I just finished reading the article Teacher Coaching Boosts Secondary Scores, Study Finds, which reports on the findings of the study An Interaction-Based Approach to Enhancing Secondary School Instruction and Student Achievement. I am excited to see a study that puts forth a method by which classroom teaching may be improved - not through a particular technique that may or may not work for all teachers, but by actually having teachers observe one another and provide feedback - and then expect changes to be made based on that feedback.
As the article states, professional development for teachers is such a slippery slope and, in this data-driven age, is still such a guessing game in that there's no real way to know which PD is effective in improving student performance. There are too many factors at play, including levels of PD implementation and then levels of teacher implementation of the strategies learned in PD into their classrooms. However, as a graduate student and as a Teach For America teacher, I've certainly experienced PD that positively impacted my students' learning. Most of which involved someone observing me teach and then providing me feedback about what I could do better. All of which involved my own willingness to accept criticism and then to make changes to my classroom practice. That said, I've also been partnered with a master teacher in my school district as part of a mentoring process and didn't change my teaching practice at all as a result - making up BS observations and reflections to put into my "mentor binder."
I do know that the main type of PD that occurs - in-services and demonstrations of new activities and techniques - never makes much difference on my practice. It might give me an idea of a new activity to try or a new way of reviewing vocabulary, but it never asks me to really examine my own practice and improve the way that I teach. I'm not sure what the factors are that separate "good, effective coaching" from "just another thing to BS the day before it's due coaching" but I suspect that the coach's level of commitment to the process makes a big difference. At WNMU and TFA, the people who observed me and gave me feedback were no longer classroom teachers - it was their main job to help teachers become better - not to maintain a classroom themselves. It's probably very hard to be a good coach when you have a classroom to run! I also think that the teacher being coached has to know that someone will care about the changes that are being made in their class - and will not simply check off the observation as being complete. Last of all, how do you make teachers WANT to change a practice that they've been honing for the duration of their career? I was coached as a brand new teacher - I knew I needed help. It's probably not going to go over so well for someone who's essentially been left alone in their classroom for the last 5-25 years.
Anyway, I was happy to read about the above-mentioned study and I hope its results are highly publicized and included in future discussions around PD.