Data driven professional learning: Making it visible and quantifiable

On Wednesday, I outlined three of four steps to creating a results-driven professional learning strategy in your school or district.

To review:

Step 1: Understand the End Goal is Student Achievement.

Step 2: Ask Four Key Questions for Professional Learning Effectiveness.

Step 3: Determine What to Measure   

If you missed the first post, you can get caught up here.

Once you’ve established goals, what your effective professional learning will look like, and what you’d like to measure, the next step is determining how to measure it.

Step 4: Design Data Collection Tools

Design of data collection tools and processes is at the heart of the making the invisible visible and can be accomplished more easily than expected.  Here’s a guide to what leaders can measure and some possible data collection tools.

For Question 1, creating a needs survey, calendar and participation log for professional learning sessions is a great way to begin. If coaching is included it will be important that someone on the school or district team be accountable for managing a coaching schedule and maintaining a coaching log. For digital professional learning, most online professional learning tools contain pre-configured reports with relevant usage metrics. For all tools, it will be essential that a lead person be identified to gather, synthesize and report out on teacher engagement with professional learning.

For Question 2, prior to the professional learning session, a research-based effective professional learning checklist can be completed by the district or school-based leader to ensure that the planned session is designed for success. Once such example for on-line learning is produced by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Technology.

Another example for face-to-face professional learning is the Characteristics of Effective Professional Development: A Checklist, created by Dr. Jana Hunzicker (2010).

In addition, a well-designed teacher satisfaction survey will provide valuable information related to question 2. For group-based professional learning, a survey can be administered immediately following the completion of the session by designing the instrument in a tool like Survey Monkey and having the facilitator provide the link before the group is released.  For coaching, surveys can be administered at least twice during the coaching experience so that feedback can be collected and acted upon along the way. Finally, capturing written teacher reflections a few weeks after the learning session can also reveal evidence of effectiveness.

For Question 3, try a Strategy Use Chart. A chart such as the one below allows the teacher to self-record when applying a newly learned strategy during instruction. This type of self-monitoring is quantifiable and supports the meta-cognitive process of application-reflection-adaptation. Coaches, leaders or peers can also use this type of chart during collaborative observation and feedback sessions.

In addition to the sample Strategy Use Chart, other helpful tools for data collection include social and video-enabled professional learning platforms such as Teaching Channel Teams, as well as coaching tools that help teachers set goals and monitor progress towards them. Both of these tools can provide valuable evidence of positive changes in instructional practice as exemplified by the various levels of goal attainment in the sample graph below.

Finally, for Question 4, you could use an Instructional Practices Inventory, or checklist similar to the sample below. When expectations for student-centered evidence are clearly defined, teachers are much more likely to aim for and hit instructional targets. Expectations can range from simple to complex allowing the teacher choice in selecting “just right” goals.

When tools such as instructional practice inventories are combined with rubric rated student work exemplars, and formative and summative assessments, the question of  “Are teachers showing progressive mastery of these strategies?” becomes visible and quantifiable.

This paper scratches only the surface of what may be possible when we seek to design and measure the value of professional learning experiences based on evidence and student outcomes. No matter where you are in the process, you can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of the professional learning opportunities by taking simple steps to gather appropriate data.

T. Harv Eker once said, “If you want to change the fruits, you will first have to change the roots. If you want to change the visible, you must first change the invisible.” By keeping student achievement as the focus, answering 4 Key Questions, defining what to measure, and determining how to measure it, you will begin to visibly see the return on investment you have been seeking for your professional learning engagements and ensure excellence in learning experiences for both teachers and students.


For information on how Scholastic can support professional learning services for literacy, math and leadership, visit the Scholastic Achievement Partners website.