A Case Study of a Professional Developer Supporting School Improvement

Martin, Samantha, Curriculum and Instruction - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Mintz, Susan, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Executive Summary

Recently, Virginia schools have struggled to meet accreditation benchmarks and federal accountability measures. Only 77% of Virginia public schools are fully accredited for the 2013¬–2014 school year, compared to 93% the year prior (Virginia Department of Education [VDOE], 2013b), and only 41% of Virginia public schools met all federal accountability benchmarks (VDOE, 2013c). The Office of School Improvement (OSI) at VDOE provides support to schools in meeting both state accreditation and federal accountability measures by performing academic reviews and connecting the schools to resources. One of the resources available to schools is support services from VDOE Training and Technical Assistance Centers (T/TACs). VDOE T/TACs provide support to professionals who work with students with disabilities to improve academic outcomes. VDOE T/TACs have currently been assigned to work with 174 schools in 73 divisions that have struggled with performance of students with disabilities. Some of the schools are fully accredited, and some are not; but none of the schools met the federal accountability measures for students with disabilities.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) T/TAC is staffed by program specialists who provide professional development to personnel who work with students with disabilities in schools with low pass rates for students with disabilities. This type of professional development, related to school improvement, is new to VCU T/TAC, and the organization does not have a set of actions that match the current focus to guide program specialists. The purpose of the study was to explore the way a VCU T/TAC program specialist implements professional development in a school with the goal of school improvement so that VCU T/TAC can make informed decisions about practices. The study, which focused on the work of a program specialist, explored how a program specialist provided professional development, what professional development looked like (e.g., who was involved, the delivery structure, the focus), and what factors the program specialist considered when planning for and adjusting professional development.
The study was structured as a single case study of a program specialist in one school, and data were collected over a 7-week period. The data collection procedures included interviews, observations, and document reviews. Data analysis consisted of a clear, iterative process of data condensation, data display, and conclusion drawing/verification. Additionally, the study was designed with considerations for trustworthiness by addressing credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. Confidentiality and ethical considerations were also significant aspects of the study design.
The three findings of the case study are as follows:
1. The program specialist provided quality, contextual professional development in multiple delivery structures (after-school session, follow-up sessions, team meetings, and one-on-one meetings) across two main focus strands: teacher collaborative and behavior management. The delivery structure differed by the target level of change: classroom, team, and school.
2. The program specialist provided professional development by acting to build capacity and relationships within the context of the school. Actions to build capacity differed by structure and purpose of professional development activities.
3. The program specialist considered contextual factors (including time, teacher attitude, teachers’ knowledge and skills, and relationships among school personnel) when she was making decisions while planning for and delivering professional development.
Implications and Recommendations
Based on the implications of the findings, the recommendations to VCU T/TAC include areas for further exploration of the organization’s current work and the development of an applicable set of actions to guide program specialists. The recommendations are as follows.
1. Explore the characteristics of the professional development that program specialists are providing, with a focus on purpose and context.
2. Explore the actions of program specialists in providing professional development through the lens of social capital.
3. Use the outcomes of Recommendation 1 and Recommendation 2 to develop for program specialists a set of guiding actions that promote the organization’s mission.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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