Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development

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Sharp Tutor
A teacher professional development (PD) program that is integrated with a system for evaluating teachers’ strengths and areas for improvement can provide a serious boost to teacher performance and student outcomes.
1. Breaking the habit of ineffective
professional development for teachers
Professional development can significantly improve teacher effectiveness and student
achievement. But school systems must start thinking strategically about their programs.
Kartik Jayaram, A teacher professional-development (PD) survey, 59 percent of teachers found content-
Andy Moffit, program that is integrated with a system for related learning opportunities useful, fewer than
and Doug Scott
evaluating teachers’ strengths and areas for half found PD on non-content-related areas
improvement can provide a serious boost to useful, and only 27 percent of teachers rated the
teacher performance and student outcomes. training they received on student discipline and
Many systems invest significant sums in PD classroom management as useful, though this
programs but do so as a habit, tending to offer topic is a frequent challenge and a key to
the same set of training courses each year enabling student learning.1
without regard for how they might fit into a
comprehensive program or how effective they School systems need processes to ensure that
are—even when teachers complain that some of teacher PD programs contain high-quality content
the courses are not useful. According to a recent to help their teachers master valuable skills
2. 2
relevant to their individual development needs. We More important, however, is that a shared
sought out ideas on what such processes might look working definition is attainable and critical. It can
like based on our extensive global experience and be adjusted as the research evolves. The agreed-
research2 in education and other sectors into topics upon definition then can serve as a coordinating
related to talent management, training, and principle for aligning the evaluation, PD, and
professional development. We studied school performance-measurement programs. All three
systems at the national, state, and local levels, as programs should work together to improve
well as other leading educational institutions and outcomes: teachers get evaluated via multiple
public- and private-sector organizations. This measures based on specific competencies that
article highlights five promising ideas that we relate to the definition of teacher effectiveness,
identified: (1) base the PD program on a vision of professional-development programs work to
effective teaching; (2) segment teachers and deliver improve teacher performance on the
PD strategically; (3) make coaching the centerpiece competencies that are evaluated, and
of PD; (4) move from “push” to “pull,” so that performance-measurement metrics track
teachers get what they want, when they want it; improvement on those competencies. Working
and (5) only offer PD with demonstrated impact. from this vision, every development opportunity
needs a clear link to the definition of effectiveness
1Alethea Andree, Ruth Chung
1. Base the PD program on a vision of and a change in teaching practice that can be
Wei, Linda Darling-Hammond,
Stelios Orphanos, and Nikole effective teaching objectively observed and measured.
Richardson, Professional To ensure that a PD program works with a school
learning in the learning
profession: A status report system’s evaluation and performance- For example, in Washington, DC, the public school
on teacher development in
measurement schemes, everyone in the system— system developed the Teaching and Learning
the United States and abroad,
National Staff Development from the superintendent to teaching assistants— Framework to outline clear expectations for all
Council, 2009 (www.
needs to share the same vision that demystifies educators (Exhibit 1). This guides both the
2This includes school-system
what effective teaching looks like and establishes teacher-evaluation system and related PD
experience in more than 50
countries and extensive a foundation for productive conversations about activities. The framework consists of three
research, including recent strengths and areas for improvement. parts—plan, teach, and increase effectiveness—
publications such as the
following: Byron Auguste, and each part consists of multiple objectives with
Paul Kihn, and Matt Miller, Districts that do this well codify their vision clear definitions of performance. For instance,
Closing the talent gap:
Attracting and retaining through comprehensive rubrics that include such there are nine “teach” dimensions, including
top-third graduates to a
items as effectiveness of classroom management topics such as “explain content clearly” and
career in teaching,
September 2010 and pedagogical practices, clarity of lesson goals “engage students at all learning levels.” Each
Michael Barber, Chinezi
and objectives, an ability to engage students dimension is then clearly defined. So, for example,
Chijioke, and Mona regardless of differences in learning styles, and an the lowest level of performance for the dimension
Mourshed, How the world’s
most improved school ability to differentiate instruction across a range “engage students at all learning levels” is when
systems keep getting better, of abilities. No consensus has yet been reached on lessons are not accessible to students, are
November 2010
(; which rubrics best correlate with improved teacher-directed, and provide limited
and Michael Barber and student outcomes, but research on the issue opportunities for student practice and
Mona Mourshed, How the
world’s best-performing continues, most notably in the Measures of demonstration. Achieving top performance
school systems come out on
Effective Teaching project funded by the Bill and requires meeting several detailed criteria,
top, September 2007
( Melinda Gates Foundation. including knowing every student’s learning level
3. 3 McKinsey on Society January 2012
MoSociety 2011
Teacher performance development
Exhibit 1 of 5 (option 3)
Exhibit 1 A clear vision should drive professional development.
