The other day I had the honor to serve on a panel discussion about the TALIS results with several passionate educators. There is so much to explore in this international study, but at the end of the day, here’s what stood out to me. I was in the company of several practitioners. One educator works in one of the highest-performing systems in the U.S. and can describe the impact high-quality professional learning has had on classroom practice among herself and her colleagues. Meanwhile, another educator described experiences with professional development that were not useful and that had no apparent affect on instructional practices or student results. And then we spent much of our time together hearing about averages as reported in TALIS - which countries have higher averages than others, what the U.S. average is for participation in professional development, etc.
When I talk to a practitioner in a high-performing system, I’ll often hear about the kinds of learning that Learning Forward advocates for in any school or system. They’ll tell me about working on data teams to understand deeply the student learning challenges they will prioritize in the coming months. Or they’ll share a story of how their grade-level team uses video to analyze a specific lesson and determine improvements. If I were to hear the number of hours they spend in professional learning, it might be very close to the average reported in TALIS.
At the same time, when I talk to a teacher in a school that doesn’t perform at high levels, I may hear a different story. I’ll hear about the workshops that were offered to everyone in the system, and how the beginning teachers found it somewhat useful, and the more experienced teachers needed a focus on something else entirely. Or I’ll learn about a school that implemented PLCs for four years and how much activity that generated for its participants and yet they can’t report impact on student learning.
That’s one of the fascinating issues we need to acknowledge when we talk about the rich data from a survey such as TALIS. From TALIS, we learn about the participation rates of responding teachers in the more than 30 participating nations. For example, we know that 88% of teachers report they participated in at least one professional development activity in the last 12 months. We also know about the participation rates of teachers in a range of collaborative activities, such as observing other teachers.
But there are two things to keep in mind. First, we don’t know about the quality of the professional development they experienced. As the full report of the study itself states, ”...it must be emphasized here that intensity of participation is not equivalent to quality of professional development.”
We do know that, on average, between 76% and 91% of respondents report that the professional learning had a positive impact on their teaching. That is great news, and another touch point for discussion.
Second, we need to remember that averages are built from wildly disparate numbers and extremely varied experiences. Maybe our higher-performing systems are engaging in more hours. Or maybe they are engaging in better hours - or both. In any case, I’m excited to move from understanding the averages to understanding the exemplars. From there, our job is to reduce the disparities in quality among what all educators experience.
I’ll write more about the TALIS findings in the coming weeks. I am curious to hear how these data have piqued your imagination.
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.