Workshop Model for Professional Development: Factors for Success

For today’s post, I’d like to take an in-depth look at a perennial favorite of those hosting professional development for teachers: the workshop model. When you think of a workshop outside of the education world, you probably picture a full day, hands-on session learning how to lay laminate flooring or perhaps weekly evening classes on water coloring. Whatever comes to mind, I’d venture to say it is prolonged and requires active learning. I doubt anyone would attend a workshop that featured someone lecturing at you for an hour while you try your best to stay awake! Unfortunately, workshops in the world of education often look like the latter example. As educators, we need to make sure workshops are places of active learning where teachers have multiple exposures to content.

Despite the popularity of workshop-based professional development (one study showed over 90% participation nationwide), research does not show a link between the traditional, once and done workshop model and student achievement. In an extensive report completed by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest for the Institute of Education Services, researchers combed through over 1,300 studies on teacher professional development to find links between teacher development and student achievement. Ultimately, the studies which had the lowest number of hours of professional development using the workshop model (5-14 total) showed no statistical impact on student achievement. Conversely, in studies where teachers received an average of 49 hours of professional development using the workshop model, students’ performance was boosted by 21 percentile points. (Yoon et al, 2007)

Case Study: University of Toledo

While researching ways in which the workshop model can support ISTE coaching standard 4B (“Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model[s] principles of adult learning and promote[s] digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment”), I came across a detailed case study that outlined the evolution of one college’s program from the traditional workshop model to one that was more robust and responsive to teacher needs.

This study, published in 2005, examined the evolution and subsequent effectiveness of the workshop model for technology-related professional development. The test subjects were university professors interested in incorporating more technology into their courses. The project, ‘Teachers Info-Port to Technology,’ began with a traditional professional development workshop model in year 1 and then incorporated new strategies and follow-up support in year 2. Additional ideas were implemented for year 3 and beyond.

In the first year, professors participating in the program self-divided into two groups based on platform preference (Mac vs PC). They then attended eleven sessions, some targeted to a specific area such as digital portfolios. The sessions were intentionally designed following the workshop model where part of the class was spent on content and the remainder on application. Interestingly (and in line with the findings of Yoon et al), the session with the most lecture time and least hands-on application time was ranked least helpful by attendees.

The effectiveness of the year 1 program was measured by participant surveys, course syllabi comparison (to see if additional technology had been implemented), and faculty discussions. Based on the three data sets, seven areas of improvement were identified:

  • Depth: more time spent on fewer technologies
  • Hands-on Practice: at least 50% of workshop spent on practice/creation
  • Project-based Approach: focus on practical products, follow from start to finish
  • Modeling: demonstrate classroom applications
  • Examples: use specific content areas, resources and templates
  • Ongoing Assessment: short modules, frequent assessments
  • Timesavers: access to templates and copyright-free visuals, review sheets

A second group of professors participated in the modified workshops held in year 2. These workshops incorporated feedback from the first group and resulted in even higher rates of self-reported ability to utilize new technology. Additionally, participants viewed the sessions more favorably than the first group with some even wishing the workshops were longer. Based on the data from this second group, two more areas of improvement were added to the program:

  • Differentiation: additional one-on-one assistance, additional smaller workshops tailored to a specific need
  • Expanded opportunities: observe colleagues, mentorship opportunities, cohort groups for collaboration

In addition to the nine factors identified in the study, there are other implications for the workshop model that we can derive from the study:

Effective professional development is ongoing

The professional development occurred over a long period of time. Each test group met eleven times over the course of the school year, requiring a great investment of time and resources on the part of both administrators and participating professors. This prolonged exposure contributed to the success of the project. Research shows that the critical stage of professional development is not the initial concept attainment, but rather the ongoing implementation: “mastery comes only as a result of continuous practice despite awkward performance and frustration in the early stages.” (Gulamhussein, 2013) Later in the study, even more support was added in the form of one-on-one assistance and mentorships.

Effective professional development is responsive to teacher needs

Another important element of success was the responsive nature of the professional development. Changes were made based on participant feedback in order to provide a better experience for participants. In addition to giving teachers what they need content-wise, this practice also communicates respect for participants which boosts morale and investment in future sessions.

Effective professional development includes plenty of time for hands-on application

Teachers responded best when given adequate time to try out the new concept or tool presented at each training. Sessions where teachers were asked to bring existing content for modification using the new tool worked best. In response to feedback, the study implemented a standard of dedicating at least half of future sessions to application.

Effective professional development rewards teachers for their time

A final factor was the extrinsic support participants received. Professors willing to participate were granted either a stipend or release of course assignment in exchange for their time. We often assume adult learners should be motivated solely by intrinsic means, but this case study shows that compensation for participants’ sacrifice of time can be equally important.

Sources:

Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers: Effective professional development. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from Center for Public Education website: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/research/teaching-teachers-effective-professional-development

Teclehaimanot, B., & Lamb, A. (2005). Technology-rich faculty development for teacher educators: The evolution of a program. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 5(3/4). Retrieved from https://www.citejournal.org/volume-5/issue-3-05/current-practice/technology-rich-faculty-development-for-teacher-educators-the-evolution-of-a-program

Yoon, K. S., Duncan, T., Lee, S. W.-Y., Scarloss, B., & Shapley, K. (2007). Reviewing the evidence on how teacher professional development affects student achievement (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2007–No. 033). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs

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