Professional development in Massachusetts' public alternative schools
Farese, Christina Susan
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This qualitative study utilized 102 open-ended questionnaires and 15 semi-structured interviews to examine the professional development offered in 27 Massachusetts public alternative schools by answering the major question: What form do professional development programs take in Massachusetts' public, alternative schools? There were many opportunities for professional learning: topic-driven seminars, mentoring or coaching, and collaborative learning experiences. However, these opportunities were scattered, highly variable in quality, and limited in scope and time. Moreover, they were not owned or embraced by teachers or administrators and focused primarily on students' social emotional needs and behaviors rather than on instructional matters. Few administrators or teachers elaborated in depth about goals for professional development programs at their schools, suggesting that goals were not clearly formulated and articulated in their programs. Without clearly defined goals, the programs could not implement a coherent and focused approach to improving instruction and the effects of professional development could not be measured. More than half of administrators and teachers perceived themselves as prepared for working in alternative schools because of prior experience working with at-risk students and a belief that they had found their niche. Reliance on experience and trait-based theories of competency could explain the lack of engagement with issues of curriculum and instruction and the lack of movement toward a cohesive, data-driven professional development program. Lastly, when compared to the characteristics of high-quality professional development programs as defined by the National Staff Development Council (NSDC, now Learning Forward), the programs described by administrators and teachers were infrequent, scattered, not led by the principal or teachers, not guided by data analysis or clear goals, and not assessed for effectiveness. What was stressed was experience and dialogue about students, not instructional matters--an imbalance that hinders teacher development, instructional improvement, and student achievement. When alternative programs begin to own their own professional development, leverage the inherent strengths in their communities, and depersonalize practice, then they will begin to improve their instruction, and offer professional qevelopment that is coherent, data-driven, and goal oriented.
Thesis (Ed.D.)--Boston University