Plan Teach
Instruction 1. Lead well-organized,
1. Develop annual objective-driven lessons
student-achievement goals 2. Explain content clearly
2. Create standards-based unit 3. Engage students at all learning
plans and assessments levels in rigorous work
3. Create objective-driven 4. Provide students with multiple ways
learning plans to engage with content
Learning environment 5. Check for student understanding
4. Adopt a classroom- 6. Respond to student misunderstandings
behavior-management system 7. Develop higher-level understanding
5. Develop classroom through effective questioning
procedures and routines 8. Maximize instructional time
6. Organize classroom space 9. Build a supportive, learning-focused
and materials classroom community
1. Assess student progress
2. Track student-progress data
3. Improve practice and reteach in response to data
• Our decisions at all levels must be guided by robust data
• All children, regardless of background or circumstance, can achieve the highest levels
• Achievement is a function of effort, not innate ability
• We have the power and responsibility to close the achievement gap
• Our schools must be caring and supportive environments
• It is critical to engage our students’ families and communities as valued partners
Source: District of Columbia Public Schools Teaching and Learning Framework
and ensuring the lesson takes each one offering one-size-fits-all and “every teacher is
into account. different” approaches. The pressure of limited
resources requires that districts ask, “Where will
2. Segment teachers and deliver PD my investment bring about the greatest
strategically improvement in teacher practice and student
A critical challenge for most systems in providing achievement?” Teacher segmentation is a tool to
effective PD is striking the right balance between address that question.
4. Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers 4
Segmentation is the process of dividing a various segments (Exhibit 2). For example, all
system’s teachers into groups based on shared new teachers at Teach For America and The New
MoSociety 2011
characteristics. Many leading organizations Teacher Project go through rigorous preparation
across industries segment development
performance their employees by before they start teaching. For more tenured
Exhibit 2 of
experience 5 and job performance and then
level individuals who struggle, Minneapolis Public
offer different development opportunities to the Schools invests in peer assistance and review,
Exhibit 2 Employee performance and experience drives
development needs.
Procter & Gamble Long Beach Unified GE
• Uses a marketing academy School District • Provides leadership training in
to build common knowledge • Conducts formative Crotonville as incentive for top
foundation and standard way of assessments to identify performers
doing business (eg, 1-page targeted PD1 needs for
memo) Year 2 teachers Long Beach Unified
School District
• Targets its PD based on teacher
groups (eg, teacher leaders)
Johnson & Johnson
• Convenes formal sessions
on J&J Credo as unifying
theme for all employees
Medium China
• Requires all teachers to
observe colleague sessions
each term
Teach for America Minneapolis Public Schools
The New Teacher Project • Uses peer assistance and review
• Holds a 5-week, 70-hours- to provide intensive PD for
per-week induction to provide teachers who do not meet
intensive core skills training, evaluation standards
including classroom-leadership
experience and observation
• Uses online training to provide
common language for analyzing
effective instruction
Low Medium High
1Professional development.
5. 5 McKinsey on Society January 2012
MoSociety 2011
Teacher performance development
Exhibit 3 of 5
Exhibit 3 Segment teachers into groups according to shared characteristics.
