Sparks Designing Powerful Professional Development

Sparks, D. (2002) Designing powerful professional development for teachers and principals. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council.

Basic Structure of the Book (Three Parts):

  1. Quality teaching impacts student learning
  2. The quality of teaching is determined by the teachers’ and principals’ professional learning
  3. Context, created by district structures and culture, impact the quality of the professional learning of teachers and principals

What does this book do for us?

  • It provides a need (a purpose) for our study. (See highlighting)
  • The book is his justification or attempt at defining high-quality professional development by using literature to support his claims.


Part 1: Set the Stage for Powerful Professional Learning




Chapter 1: The Case for Powerful Professional Learning

  • Teacher expertise impacts student achievement.
  • Reformed professional development for teachers increases the use of the desired strategies in their classrooms (U.S. Department of Education, 2000, Study).
  • Reform professional development includes “active teacher learning, collective participation, and coherence (page 13).” Specific activities include study groups, collaborative structures (i.e. networks, committees), mentoring, internships, and resource centers.
  • Develop High-Quality Professional Learning

    • High-quality professional development defined, “focuses on deepening teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical skills; includes opportunities for practice, research, and reflection; is embedded in educators’ work and takes place during the school day; is sustained over time; and is founded on a sense of collegiality and collaboration among teachers and between teachers and principals in solving important problems related to teaching and learning (page 12).”
    • More than just transmission of knowledge and skills. It includes, “analytic and reflective cognitive processes, focuses on problems experienced by educators and reflects their input, and allows participants to share power and authority with those who teach them (page 12).”
    • Fragmentation, overload, and incoherence interrupts high-quality professional learning.


Change Theory


Chapter 2: Stretch Goals, Deep Change, and a Compelling Vision

  • Deep change involves change in thought and action. The change is not minimal and irreversible.
  • Stretch goals, as defined by Jack Welch, 2001 CEO of General Electric, are goals “that are beyond the organization’s capacity when established.”
  • PD

    Staff development that improves student learning is teacher-centered. It is practical, relevant, and collaborative.

  • Realities of Professional Development:

    • Not all students learn at high levels
    • Not all teachers are caring
    • Most activities do not develop principals’ leadership skills
    • Professional Development is demeaning and mindless.
    • PD is passive, delivered in the transmission model from “expert” to “learner”
    • Mandatory
    • Evaluated by “happiness scales”


Chapter 3: A Compelling Vision for Professional Learning


Part 2: Provide a Context for Professional Learning


Chapter 4: Develop the System to Improve Learning

  • LO/PDS

    The Power of the System

    • Like a machine, design of the school system produces the desired outcomes of the design[cp1]
    • Forces that impact the teacher learning are often transparent.
    • Change Theory

      Patricia Cloud Duttweiler (2000) as cited in (Sparks, 2002, p.36), “True reform that results in real change and improvement requires changing the organizational structure, the established procedures, the way decisions are made and resources allocated, and the relationships between central office personnel and school staff.”

    • LO/PDS

      Organizational change needs to be under consideration if impacting student learning is a desired outcome.

  • Systems That Support Continuous Professional Learning
  • Peter Senge (1990) (as cited in Sparks, 2002 page 37) because of a system’s design and definition, all parts are interrelated and dependent upon one another. “It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things” (p.69).[cp2]
  • Two types of organizational behavior (Robert Fritz, 1996).

    • “Oscillating behavior is that which moves from one place to another, [sic] but then moves back toward its original position (p.6)” (as cited in Sparks, 2002 p. 38).

      • Solutions for oscillating behavior include creating advancing structures rather than problem solving.
    • Change Theory

      Advancing structure defined – “An advancing structure contains three basic elements: a compelling vision, a thorough assessment of current reality, and powerful strategies to lead the organization to achieve its vision (Sparks, 2002, p.38).”

  • Change requires a concrete vision, which is detailed.
  • Change requires moral commitments by and the shared responsibility of all parties involved.


