The Professional Teachingand Learning Cycle:Introduction2nd EditionThe professional teaching and learning cycle (PTLC) is a professional development process in which teacherscollaboratively plan and implement lessons aligned to their state standards. This process is an important partof the Working Systemically approach, designed by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory(SEDL) to improve a school system’s capacity to increase student achievement.
SEDL4700 Mueller Blvd.Austin, TX .sedl.org/Copyright 2005 (2nd edition, 2008) by Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. Thispublication was produced in whole or in part with funds for the Institute of Education Sciences,U.S. Department of Education, under contract number ED-01-C0-0009. The content herein does notnecessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Education or any other agency of the U.S.government, nor does it reflect the views of any other source.- ii -
ContentsWhat Is the Professional Teaching and Learning Cycle?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1The Six Steps of the Professional Teaching and Learning Cycle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3How to Begin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6Leadership and Support. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7Culture. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8Summing Up. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
What Is the Professional Teachingand Learning Cycle?The professional teaching and learning cycle (PTLC) is a professional development process in whichteachers collaboratively plan and implement lessons aligned to their state standards. This process is animportant part of the Working Systemically approach, designed by SEDL to improve a school system’scapacity to increase student achievement. Working in partnership with the Charles A. Dana Center at theUniversity of Texas at Austin, SEDL developed this job-embedded process that reflects the research onprofessional development and school improvement.PTLC is a critical component of the Working Systemically approach that directly impacts classroominstruction and student learning. It is a vehicle for teacher collaboration and sharing, and the processimproves alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to the state standards.PTLC is an ongoing, cyclic process that is designed to improve the quality of professional development (ongoing, job-embedded, results-driven); professional collaboration among staff; use of data to inform instructional and programmatic decisions; alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to the state standards; quality and coherence of instruction across classrooms; monitoring of student learning; and leadership-support systems for continuous school improvement.Typically, interventions aimed at improving student achievement target only individual components ofschool improvement and professional development. A school improvement initiative might focus onimproving alignment of the curriculum or on the collection and use of data. These interventions tendto result in marginal gains in student achievement, but little evidence suggests that those gains persistbeyond the time of the intervention. PTLC, on the other hand, is designed to work systemically. It addressesteacher quality and school improvement both collectively and holistically, thus increasing the likelihoodthat improvements will be sustained over time.PTLC is not a simple process, nor is it a “quick fix” for school improvement. A substantial amount ofcommitment and work is necessary to develop the process into a meaningful instructional improvementstrategy. Once established, it becomes a standard way for a district and schools to operate, providing jobembedded, ongoing professional development in a collaborative, trusting environment. Most schools anddistricts will need support from an external facilitator or technical assistance provider for the first few yearsto help develop PTLC and incorporate it into their educational system (Rust, 2001). Over time, however,the external facilitator can gradually shift responsibility for support to internal leaders, thus decreasing theschool’s dependence on external consultants for ongoing, sustainable improvement.SEDL1
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionOne of the key strengths of PTLC is its design as a job-embedded professional learning process that isongoing and results driven. According to multiple correlation studies on teacher quality (DarlingHammond, 2000; Darling-Hammond, Hightower, Husbands, LaFors, Young, & Christopher, 2003), higherlevels of student achievement are associated with educators who participate in sustained professionaldevelopment grounded in content-specific pedagogy. Continuous professional learning that improvesteacher outcomes, in turn, impacts student outcomes. Studies indicate that when teachers improve theirinstructional practice, student achievement also improves (Fishman, Marx, Best, & Tal, 2003; Guskey, 2000;Kamil, 2003).The design of professional development, therefore, is critical to school improvement. A longitudinal studyconducted by the National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching (1999) identifiedseveral characteristics that proved most effective in positively influencing teacher practice. Three of thoseidentified characteristics that are strongly emphasized in PTLC are collective participation, active learningwith opportunities for direct application, and coherence with school goals and state standards.Convergent evidence (Fernandez, 2003; Joyce & Showers, 2002; Poglinco, Bach, Hovde, Rosenblum,Saunders, & Supovitz, 2003; Reeves, 2004; Seagall, 2004; Sparks & Hirsch, 2000; Wheelan, 2005) alsosuggests that professional development should provide opportunities for teachers to build their content and pedagogical knowledge and toexamine practices; be research based and engage adults in the learning approaches they will use with theirstudents; provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate with colleagues and other experts to improvetheir practices; and include a design—based on student learning data—that will be evaluated and improvedcontinuously.Substantial support from school leaders is required for