A sample teacher segmentation Resource allocation
How resources are allocated to various segments
High Medium Targeted
High investment in Targeted investments to meet specific needs of
all new teachers high performers Teacher-
Administrator leader track
High track
(15%) Top-
Medium investment in midperformers and
A Performance
low-performing pretenure teachers
Targeted investments in
tenured low performers
0–2 years (new) 2–3 years (pretenure) 3+ years (tenured)
B Teaching experience
Other contextual factors (eg, new to the system, new to a high-poverty school, new
to a given content area or concentration of student need such as special education)
should also be considered in developing the segmentation strategy.
and Long Beach Unified School District conducts invest in the development of each. Ensuring a
formative assessments to tailor support for solid foundation for new teachers, emphasis on
second-year teachers. A private-sector example basic skills for struggling teachers, and insight
comes from General Electric, which sends its top into specific issues to help move teachers from
performers to the company’s facility in good to great are all areas in which thinking about
3 In addition to performance Crotonville, New York, for leadership training. segments provides focus. In the example
and experience, teacher illustrated, the school system does not
training can also be
segmented based on other Exhibit 3 is a sample segmentation of teachers differentiate among new teachers based on
contextual factors, such as using experience and performance as the primary performance, because most new teachers typically
subject taught (special
education, for example) and measures.3 The school system’s leadership would struggle with the same issues. After the second
school characteristics (a high use this matrix to decide which PD programs to year, however, performance becomes an
number of students below the
poverty line, for instance). offer the different segments and how much to important differentiator.
6. Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers 6
As shown at top right, for high-performing basic level, segmentation develops a fact base that
teachers with more than three years of experience, can help administrators resolve arguments
the segmentation goes one step further. People in previously fueled by anecdotes and intuition, such
this group are likely to have different career as how much of the professional-development
aspirations—opting either for the teacher or the budget should be spent on helping tenured
administrator tracks—and the corresponding teachers with medium performance scores.
competencies and development opportunities Exhibit 4 provides an illustrative scorecard that
MoSociety 2011
should be tailored accordingly. shows how a district could use the segmentation
Teacher performance development
to better understand the effectiveness of its PD
Exhibit 4 of 5
Segmentation also can help schools resolve key strategy. Such an approach would illuminate facts
questions about their PD programs. At the most such as the money spent per teacher and the
Exhibit 4 Use scorecards to refine segment-specific offerings.
Segment: Post-tenure, medium-performing trackers
Strategy Segment portion of total
• Invest in differentiated instruction based on last year’s Teachers 40
evaluation data • $800 per teacher
• Institute new math PD1 vendor given poor results Spend 32 • $815 per student
• 80% district average
and feedback Students
• Increase spend on targeted coaching
Change in teacher evaluation Change in student performance
% Return % Return
Exemplary 10 10
Proficient 40 38
Excellent 10 $X per new
$X per
30 additional proficient
Nonproficient 60 62 student
Proficient 55 rated
proficient Reading
or higher
Proficient 60 65 $X per new
Below proficient 15 student
Needs 10 10 Nonproficient 40 35
Previous Current Previous Current
• New math PD not driving improvement results
• High overall return in improved teacher ratings vs other segments
1Professional development.
7. 7 McKinsey on Society January 2012
associated improvements in student performance It should be no surprise that this type of interaction
and teacher competence. The district could then can be powerful for teachers. Boston Public
decide where its investments are making a Schools, a system recognized for significant gains
difference and improve its approach accordingly. in achievement, uses a range of coaching methods
to support new teachers. Elements of the coaching
3. Make coaching the centerpiece of PD program include assigned mentors, “teacher
Many methods—from lectures to professional developers” who receive stipends for supporting
learning communities to coaching to technology- teachers in their buildings, “networkers” deployed
enabled learning programs—can be used to the lowest-performing schools to build
effectively to improve teacher practice. But open, connections between new teachers and veterans,
straightforward, in-person coaching is the most and online mentoring for second- and third-year
effective way of delivering immediate feedback teachers who opt to participate.
and advice on specific classroom practices.