Chapter 5: School System Responsibilities

  • The District’s Role

    • Change Theory

      Applies both pressure and support to create change

    • Provide resources
    • Incentives (act as motivators)
    • Superintendents are key as initiators of change
    • Fullan (2001) describes an Elmore and Deanna Burney study conducted in New York City’s District #2. The study found seven organizing principles that were instrumental in promoting both teacher and student learning:

      • PD

        Improvement focus on instruction and is a long, multi-stage process

      • Shared expertise drives instructional change
      • Clear expectations and decentralized implementation are important
      • Good ideas are generated when talented people come together in an environment of collegiality and respect.
  • “Good mentor teachers are transparent about their own search for better answers and more effective solutions. They model this commitment by their openness to learn from colleagues, including beginning teachers, and by their willingness to pursue professional growth through a variety of means (James Rowley, 1999, p.22) as cited in Sparks, 2002 page 46.
  • PD

    Leading Professional Development[cp3] 

  • Karen Hawley Miles and Matthew Hornbeck (2000) completed a study about four districts’ spending on PD. Districts varied in the amount that they spent per teacher. Funding was fragmented, uncoordinated, and lacked focus on academic content. Funding should be aligned to PD w/ academic goals in mind. PD should focus on fewer topics (quality vs. quantity debate?). Accountability practices should be instated to ensure quality programs.
  • Richard DuFour (2000) contends that the most powerful form of PD is job-embedded PD that contains a collaborative culture and collective inquiry.
  • PD

    The Importance of Professional Learning by District Leaders

  • Unions as Allies in Reform



Chapter 6: A Goal for District Action: All Schools as Professional Learning Communities

  • Defining a professional learning community:

    • LO/PDS

      Contains sustained professional learning

    • Collaboration
    • Focus on benefiting all students and student learning
    • Collegial relationships among staff
    • Teams can consist of homogeneous grouping among grade level to heterogeneous grouping across various grade levels
    • Generate energy
    • Long-term commitment
    • Encourage reflective practices and risk taking
    • Shared responsibility and distributed leadership
  • A Rationale for Professional Learning Communities
  • LO/PDS

    Organizational culture has an enormous impact on the participation of teachers and impact of PD

  • Lack of trust among teachers
  • Poor relationships
  • Barriers


Part III: Develop School Leaders

Chapter 7: School Leadership

  • PD

    New Conceptualizations of the Principal’s Role

    • Struggle in finding highly qualified (good) administrators to fill vacancies
    • People don’t want the job – too much for one person to do (too many expectations) – stress, excessive time requirements, parents & community members
    • PD

      Transition of role from commander in chief (my term) to facilitator of leadership (my term) (they say instructional leaders)

  • Principals as Instructional Leaders
  • Instructional leaders keep student learning as the focus and build community
  • Productive schools have leaders who have (Bryk, 2000)

    • Inclusive and facilitative leadership styles
    • Focused on student learning
    • Efficient management
    • Built ties between community and school
  • PD

    Principals should help teachers use assessment data to monitor and adjust instructional practices (Gusky, 2000); termed “assessment literacy” by Richard Stiggins (2001)

  • The culture of the school and the leader of that school need to be in sync (Carol Schweitzer, 2000).
  • Leadership communities (Peter Senge, 1999) create leadership at the organizational level where organizations become adaptive (our PSU term) in that they adjust to change and reinvent themselves.
  • PD

    (Senge, 1999) Teachers are the nucleus (my term) of the leadership community.

  • Teacher leaders face emotional and physical barriers. Antiquated ideas, such as teachers should work alone and that their responsibilities lie only within the confines of their classroom walls, are an example of such barriers.

    • Lack of skill due to unfamiliar/new roles and responsibilities
    • PD

      Negative reactions of peers

  • Elmore (2000) explains five principles of distributed leadership to include :

    • Improvement of instructional practice and performance should be the purpose of leadership
    • “Instructional improvement requires continuous learning.”
    • “Learning requires modeling.”
    • “The roles and activities of leadership flow from the expertise required for learning and improvement, not from the formal dictates of the institution.”
    • PD

      “The exercise of authority requires reciprocity of accountability and capacity.”

  • Teacher specialists
  • PD

    Teams of teachers who have authority over making instructionally-related decisions. Its leaders server on councils.