implementing, supporting, and sustaining highquality professional development (Cotton, 2003; NAESP, 2001). In addition, strong leadership is neededfor fostering a culture of collaboration and problem solving (Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). Goodleaders set clear academic goals and monitor progress toward those goals (Cotton, 2003; Joyce &Showers, 2002; Marzano et al., 2005; NAESP, 2001; Reeves, 2004); link those goals to professional development (Joyce & Showers, 2002; Reeves, 2004); and monitor implementation of innovations and changes in the instructional program (Cotton,2003; Marzano et al., 2005; NAESP, 2001).Additionally, guidance and support from district and school leaders is critical for institutionalizing an effortof this scale and achieving the potential results such a process offers.This publication, The Professional Teaching and Learning Cycle: Introduction, provides a detailed overview ofthe process and outlines the objectives for each of the six steps and the overall cycle. It also addresses theimportance of leadership roles and the culture and conditions necessary to support PTLC. The informationpresented herein provides the grounding needed in order to understand and explain PTLC to teachers andleaders as they work through this process.SEDL2
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionThe Six STEPS of the Professional Teaching andLearning CyclePTLC comprises six steps—study, select, plan, implement, analyze, and adjust. On the following pagesis a description of and the goals for each step. Prior to beginning the cycle, teachers will have analyzedstudent achievement data to identify a specific standard or standards on which many students are notproficient.SEDL3
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionStep 1: StudyTeachers work in collaborative planning teams (grade-level, vertical, or departmental) to examine criticallyand discuss the learning expectations from the selected state standards. Teachers working collaborativelydevelop a common understanding of the concepts and skills students need to know and be able to do to meet the expectations inthe standards, how the standards for a grade or course are assessed on state and local tests, and how the standards fit within a scope and sequence of the district curriculum.Step 2: SelectCollaborative planning teams research and select instructional strategies and resources for enhancinglearning as described in the standards. Teachers working collaboratively identify effective research-based strategies and appropriate resources that will be used tosupport learning in the selected state standards and agree on appropriate assessment techniques that will be used to provide evidence of studentlearning.Step 3: PlanPlanning teams, working together, formally develop a common lesson incorporating the selected strategiesand agree on the type of student work each teacher will use later (in Step V: Analyze) as evidence ofstudent learning. Teachers working collaboratively develop a common formal plan outlining the lesson objectives (relevant to the standards), thematerials to be used, the procedures, the time frame for the lesson, and the activities in whichstudents will be engaged and decide what evidence of student learning will be collected during the implementation.Step 4: ImplementTeachers carry out the planned lesson, make note of implementation successes and challenges, and gatherthe agreed-upon evidence of student learning. Teachers working collaboratively deliver the lesson as planned within the specified time period; record results, especially noting where students struggled and/or where instruction did notachieve expected outcomes; and collect the agreed-upon evidence of student learning to take back to the collaborative planningteam.SEDL4
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionStep 5: AnalyzeTeachers gather again in collaborative teams to examine student work and discuss student understandingof the standards. Teachers working collaboratively revisit and familiarize themselves with the standards before analyzing student work; analyze a sampling of student work for evidence of student learning; discuss whether students have met the expectations outlined in the standards and makeinferences about the strengths, weaknesses, and implications of instruction; and identify what students know and what skills or knowledge needs to be strengthened in futurelessons.Step 6: AdjustCollaborative teams reflect on the implications of the analysis of student work. Teachers discuss alternativeinstructional strategies or modifications to the original instructional strategy that may be better suited topromoting student learning. Teachers working collaboratively reflect on their common or disparate teaching experiences; consider and identify alternative instructional strategies for future instruction; refine and improve the lesson; and determine when the instructional modifications will take place, what can be built intosubsequent lessons, and what needs an additional targeted lesson.Five of these six steps are played out during two separate collaborative meetings. Groups ideally composedof two to five teachers gather to study the standards, select an effective strategy to address thosestandards, and plan an effective lesson using that strategy. The time required for this meeting typicallytakes 2 to 3 hours initially. At this point, it is important for leaders to ensure that teachers have enoughcontent knowledge about the selected standard to carry out the next steps in the process. If they do nothave a clear understanding of the standard or the content, additional professional development shouldbe planned to increase teachers’ content knowledge.Once the teachers have selected instructional strategies and an assessment approach and have plannedtheir lesson(s), they return to their classrooms to implement the lesson(s). This step provides an idealopportunity for leaders to observe instruction. This communicates a message that leaders support theinitiative and that the work is a priority. Peer observations can also be scheduled at this time, providingmore intensive professional development, especially for new or inexperienced teachers. The participatingteachers reconvene later in a second collaborative meeting to analyze student work that was generatedduring the lesson and to adjust their plans for future instruction, as needed, to support studentachievement.During the first year of implementation, it is recommended that collaborative teams complete at least sixcomplete cycles of PTLC to become thoroughly familiar with the process. The first few cycles take moretime because teachers are becoming versed in the process and learning their roles in each of the steps. AsSEDL5
