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The CLI Professional Development Model and the Research that Supports It

In a review of nine studies, Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, and Shapley (2007) found that sustained and intensive professional development was related to student achievement. The three studies of professional development lasting 14 or fewer hours showed no effects on student learning, whereas other studies of programs offering more than 14 hours of sustained teacher learning opportunities showed significant positive effects. The largest effects were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours spread out over 6–12 months.

In two recent books, Differentiated Professional Development in a Professional Learning Community (Bowgren and Sever, 2010) and Professional Development: What Works (Zepeda, 2008), the authors summarize the research on effective professional development from recent scholars in the field such as Darling- Hammond, Guskey, Joyce and Showers, and Corcoran, among others. They highlight some lessons and practices learned from years of research on teacher learning, learning conditions, and professional development that affects change. The following chart is a synthesis of their findings.

Research Supports Professional Development That...

  • Deepens teachers' knowledge of content, how to teach it to students, and how students learn specific content (Birman, Desimone, Porter & Garet, 2000; Corcoran, 1995; Garet et al., 2001; Porter et al., 2003). Professional development that focuses on student learning and helps teachers develop the pedagogical skills to teach specific kinds of content has strong positive effects on practice (Blank, de las Alas, & Smith, 2007; Wenglinsky, 2000).
  • Provides opportunities for active, hands-on learning that encompasses multiple modalities and promotes active engagement ( Joyce and Showers, 1995; Garet et al., 2001; Porter et al., 2003)
  • Enables teachers to acquire new knowledge, apply it to practice, and reflect on the results with colleagues. (Guskey, 1999; Loucks-Horslet et al., 1998)
  • Is intensive and sustained over time (Garet et al.,2001; Loucks-Horsley,Hewson, Love, & Stiles, 1998; Porter, Garetn, Desimone, Yoon, & Birman, 2000)
  • Includes planned follow-up (Corcoran, 1995; Garet et.al,, 2001; Joyce and Showers, 1995). Coaching and follow-up activities to help transfer learning to daily teaching (Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austing, & Hall, 1987; Knowles, 1973/1997)
  • Relevant; i.e. job embedded, connected to the work of teaching (AERA, 2005; Ancess, 2000; Borko, 2004; WOOD & Killian, 1998, Wood &McQuarrie, 1999)
  • Based on student performance data (Kazemi&Frankie,2003; McDonald, 2001; Sparks, 1995)

Research Does Not Support Professional Development That...

  • Relies on the one-shot workshop model.
  • Focuses only on training teachers in new techniques and behaviors.
  • Is not related to teachers' specific contexts and curriculums.
  • Is episodic and fragmented. (Knapp, 2003).
  • Expects teachers to make changes in isolation and without support.
  • Does not provide sustained teacher learning opportunities.

The authors’ conclusions are a direct match to the guiding principles that have come to direct CLI Professional Development as the organization has developed over the years. 

CLI’s Professional Development Model:
Study It, See it, Do it

Study it...

Institutes, seminars, and workshops immerse participants in the most current research in exemplary practices. CLI professional development trainings build on prior knowledge and move toward clear outcomes.

See it...

Seeing the CLI model of exemplary instruction in action is integral to understanding the possibilities for student achievement in classrooms in even the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Model Classrooms are evidence of the remarkable success of rich literacy environments, exemplary teaching, and high expectations for students.

Do it...

Literacy Coaching: to deepen, expand, and sustain professional learning, CLI offers one-on-one coaching by our highly experienced Professional Developers focusing on lesson design and the implementation of highly effective literacy practices.

Grade Level Meetings: CLI strives to build a culture of literacy by working with grade level teams to plan lessons, critique student work, refine instruction, and observe and discuss demonstration lessons.

Grade Level Meetings: CLI strives to build a culture of literacy by working with grade level teams to plan lessons, critique student work, refine instruction, and observe and discuss demonstration lessons.

This model focuses on engagement and differentiation, and takes into account the work of David Pearson and M.C. Gallagher’s gradual release of responsibility model (1983), and Brian Camborne’s conditions for learning (2002). In the gradual release of responsibility, learners move from novice to proficient through these interactions with more knowledgeable guides. As teachers move from training (institutes, seminars, workshops), to coaching, to direct application of what they learned, they progress through the three stages: modeling, joint practice and collaboration, and independent application. 