  • Full-time design coaches and literacy/math coordinators
  • LO/PDS

    Teacher Leadership

  • Distributing Leadership in Schools
  • Jonathan Supovitz (2000) describes three types of distributed leadership:
  • Neuman and Simmons (2000) include study groups and CIGs as forms of leadership.
  • Teacher leadership reduces feelings of isolation and creates a feeling of investment and a shared sense of purpose to the community.


Chapter 8: The Development of Principals and Teacher Leaders

  • Teachers and principals have limited opportunities to cultivate leadership skills with regard to instructional leadership and cultivating professional communities.
  • Develop Principals

    • Dev’t Theory

      Standards provide guidelines for comparison.

    • Principal development is typically on the back burner. Typically instruction is given in the traditional model of passive recipient rather than active learner and participant.
    • Relationships are key to leaders’ successfulness.
    • [cp4]
  • Developing Teacher Leaders
  • Dev’t Theory

    Developing teacher leaders is essential in cultivating a context for high achieving students

  • In order to be successful, teacher leaders need support.
  • Require the abilities to:

    • Build trust
    • Establish rapport
    • “diagnose school context conditions”
    • “deal with organizational processes”
    • Build skill in others
    • Build confidence in others
    • Manage own work and responsibilities


Part IV: Develop Teachers


Chapter 9: Focus Teacher Development on Student Learning

  • PD

    Forms of professional inquiry “are used to deepen teachers’ understanding of teaching and student learning. But these methods are not equal in their capacity to change practice and improve student learning (page 86).” [cp5]

  • Michael Garet, et. al (2001) study (They used a national probability sample to determine effects of different types of professional development on teachers’ learning.) found that the following characteristics were more likely to produce enhanced knowledge and skills:

    • Focus of academic subject matter (content)
    • Opportunities for hands-on work
    • Integrated into daily lives (coherence)
  • PD

    This study also found that collective participation and coherence of PD activities are essential for success.

  • Powerful Professional Development
  • “Uses information related to student learning for various purposes.”

    • PD

      To determine PD goals

    • To guide and motivate teacher learning
    • To monitor impact on achievement[cp6]
    • To make appropriate adjustments mid-stream of PD
    • May provide evidence for impact on students
    • Teachers need to clearly articulate achievement goals and know how to translate those goals into scaffolded steps to reach such goals. They also need to know/describe/create indicators of achievement.
    • PD

      Teachers have had little exposure/practice/training with how to create and use formative assessments to monitor student achievement towards learning goals. [cp7]

    • Katherine Nolan (2000) identifies seven qualities that have found success in improving the quality of teacher assignments and student work:

      • Reciprocal accountability
      • Distributed leadership
      • Protected meeting time
      • Access to experts
      • Inclusion of co-curricular teachers
      • Use of protocols
      • Voluntary participation
  • PD

    “…focuses on a small number of student learning goals.”

  • Clear goals are essential for coherence and the avoidance of fragmentation
  • Provide a shared purpose
  • PD needs to be planned backwards, with outcomes in mind first before the rest of the plans are established.
  • Essential for teachers “to collaborate in serious and sustained ways”
  • Coherence between activity and intended outcome is essential
  • “…matches adult learning processes to intended outcomes.”


Chapter 10: Continuous Improvement of Teaching and Learning

  • Change Theory

    Changing teaching practice is time intensive. It requires in-school and in-class support and often goes underestimated by staff developers.

  • Powerful Professional Development

    • Deepens subject-content knowledge – PCK (Shulman, 1986).
    • Dev’t Theory

      PCK is understanding the content and the students on such a level that misconceptions can be anticipated and multiple approaches can be designed/used in order to help students master the objectives of the lesson/goals of the unit. It’s more than just knowing content. (Shulman, 1986 and Loucks-Horsley, cited in Sparks, 1997 page 20).

    • Dev’t Theory

      Diana Rigden (2000) comments on teacher content knowledge. When teachers know the subject content, they ask more high-level questions, encourage the application and transfer of knowledge, help students see and understand relationships among and between concepts, and design their instruction to challenge and engage students.