Because coaching is so customized, it can create In Singapore, the Teacher’s Network models
faster and deeper insights for teachers about what several powerful ways in which peers and
can work in their classrooms, thus creating professional-development experts collaborate.
inflection points in their practice. Great advice One aspect of the network is learning circles, in
from a trusted coach is often cited as making all which 4 to 10 teachers work with a facilitator to
the difference. solve common problems using discussions and
8. Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers 8
action research (that is, the iterative process of teachers, or holding a two-day offsite with the
reflecting on current teaching practices and entire staff of a high school?” This type of
planned experimentation with new ones). The trade-off discussion can be very persuasive in
groups meet for eight two-hour sessions over the moving a district toward coaching strategies.
course of 4 to 12 months. The network also
provides teacher-led workshops in which teachers 4. Move from ‘push’ to ‘pull’
present to each other and share insights and Whether a PD program uses coaching or some
friendly criticism in a collegial fashion. other delivery method, two essential success
factors are that individuals be aware of and
Many districts argue that a coaching-based committed to the need to improve. Successful
strategy, while effective, is prohibitively programs move participants along a spectrum of
expensive. However, if districts were to consider skill and awareness: at first, participants may not
the costs and benefits of all the different delivery know what skills they lack. But through
methods they might employ and decide only to observations of peers, effective teacher
continue using methods that produced the best evaluations, a comparative review of student
return on investment, they would probably think outcomes, student surveys, or conversations with
differently. For example, a much more focused effective coaches or principals, teachers can
way of building a cost-effective development come to recognize the specific skills they need to
strategy might be to ask, “Which $80,000 build to reach the next level of competence.
investment will most affect student outcomes by Awareness of the need to build skills is essential,
the end of this year: hiring a full-time, and even the most robust PD opportunities will
experienced coach to provide intensive fail without it. Teachers also must be committed
in-classroom coaching to 15 new or struggling to their own personal growth—and most of them
Awareness of the need to build skills
is essential, and even the most robust PD
opportunities will fail without it
9. 9 McKinsey on Society January 2012
already are. As teachers become aware of how to which they belong to choose from the district’s
they can improve, gain access to development easy-to-navigate set of PD offerings (Exhibit 5).
opportunities that will help them improve, and Several private-sector companies have shifted to
see how their improvement will benefit their this type of professional-development model.
students, their commitment grows. Teachers Panasonic, for example, lets its employees choose
with this awareness and commitment will seek from more than 250 professional-development
out the PD offerings aimed at developing the offerings based on their development needs and
skills they need. job responsibilities. Best Buy adopted its “results-
oriented learning environment” (ROLE) after
Therefore, districts can better fit PD to teacher becoming frustrated with a one-size-fits-all
needs and engage them in improving their skills approach to employee development. The company
MoSociety 2011
by changing their programs from a “push” to a developed the program based on feedback from
Teacher performance development
“pull” model. This means creating a quasi its employees, who were looking for the freedom
Exhibit 5 of 5
marketplace whereby teachers use feedback from to choose among a wide variety of options.
their evaluations and knowledge of the segments
Exhibit 5 Move from ‘push’ to ‘pull.’
From ‘push’… … to ‘pull’
Top-down prescription of PD1 Teacher-driven pursuit of PD
Central Central
Teacher Teacher
corps corps
Center prescribes PD based on high-level results Center provides information and options
• Limited information on “why” • Individual teacher-development needs
• Minimal customization • Which PD can address which needs
• Limited choice for teachers • Which PD is high quality and highly rated
Teachers have limited choice Teachers empowered to own their
• Choice on how to address needs
• Transparency and understanding of “why”
1Professional development.
10. Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers 10
The pull approach puts the power to improve PD programs he or she believes are relevant to
squarely in the teacher’s hands, and it brings individual development needs. The result would
needed clarity to the district’s role, which is to be that the district has control over what it spends
identify a teacher’s development needs through on teacher development. Teachers will be more
observation and evaluation, communicate those invested in PD programs that they have chosen for
needs in a compelling and easy-to-understand themselves.
way, provide high-quality options for teachers to
pursue aligned to each segment’s needs, make Some districts may be uncomfortable moving to a
those options easy to find and participate in, and 100 percent market-based approach to PD. Those
ensure accountability for performance. For that want to assert some measure of control over
example, Best Buy’s ROLE program balances the the choices teachers make would need to develop
freedom it gives employees to choose their own an appropriate communication strategy for
development paths with a “validated certification recommending one development path over
program,” which helps ensure that employees another. Regardless of how much freedom of
apply what they learn in training programs to choice the district offers its teachers, all PD must
their interactions with customers. be aimed at ensuring the teacher meets the
district’s vision for teacher effectiveness. And as
After a common induction program for all new school systems and unions work together to
teachers (which essentially would remain a push develop better recognition systems and career
model), the pull model would allocate to every paths for outstanding teachers, make the granting
teacher a certain number of credits to use on the of tenure a much more rigorous process, and deal
11. 11 McKinsey on Society January 2012
Principals and teachers should have the
opportunity to rate PD activities to determine
how well what was learned worked in practice
more effectively with ineffective teachers, the Principals and teachers should have the
importance of quality and choice in professional opportunity to rate PD activities to determine
development will become even more critical. If a how well what was learned worked in practice.
district’s development efforts are ineffective and These rating opportunities should be offered both
over-prescribed, it will be difficult to find immediately and after a reasonable period of time.
common ground with teachers’ unions on The reason for the second rating is to give a new
consequences for poor performance. idea a chance of surviving what may be negative
early responses or to show that it actually worked.
5. Only offer PD with demonstrated
impact Districts could require vendors to include and
There are different ways to evaluate the impact of implement their own rigorous evaluations of their
a PD activity. In most cases, objective metrics and work. Vendors that fail to demonstrate results
the resources to gather the necessary data are would face contract termination, and teachers
scarce. Where the cost and scope of an activity is would be assured that the district will discontinue
broad (for example, new teacher induction), this any offerings that do not receive largely positive
may warrant a true research-based evaluation of feedback. Districts should build scorecards for
a development activity. In other cases, the district each offering and for each vendor, and they
might want to rely on its principals and teachers should use them to decide which offerings and
to provide—and its vendors to collect—feedback. vendors are doing well and should continue, as
12. 12
well as which are not working and should be respect to the value of the trust and resources
discontinued. Although general measures of that taxpayers commit to public education.
teacher performance—such as changes in their
annual evaluations or in their students’
assessment scores—could be included in these
evaluations, it is more difficult to link these Every teacher, at every level of experience and
outcome metrics to a specific PD activity. performance, can improve in some way. And every
Therefore, districts should not rely on them too professional, in every industry, needs guidance
heavily when assessing a vendor. from others on what needs to improve and how to
go about improving it. Without breaking the habit
Only offering PD with demonstrated impact—and of bad PD, opposition to reform efforts will remain,
avoiding the temptation to “fill time”—sends students will be deprived of the effective teaching
several good messages. To teachers, it is a clear they need, and improved outcomes will be slow to
statement that the district values their time, materialize. While many reform topics are
contractually agreed upon or otherwise, and that contentious, taking a more systematic and
the central office will hold itself to high standards effective approach to developing teacher talent is
in the same way it holds teachers to high an area where districts and teachers’ unions can
standards. To principals, it signals that the central and must collaborate.
office will not waste their teachers’ time. It pushes
vendors to bring their best to the system, to
uphold high quality standards, and to make sure
their offerings make a difference for students and
are well received by teachers. And finally, it pays
Kartik Jayaram is a principal in McKinsey’s Chicago office, Andy Moffit is a consultant in the Boston office, and Doug Scott is a consultant in the
Minneapolis office. The authors would like to thank Paul Kihn and Liane Ong for their contributions to this article. Copyright © 2012 McKinsey &
Company. All rights reserved.