Recent educational reforms that provide more specific and higher standards for students call on educators to improve the quality of their instruction. The school districts and networks involved in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Innovative Professional Development (iPD) Challenge aim to strengthen the support they provide to teachers to help them meet these new standards, in part by providing additional opportunities for teachers to learn with and from their colleagues and in part by improving the extent to which teachers’ professional development opportunities meet their needs. MDRC’s evaluation of this work explores the changes in professional development systems adopted by some of the districts participating in iPD and the subsequent changes in secondary school teachers’ professional development opportunities and experiences.
The research team is conducting annual teacher and principal surveys in five districts, interviews with district staff members in those five districts, and case studies in two secondary schools in each of four districts. The responses shared in this brief include data from initial interviews with 12 case study teachers in two of the four districts that will ultimately be included, and represent their insights only about the types of professional development that they experienced prior to or in the early stages of their district’s implementation of iPD.
Nearly all of the case study teachers said the most useful professional development activities were the ones where they could interact with other teachers — by sharing lesson ideas, looking at student work, and observing their colleagues. Several teachers also suggested that getting feedback on their teaching is important for supporting instructional improvement. Overall, teachers said they could improve the most through learning opportunities that are directly relevant to their practice.