    • LO/PDS

      Stigler and Hiebert – U.S. assumption that good teaching is natural (nature rather than nurture). “The U.S. as no mechanism for teacher improvement over time (page 98).”[cp8]  They also call for lesson study as a means.[cp9]

    • PD

      Coherence between teacher learning and student learning while maintaining focus on daily improvement of instructional practices[cp10]  is essential in powerful professional development.

Part V: Get to the Heart of the Matter


Chapter 11: Look for Root Causes

  • PD

    PD is not often part of school’s overall strategic plan for school improvement.

  • A Deeper Analysis of the Barriers: Looking for Root Causes

    • Dev’t Theory

      Obstacles are illusionary and exist within us.

    • Appealing to teachers’ sense of caring could help.
  • A More Personal Story
  • What I Learned
  • PD

    District and school leaders are critical in creating high-quality PD[cp11]

  • Dev’t Theory

    Leaders need to be transformational causing others to embrace new ideas and assumptions rather than transactional

  • “Habits of thought and behavior are more significant barriers to the improvement of professional learning than time, money, and the current state of research (page 108).”
  • “Local evaluation studies of staff development are more important than large-scale ‘definitive’ research to demonstrate the value of staff development (page 109).” [cp12] 

    • Change Theory

      Efforts need a “theory of change” which explains the relationship between how the PD will translate into high levels of learning for students and teachers.

    • Teacher logs can be used to measure learning.
    • Proof of effective PD is impossible due to variables but evidence is more likely.
  • Redesigning the teacher workday is essential.


Chapter 12: Lead for a Transformation in Professional Learning

  • Dev’t Theory

    “Leadership is about feelings, commitment, and relationships (page 116).”

  • Leadership in Complex Adaptive Systems
  • Change Theory

    Change Begins with a Change in Leaders

    • Organizational change cannot happen without individual change. Individual change cannot happen with an inspection into belief systems. Leaders cannot lead others into change without expecting a possibility of change within themselves.
    • Individual change starts by asking:

      • Who am I?
      • What do I stand for?
      • What impact do I want to have?
  • Change Theory

    Forming New Types of Relationships

  • Leaders should “assist others in moving from the language of complaint and blame to that of commitment and responsibility (page 122).”
  • Dev’t Theory

    Change Theory

    Language can either support practice or undermine it, thereby impacting the organization and its culture.

  • Leaders matter.


Chapter 13: The Power of What We Think

  • Fundamental Choices

    • Dev’t Theory

      Moral components enhance the powerfulness of fundamental choices.

    • Secondary choices need to be coupled with strong fundamental choices in order to survive criticism and critique. Those choices meant to pacify outspoken, critical voices lead to insufficient and mediocre PD, hence the reason for the current state of PD practices.
  • Mental Models
  • Dev’t Theory

    Mental models defined are personal beliefs and perceptions. (a.k.a. paradigms)

  • They can inhibit or promote change.
  • The transparency of mental models makes them subject to the naive notion that all mental models are the same – everyone has the same perception, when in reality, that is not the case.
  • Dev’t Theory

    Beliefs about self-efficacy are stronger predictors of behavior than previous accomplishments. (The old adage, “You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.”)

  • When desired results are achieved, self-efficacy improves.
  • The likelihood of implementation increases if teachers see the importance and value in it.
  • Self-Efficacy


Chapter 14: Create Schools in Which Everyone’s Job Is To Learn

  • Leaders matter. They can affect fundamental choices, mental models, and self-efficacy.
  • The Capacity of Schools to Create Results for Students

    • PD

      Ownership and sustained energy are critical to the success of the desired change.

    • Change Theory

      The knowledge and skills of educational practitioners is an untapped and undervalued resource.

    • Successful change results when a combination both internal and external resources are utilized.
  • Create More Powerful Professional Learning
  • LO/PDS

    Create conditions within schools and school districts that “amplify positive deviance.”

    • Fullan (2001) comments that duplication of the context in which a successful reform occurs is sometimes more desirable than the duplication of the reform itself.
    • Change Theory

      Positive Deviance – finding successful cases within the struggling institution, inquiry about the conditions necessary within the context that is creating success intimately, and then attempt to duplicate that successful context within the struggling institution.

