The talk around Tennessee’s implementation of a new teacher evaluation system has been, well, a little dramatic. In both media reports and personal conversations I’ve had with educators, I’ve heard comments along the lines of “we ought to be supporting teachers, not evaluating them to death.”

Interestingly, many view the new teacher evaluation system as a way to begin better supporting teachers. Commissioner Kevin Huffman has said that the system is “a huge opportunity for us, classroom by classroom, to have meaningful discussions about instruction and to work on getting better while the year is still in progress.” (Watch the full video of the Commissioner’s comments on teacher evaluation here:

All this discussion about evaluating teachers and helping them improve makes me think there is another conversation we should be having as well: What do we know about how best to support teachers? Are the things we’ve already been doing to support them working? How could they be improved?

One important element of teacher support is professional development. While many people think of PD as just a one-day workshop in which teachers learn tips and tricks for their classroom or have new products or activities demonstrated, PD can actually take a variety of forms including institutes, courses, conferences, peer observations, teacher networking, mentoring, coaching, and professional learning communities, among others. Anything that can help teachers develop as professionals can be thought of as PD.

While there are numerous lists of PD best practices and a large amount of research about what characteristics influence the quality of PD, researchers are still grappling with what makes PD effective. One report from the Institute of Education Sciences identified more than 1,300 studies that claimed to investigate the effect of teacher professional development on student achievement in English, math, and/or science. However, only nine of these studies met the What Works Clearinghouse standards for rigorous research design.

Another set of research focuses on whether or not PD activities affect the knowledge and skills of teachers. Many of these studies rely on teacher self-reports, generally through surveys, to determine the impact of PD programs. Based on studies that examined the impact of PD either on student achievement or on teacher learning, it seems that PD that is ongoing, provides teachers with content-specific training, and/or involves teacher collaboration may be more likely to be effective, but there is still not a sure-fire, set-in-stone formula for creating effective PD.

SCORE wants to hear what teachers think about the support they are receiving through PD. Teachers are invited to vote in SCORE’s Facebook poll here to answer the question: “How could professional development be improved to better support your instruction?”

Teachers must be able to access the effective support they need if they are to continue to advance the learning of Tennessee students. So as we discuss evaluation, the quality of professional development opportunities teachers receive needs to be part of the conversation.