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionteams become more familiar with PTLC, they may be able to complete the last two steps of one cycle andthe first three steps of the next cycle in one meeting. Two to three hours per meeting is recommended forthe first year or two of implementing PTLC.How to BeginFour key roles need to be filled in order to implement PTLC successfully. The first is that of an externalfacilitator who can guide teachers and leaders as they become familiar with the process. The facilitatorhelps ensure that everyone understands the work and that the implementation of PTLC is aligned to theoverall academic needs of the students.The second—and most important—role is that of grade-level or content-area teams of teachers whowork collaboratively to carry out this process. Another role in this process is that of content specialist,filled by an individual with content expertise who provides guidance as teachers design research-basedlessons that are aligned to the state standards. The content specialist may be the department head, aninstructional coach, or a district staff member with the necessary content knowledge. The final role is forschool and district leaders who monitor PTLC implementation and ensure that teachers have the supportand encouragement necessary to make the process successful.An important function for all of these roles is to help build relationships and establish norms of talkingto one another about issues critical to student achievement. If the school culture is not conducive tocollaboration, it is unlikely that PTLC will be successful. Time and effort need to be allocated to build thiscapacity in order to function productively as a group.To initiate the cycle, a team should be assembled, with representatives from both the campus and thedistrict. This group will examine various sources of data and identify a priority content area (e.g., readingor mathematics). Ideally, this should occur as part of the implementation of the Working Systemicallyapproach, a larger systemic improvement effort. Regardless, the selection of a content area needs to bedata driven and should reflect the consensus of the committee. Questions that help inform this decisioninclude the following: Do assessment data show areas of achievement that are lagging or disparate? Do teachers of certain grade levels need more support and professional learningopportunities? Are there shifts in student demographics that need to be addressed?Next, within the larger content area, a more precise target should be identified (e.g., vocabulary or fluency inreading; algebra or measurement in mathematics). By focusing on a narrower learning objective, teacherscan more efficiently collaborate to address a specific instructional goal and monitor the subsequent gains instudent achievement. Teachers decide on a learning objective by analyzing data, examining the standardsand learning expectations, and consulting with a content specialist in the selected content area.It is important to consider whether the selected learning objective is one that is a part of instruction acrosssome or all curriculum strands (e.g., vocabulary) or is unique to a particular grade-level or range (e.g.,phoneme awareness). However, this process is cyclic, and the learning objective selected at this pointonly sets the cycle into motion. Other specific learning objectives will be addressed in the future as PTLCunfolds and becomes a part of the ongoing work of the system.SEDL6
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionLeadership and SupportOrganizing and facilitating collaborative meetings and providing appropriate support to the teachersthroughout this process require a great deal of time, energy, and expertise. Individuals serving in twodifferent roles usually provide the leadership required to support this effort: leaders at the school anddistrict levels and content specialists.It is the responsibility of school and district leaders to provide clear, ongoing support for PTLC by communicating clear expectations that all staff will participate, building the capacity of staff members who need support, and monitoring the implementation and impact of the process.SEDL7
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionIn implementing PTLC, facilitators have found that without express commitment from the school anddistrict leaders, this process cannot have a significant impact on student achievement. Leaders at all levelsconvey support for this work by eliminating organizational barriers that might undermine the process. Keyactions leaders take in providing support for this process include the following: Modifying teachers’ instructional schedules to allow common time for collaboration andplanning Releasing staff members from certain duties or responsibilities, as necessary, to ensure thattheir full attention and energy are devoted to instructional issues Ensuring necessary funds for the purchase of materials and resources to support instruction orprofessional development Providing full and consistent support that demonstrates a commitment to the work in bothwords and actionsAn instructional content specialist has an important responsibility to build the capacity and expertise ofteachers in the target content area. A person (or persons) needs to be designated formally to help teachersthroughout each step of PTLC. The person(s) enlisted for this role could be a literacy or mathematics coach,a departmental chair, or a curriculum specialist at the district level.As noted previously, teachers may lack the requisite content knowledge to plan effective lessons alignedto state standards. The content specialist is critical to building this content knowledge. This individualneeds to have the time, expertise, and credibility among the staff as an instructional leader to help guideteams of teachers