  • Create through dialogue and other reflective experiences different mental models and results-oriented beliefs.
  • Change Theory

    Conversations are powerful and yet meetings dominate the educational realm.

  • Dialogue is instrumental in changing mental modes and behavior.
  • Listening is critical to success.
  • Create a social movement, if only in your school or school system.
  • A Few Final Thoughts


Potential Resources:

  • Report: Does Professional Development Change Teaching Practice?: Results from a Three-Year Study from the U.S. Department of Education, 2000.
  • National Education Goals Panel’s Report: Bringing All Students to High Standards (NEGP Monthly, 2000).
  • Report: Teachers Who Learn, Kids Who Achieve: A Look at Schools with Model Professional Development (WestEd, 2000).
  • Darling-Hammond, L. (1998, Feb.). Teacher learning that supports student learning. Educational Leadership, (55)(5), 6-11.
  • Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change (3rd ed). New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday Currency.
  • JSD, Winter 2000 issue.
  • How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back into Discussions of Teacher Quality (2000) by Harold Wenglinksky (link in article on page 105[cp13] ).


Other Key Terms to use for Research:

  • Learning organizations


Resources Quoted:

  • DuFour, R. (2000, Sept.). The superintendent as staff developer. School Administrator, 57(8), 20-24.

  • Elmore, R. (2000). Building a new structure for school leadership. Washington, DC: Albert Shanker Institute.
  • Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Garet, M., Porter, A., Desimone, L., Birman, B., & Kwant, S. (2001, Winter). What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 915-945.
  • Miles, K.H. & Hornbeck, M. (2000). Reinvesting in teachers: Aligning district professional development spending to support a comprehensive school reform strategy. Arlington, VA: New American Schools.
  • Neuman, M. & Simmons, W. (2000, Sept.).
  • Nolan, K. (2000). Looking at student work: Improving practice by closing in. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for School Reform.
  • Rigden, D. (2000). Implications of standards for teacher preparation. Basic Education, 45(3), 1-6.
  • Rowley, J. (1999, May). The good mentor. Educational Leadership, 56(8), 20-22.
  • Senge, P. (1999). The dance of change: The challenges to sustaining momentum in learning organizations. New York: Doubleday.
  • Shulman, L (1986, March). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.
  • Sparks, D. (1997, Fall). Reforming teaching and reforming staff development: An interview with Susan Loucks-Horsley. Journal of Staff Development, 18(4), 20-23.
  • Stigler, J. & Hiebert, J. (1997). Understanding and improving classroom mathematics instruction: An overview of the TIMSS video study, Phi Delta Kappan, 79(1), 14-21.
  • Supovitz, J.A. (2000, Nov.). Manage less, lead more. Principal Leadership: High School Edition, 1(3), 14-19.





 [cp1]Definition of a system is important here in that in order for a system to function as intended, all components must function effectively. A system can become dysfunctional if even one of its moving (organic?) parts is inhibited.

 [cp2]Can I draw a conceptual framework based on this notion of schools as organizational systems to illustrate organizational change? Goodlad has a similar analogy of systems as an “ecology.”

 [cp3]Side thought: It seems that most PD is done externally (think of the preposition to). PD is done to teachers. We’re thinking about how PDS creates job embedded PD with teachers.

 [cp4]The recommendations for principal learning seem similar to that which we proposing for teachers.

 [cp5]What does this comment mean for us? What do we make of it? Does this create a space (a need) for our work?

 [cp6]How do you monitor impact?

 [cp7]Are we just using rhetoric then?

 [cp8]Would our PDS fit here? Is this a gap for us?

 [cp9]Does lesson study create a new “script for teaching” (A pun on their terminology) in that lesson study creates a script for teachers to use?

 [cp10]Does the PDS provide a context for this “daily” reflection/improvement?

 [cp11]How do we define high-quality? Is it impact? Is it embedded practice? What is it? How do WE (meaning us) define it?

 [cp12]What does this mean for us??? It provides us with a reason (a need if you will) for the study.

 [cp13]Great resource for Donnan for impact on student learning.