The Relationship Between Professional Development and Student Achievement

Looking for a way to strengthen your classroom management skills and improve your students’ academic achievement? By participating in teacher professional development programs, and attending education conferences, you can do both.

Research proves that participating in professional development is the key to unlocking student success in the classroom.

Connection to Student Learning

Professional development for teachers has long been recognized as a key way to improve student achievement. Reviewing the Evidence on How Teacher Professional Development Affects Student Achievement, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), focused on how elementary school teacher professional development impacted student achievement. The studies found that teachers who complete a substantial amount of professional development each year (the participants in the study completed an average of 49 hours) can raise their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points. But that’s not all.

The quality of professional development is just as important as the quantity. The American Educational Research Association recently published a survey that found the most effective professional development opportunities improve teachers overall knowledge of subject matter as well as provide methods for classroom application. This combination leads to student achievement. The higher quality of instruction, the more students will stay engaged, retain information, and excel in class.

In one 2010 study, Professional Development in the United States: Case Studies of State Policies and Strategies, “Research evidence supports the notion that investing in and supporting professional development that is ongoing, intensive, and connected to practice and school initiatives; focuses on the teaching and learning of specific academic content; and builds strong working relationships among teachers makes a difference in student achievement.”

Importance of Professional Mentorship

Formal college courses, conferences, seminars and workshops are popular professional development opportunities for teachers, but informal activities can be just as useful.Learning Forward, an association devoted to advancing professional learning for student success, offers casual meetings and activities (e.g., discussions, coaching and mentoring groups and independent reading sessions) aimed at helping teachers grow professionally.

New teachers can especially benefit from mentoring groups where veteran teachers provide guidance to first-year teachers. This type of professional development helps new teachers connect theories they learned in their graduate career with real-world situations and lessens the risk of developing counterproductive teaching methods. According to Learning Forward, research shows that new teachers who receive intensive mentoring can significantly affect student achievement in as little as two years. The better the professional development, the better teachers connect with students. This results in higher student achievement.

Leadership in the Education Community

Education leaders, or teacher leaders, are also great resources for professional development. They are continually involved in the education community and are usually the ones who initiate a new program or address a school problem. They may assume leadership roles such as a department chair. They also serve as members of committees that provide formal professional development opportunities that are tailored to the curriculum and education standards of a specific school or district. Teachers looking for more professional development should seek mentors in teacher leaders.

What is a teacher leader? A teacher leader is someone who assumes more responsibility in his or her school community and works to improve classroom instruction and the student learning experience. According to the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), school-level and districtwide professional development opportunities as well as university-based courses and seminars provide teachers with the opportunity to learn the collaborative and planning skills needed for leadership.