In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Professional Development

  • Introduction

Education Professional Development
Stephanie Hirsh, Joellen Killion, Joyce Pollard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0128


The span of professional development research literature reveals, arguably, three trends. Literature of the earliest phase, largely during the 1970s and 1980s—the era of the “search for the perfect workshop”—was characterized more by a focus on evaluations of teacher satisfaction with professional development than an examination of long-term outcomes of professional development. The second phase, from the 1990s to the early 2000s, reflects a shift in research focus to the identification of characteristics of effective professional development experiences. Many studies of school improvement and education reform named professional learning—with a focus on educator learning as an ongoing process rather than a one-time event—as one of the top five components of reform efforts. A research base enriched by examinations of schools as places of work and learning sought to clarify what was known about teachers’ own learning and the effects on their practice, and ultimately, on student learning. Thus, the third, and current, phase examines the role professional an educator’s own learning plays in a dynamic, complex system of professional learning. New technologies have also advanced to support educator learning. Since the 1990s, many studies confirm that a strong relationship exists between teacher practice and student learning. Research of some models concludes that professional learning positively influences teacher practice. Studies of school and district leadership suggest a relationship also exists among leadership practices, teaching effectiveness, and student learning. Some findings conclude that there is a relationship between professional learning and student achievement. The literature about effective schools identifies collaboration among educators and professional learning as two characteristics that consistently appear in schools that substantially increase student learning. Some studies of the effects of professional learning have also produced statistically insignificant results on teacher practice or student achievement when measured over a brief period of time, usually a single year. As a result of the new decade of research, understanding about what distinguishes effective professional learning is growing clearer. Accordingly, Learning Forward undertook a third revision of the Standards for Professional Learning in 2011. This article is organized to help graduate students, education scholars, and professional development leaders, practitioners, and facilitators navigate the landscape of scholarship about effective professional development activities, policies, and structures that contribute to a system of professional learning. The structure of this article organizes supporting literature, first, in sections that trace the problems and promises of early professional development literature through studies of effective professional development. Sections follow with references to literature about professional development and results for teacher practice and student outcomes. The remaining sections of the bibliography correspond to each of the seven standards: “Learning Communities,” “Leadership,” “Resources,” “Data,” “Learning Designs,” “Implementation,” and “Outcomes.”

General Overviews

By their nature, professional development and school improvement share such complexities that various methods of research and evaluation have evolved to describe what happens within and among the related processes of learning and improvement. Most often the purpose of research is to seek knowledge about teaching and leadership practices, and to determine which of those practices are more and less effective. In general, professional development and school improvement literatures include the following: (a) descriptive (naturalistic) observational studies in which district and school programs are visited and observations provide the information for the depictions of programs and initiatives, implementation, and effects on curriculum and instruction; (b) descriptions of naturalistic events generated through interviews and questionnaires administered to personnel; (c) experimental studies in which alternative designs are implemented and assessed; and (d) syntheses and theoretical positions created by scanning the studies. This section includes three subsections that take a historical approach: The first includes sources that review the professional development research literature. It notes that the prevalent model of the time—professional development as “training”—had conceptual limitations. And while the literature, for the most part, has shifted from framing professional development as training, reports still emerge that call for efforts that will “teach the teachers,” especially during periods of reform. The second subsection contains references to the “foundational literature research” of the 1990s, which tests the core features of effective professional development, while the third section contains resources that represent the movement of the late 1990s toward a more empirical examination of effective professional development. In all three subsections the research reviews and studies were chosen for their breadth, their contribution to the knowledge base about the core features of effective professional development, and their influences on the development of standards for professional learning. Finally, for readers interested in literature that articulates the consensus among researchers about the features of effective professional development, this subsection includes reviews calling for a new paradigm of professional development (e.g., National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future 1996 and Sparks and Hirsh 1997, both cited under A “New Paradigm”).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.