In this issue of CPD Week, Elizabeth Holmes examines the role of evaluation of professional development in supporting other activities and ways of maximising its usepdf-6096672

CPD Week info sheet – Revisiting Guskey.pdf

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.
Mortimer Adler

Evaluating professional learning is a crucial stage of the development process but it’s not at all straightforward. We frequently stumble at the first hurdle when what we could be seeking is real depth of understanding about the impact of professional development on teaching and learning. This week we take a close look at evaluation and ways of maximising its use.

Evaluating professional learning: next steps
If we are totally honest with ourselves, there are certain contradictions in our expectations of the pupils we teach, and in our own approaches to being a learner. Any provider of professional learning for teachers will be able to recount tales of being ‘surprised’ at some of the attitudes expressed during learning sessions. There’s no doubt that switching to the role of learner can bring back some particularly bad habits from our own school days! That is, if we make that clear distinction between professional and learner. The reality, of course, is that we are all a blend of both, and being aware of that can help us to maximize the potential benefits of professional learning.

Yet ironically, most of our evaluations of professional learning focus on the immediate reaction of the participant. This doesn’t shed any light on the extent to which they have engaged with the learning and their intentions for its future use.

Keeping all of that in mind, perhaps the very first stage of any evaluation of professional learning should be the question: Did I meet the learning half-way? If the answer is a resounding yes, then you will almost certainly have come away from any professional learning with something to immediately implement in your working life.

When considering ways of maximising evaluation of professional learning, think about adopting some of these ideas:

  • It seems from research that there may be some confusion in schools between dissemination and evaluation. Often the two are equated but in reality they are very different. The impact of development isn’t the way in which the learning is cascaded through a school. The impact is on teaching and learning outcomes. Sharing content is one thing, assessing impact is quite different.
  • Sustainability is such a buzzword at the moment. We’re not talking environmental sustainability though; for professional learning to be sustainable there needs to be discernable, long-lasting change for the better in classroom practice. That is what evaluations can usefully pick up over time.
  • Be aware that for effective evaluation you will need to employ a range of methods. Filling in a checklist may be appropriate on some occasions but certainly not all. You may also find that you use questionnaires, interviews, discussions, learning journals, development portfolios and so on. With each technique, you’ll need to initially establish and then enhance its use.
  • Evaluation of impact is best done as an ongoing integral feature of school life. If you evaluate as a one-off, you’re unlikely to be able to perceive impact and that’s the kind of information you need to make judgements on effectiveness.
  • Your evaluations will almost certainly highlight the need for some degree of organisational change. It is vital that these evaluations of professional learning are allowed to feed into the channels within your school that can facilitate any required change.

Finally, do keep in mind that not all forms of professional learning need to be evaluated. We need to be wise about what we target for evaluation. The potential for professional learning is ever-present in schools but a fair amount of that can be evaluated through personal methods, such as a learning journal. Above all else, evaluations have to be manageable otherwise they just won’t happen.

Find out more…
This information sheet explores Thomas Guskey’s approach to evaluating professional learning. You may also be interested in issue 131 of CPD Week and its information sheet on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.