtful and responsible decisions about professional development processes and effects.

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your own professional learning and the professional development programs that are a core business in all schools.

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