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Theory of action: Positive impact on teaching and learning

by Julie Keane, on 12/2/16 1:53 PM

Project-based-classroom-students-library-Feature-Image"Professional development affects student achievement through three steps. First, professional development enhances teacher knowledge and skills. Second, better knowledge and skills improve classroom teaching. Third, improved teaching raises student achievement. If one link is weak or missing, better student learning cannot be expected. If a teacher fails to apply new ideas from professional development to classroom instruction, for example, students will not benefit from the teacher’s professional development.” —REL Southwest

The cornerstone of any professional development (PD) program should be to build teachers’ content knowledge, directly connect to classroom practice and address student learning and development. For decades, focus on the importance of professional development for teachers has continued to grow.

The challenge, however, is providing creative strategies to support teachers as they experiment alongside their students.

Our approach to this challenge is to use what we call the “theory of action,” supported by a variety of research. This method puts teachers at the center of any education research initiative. New digital badging systems and emphasis on competency-based professional development inherently use this theory of action by providing a mechanism for teachers to demonstrate what they have learned, and how it impacts students.

By tying professional development to student learning, teachers can naturally experiment with what works and what doesn’t in their own contexts. It also ensures that teachers discover exactly which additional knowledge area needs further study, or which pedagogical skill needs continued practice.

Any PD program must consider teachers’ existing experiences, professional knowledge and interests, while allowing opportunities to connect new learning to their classrooms. This ensures relevance and authenticity, which is critical for both students and teachers.

At Participate, we root our work in this theory of action because it's proven to help teachers grow. Teachers’ investigations incorporate knowledge building, experimentation with new pedagogical practices and the collection of student work as evidence. We aim to support teachers in all roles, including the innovator, researcher, designer, co-learner and mentor.

For the theory of action to work, support systems must be in place within schools to create spaces for teachers and students to learn, experiment and, sometimes, make mistakes. Innovation requires it.

Julie Keane is the Director of Research and Evaluation at Participate.
Follow Julie on Twitter @juliekeane.

Topics:Online learning

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