Levels of PD and where we go from here.

Borko, H. (2004). Professional development and teacher learning: mapping the terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3–15. doi:10.3102/0013189X033008003


In her article, Professional Development and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain, Hilda Borko discusses the current state of educational research, specifically with regards to professional development for teachers in a Kindergarten through twelfth grade setting. She lays the legal and research-backed foundations as to why professional development is so critical in our education system, each of which I will discuss in turn. She starts off with a brief discussion of the idea that educational reform movements across the country are setting ambitious goals for the learning of their students, yet, these efforts, which are set by policy-makers, rely on teachers’ ability to implement the changes in classroom practice (Borko, 2004). Educational scholars and policy-makers have recognized this dynamic, which is why teachers are required, by statute, to have regular opportunities for “high quality” professional development (Borko, 2004, p.3). Researchers have argued that, “helping out teachers to succeed and enabling our children to learn is an investment in human potential, one that is essential to guaranteeing America’s future freedom and prosperity” (Borko, 2004, p.3). Despite these two mandates –one legal, the other moral – professional development opportunities for teachers are, “woefully inadequate,” even though various educational agencies spend, “millions, if not billions, of dollars” on it (Borko, 2004, p.3).

Further, Borko tells that professional development is the, “most serious unsolved problem for policy and practice in American education today” (Borko, 2004, p. 3). So, throughout the remainder of her article, she attempts to answer two fundamental questions about the state of professional development: 1) What do we know about professional development programs’ impact on teacher learning, and 2) what are the important directions and strategies for expanding our knowledge in this area? (Borko, 2004). She attempts to answer these two questions with the use of a multifocal lens in three distinct phases, each of which I will discuss in turn.

One of the particular strengths of Borko’s article was the methods she used to measure the effectiveness of professional development, specifically her use a multifocal lens.  She articulates a challenge she encountered as, “I have struggled to articulate how researchers can keep both the individual and the community in focus” (Borko, 2004, p.8); a problem she creatively solves with a metaphor of using a multifocal lens, which allows objects, both distant and near, to be in focus at the same time. In the context of professional development, on the ‘nearside,’ this allows for the analysis of data on questions regarding how a teacher can construct new knowledge and instructional practices, whereas, ‘distant focus’ allows for analysis of questions on norms of communications and patterns of participation (Borko, 2004, p.8). The idea that multiple aspects can be viewed at the same time in the course of the same study, is a novel one to me and, given that I think my line of inquiry will relate to professional development, this study provides a framework that I can use to view and interpret my results, focusing on the impact on individual teachers’, as well as the effectiveness of the program in terms of improving students’ achievement.

Borko’s uses of the three-phase model provide different levels of questions to be viewed through her multifocal approach. The Phase I approach allows for research questions and activities committed to investigating the results of an individual professional development program at a single site (Borko, 2004). The second Phase allows researchers to study a single professional development program implemented more than one facilitator at multiple school sites; these questions explore the how the facilitator, the professional development program, and the role that teachers play as learners.  The third and final phase is the sum of the previous two and explores relationships between multiple professional development programs, enacted at multiple sites, by multiple facilitators.

There were several components of this study that surprised me. First, I was interested to learn that there have been no Phase III research studies, for several reasons: the large-scale, multi-method field studies will require new ways to collect and analyze data (Borko, 2004). Such studies will require substantial funds to complete. Next, on a more personal and professional thought, I was surprised to learn that the professional development program that I work to implement through my work falls into the Phase II level of Borko’s study. This will provide me a framework that will allow for a more complete analysis when I implement my innovation.  The final area of surprise for me was the idea of “willing participants” (Borko, 2004, p.5). Now that I have seen this phrase, it makes perfect sense, but was not something I had previously considered; if people volunteer for a study, they are likely people with an open mind, who are willing to implement changes and try new things in their work and professional life. This is another area that I will need to take into consideration when I start to plan for my innovation. I will want to explore further research to better understand how mandated participation versus optional participation can affect the results of a study.

Having experienced professional development sessions, both as a facilitator and participant, I was not at all surprised to learn that the role of facilitator is of incredible importance to the overall success of the professional development program (Borko, 2004). I’ve sat in a significant number of professional development sessions that have completely failed because the presenter used outdated instructional delivery methods that did not actively engage those in the audience. I want to explore research that delves into what methods are most effective for implementing professional development as an external provider.

Despite all of this, I think that this research provides a lot of particular situative context that I can consider as I seek to design and implement my innovation at my worksite. Yet, it was heartening to learn that research supports the need for professional development in schools, as it does have a significant and substantial impact on students’ outcomes.