as they implement this process. The content specialist coordinates team efforts withthe school leaders as he or she helps teachers and supports improvements in instruction. This assistanceshould be viewed as necessary support to help build the capacity of teachers. Teachers should be assuredthat they are not being “evaluated” by the content specialist. If an administrator serves in this role, caremust be taken so that teachers feel supported, not pressured.It may be helpful for an external facilitator to serve as an additional support for teachers and leaders as theyadopt and integrate PTLC into their system. During the first few years of implementation, teachers usuallyneed considerable support from an external facilitator—one who not only guides teachers during thisprocess, but also provides support and guidance for leaders as they implement and monitor this process.CULTUREThe culture of the school and district in which PTLC is being implemented is crucial.“Improving school requires the creation of collaborative cultures. Without the collaborative skills andrelationships, it is not possible to learn and to continue to learn as much as you need to know to improve.”(Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991)Throughout the PTLC process, relationships between teachers and leaders, and among teachers themselves,are established and strengthened. Leaders work to build an environment of trust and a structureconducive to collaboration, where each participant has a voice and a sense of mutual responsibility andaccountability.The frequent monitoring and appraisal of this environment throughout the work will help to ensure that,once created, the collaborative culture endures.SEDL8
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionSumming upPTLC is a six-step cyclic process that promotes school improvement by cultivating professional growth andcollaboration among teachers. The process not only serves as an on-going, job-embedded approach toprofessional development, it effectively aligns curriculum, instruction, and assessments to state standards,ultimately increasing student achievement. In order to be effective, PTLC must be is supported by threespecific leadership roles that are critical in advancing and sustaining improvement. A systemwide cultureof collaboration and support is also crucial to successful integration of the process so that it becomes astandard procedure within the educational system.SEDL9
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionReferencesCotton, K. (2003). Principals and student achievement: What the research says. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervisionand Curriculum Development.Darling-Hammond, L. (2000, January 1). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence.Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(1).Darling-Hammond, L., Hightower, A.M., Husbands, J.L., LaFors, J.R., Young, V.M., & Christopher, C. (2003). Buildinginstructional quality: “Inside-out” and “outside-in” perspectives on San Diego’s school reform (Document R-03-3). Seattle,WA: University of Washington, Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy.Fernandez, C., Cannon, J., Chockshi, S. (2003). A US-Japan lesson study collaboration reveals critical lenses for examiningpractice. Teaching and Teacher Education, 19(2), 171–185.Fishman, B.J., Marx, R.W., Best, S., & Tal, R.T. (2003). Linking teacher and student learning to improve professionaldevelopment in systemic reform. Teaching and Teacher Education, 19(6), 643–658.Fullan, M. & Hargreaves, A. (1991). What’s worth fighting for in your school? Toronto: Ontario Public School Teachers’Federation.Garmston, R., & Wellman, B. (1999). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Norwood, MA:Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.Guskey, T.R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Holcomb, E.L. (1999). Getting excited about data: How to combine people, passion, and proof. Thousand Oaks, CA: CorwinPress.Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2002). Designing training and peer coaching: Our needs for learning. In B. Joyce & B. Showers,Student achievement through staff development (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and CurriculumDevelopment.Kamil, M.L. (2003). Adolescents and literacy: Reading for the 21st century. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.Retrieved March 30, 2005, from http://www.all4ed.org.Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Marzano, R.J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B.A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA:Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.National Association of Elementary School Principals. (2001). Leading learning communities: Standards for what principalsshould know and be able to do. Alexandria, VA: Author.SEDL10
Professional Teaching and Learning CycleIntroductionNational Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching. (1999). Characteristics of effective professionaldevelopment. Washington, DC: Author.Poglinco, S.M., Bach, A.J., Hovde, K., Rosenblum, S., Saunders, M., & Supovitz, J.A. (2003). The heart of the matter:The coaching model in America’s Choice schools. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, Consortium forPolicy Research in Education.Reeves, D.B. (2004). Accountability for learning: How teachers and school leaders can take charge. Alexandria, VA:Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Rust, F.O., & Freidus, H. (Eds.). (2001). Guiding school change: The role and work of change agents. New York:Teachers College Press.Segall, A. (2004). Revisiting pedagogical content knowledge: The pedagogy of content/the content of pedagogy.Teaching and Teacher Education, 20(5), 489–504.Sparks, D., & Hirsh, S. (2000). Strengthening professional development. Education Week, 19(37), 42, 45.Wheelan, S.A. (2005). Faculty groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.SEDL11
leadership-support systems for continuous school improvement. Typically, interventions aimed at improving student achievement target only individual components of school improvement and professional development. A school improvement initiative might focus on improving alignment of the curriculum or on the collection and use of data.