Browgren and Severs (Differentiated Professional Development in a Professional Learning Community, 2010) combine Cambourne’s six conditions for learning with the three stages of the gradual release of responsibility model to create an “I Do, We Do, You Do” model of professional development, which aligns with CLI’s “Study it, See it, Do it" model.

CLI’s Trainings

Because learners progress through learning stages at different rates, the content and design of CLI trainings (offered through Institutes, full-day seminars and half-day workshops) is differentiated and engaging.  Research tells us that the most useful professional development emphasizes active teaching, assessment, observation, and reflection rather than abstract discussions (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995). Active learning opportunities embedded into the training allows teachers to transform their teaching and not simply layer new strategies on top of the old (Snow-Renner & Lauer, 2005).

These opportunities in CLI trainings include modeling new strategies and constructing opportunities for teachers to practice and reflect on them (Garet et al., 2001; Saxe et al., 2001; Supovitz et al., 2000). In a recent national survey (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001), teachers reported that their knowledge and skills grew and their practice changed when they received professional development that was coherent, focused on content knowledge, and involved active learning.

CLI’s Literacy Coaching

Effective teaching requires that a teacher know what methods and teaching strategies are useful for helping students learn a specific content, and how to adapt these methods and strategies to particular learners.  Coaching is often the missing link that connects this knowledge base to the actual application of what is known or learned.  

CLI’s coaching model links the training of content to the application of content by considering the four components that ensure that teacher learning transfers to classroom practice (Joyce and Showers (2002):

  • Teachers must be provided with and understand the theory supporting a strategy.
  • Teachers must have the opportunity to watch a skillful demonstration of the strategy.
  • Teachers must be given time to practice the strategy.
  • Teachers must engage in follow-up sharing of practice and participation in peer coaching. 


CLI’s coaching model is content-focused and designed to provide teachers with individualized and situation-specific assistance focused on literacy content, pedagogy, and student learning. Content-focused coaching is based upon the belief that in order for teachers to be most effective, they need to know the content of that which they are teaching. Understanding what is to be taught first oftentimes leads teachers to modify how the lesson will be taught. In this model, teacher and Professional Developer pre-conference to discuss literacy goals, lesson plan and implementation, and core issues in effective lesson design. Teacher and Professional Developer then decide on the level of support needed from the Professional Developer in the lesson in order to determine whether the Professional Developer models, co-teaches, or observes the lesson being taught. Finally, in a post conference, the teacher and Professional Developer reflect on student learning by analyzing student work, considering the effectiveness of the lesson, and planning for the goals of future lessons.

At the center of the model is coaching conversations. The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) advises that professional learning must include continuous conversations, it must be meaningful to a teacher’s work, and there must be methods to evaluate progress (Hord & Sommers, 2008).  Coaching is what allows for these continuous conversations to occur, in which the professional developer and teacher work together to understand, interpret, and apply new strategies. Coaching conversations focus on core issues in lesson design such as lesson goals, the literacy content of the lesson, the context of the lesson, students’ prior knowledge, lesson implementation, evidence of students’ understanding and learning, and collaboration in a learning community.  Progress on goals is evaluated through a rubric of effective practices designed by Children’s Literacy Initiative called the TELP (Teachers Effective Literacy Practices).

CLI’s Work to Develop Professional Learning Communities

Research on effective professional development also highlights the importance of collaborative and collegial learning environments that help develop communities able to promote school change beyond individual classrooms (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Hord, 1997; Knapp, 2003; Louis, Marks, & Kruse, 1996; Perez et al., 2007). Collective work in trusting environments provides a basis for inquiry and reflection, allowing teachers to raise issues, take risks, and address dilemmas in their own practice (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Bryk, Camburn & Louis, 1999; Little, 1990). The process of learning with colleagues in small, trusting, supportive groups makes all the difference (Dunne, Nave, & Lewis, 2000).

In order for change to occur, teachers must learn to describe, discuss, and adjust their practices according to a collectively held standard of teaching quality (Little, 2003). CLI’s professional learning communities take place in many different small group formats. 

  • Small Group Coaching
  • Grade Level Meetings
  • Guided Visit to a CLI Model Classroom to observe the CLI model of instruction
  • Monthly Model Classroom Network Meetings led by a CLI Professional Developer for continuous professional development

Another structured format in CLI’s professional learning community occurs when teachers and Professional Developers look at student work and data. Analyzing student work together gives teachers opportunities to develop a common understanding of what good work is, what common misconceptions students have, and what instructional strategies are working. The power of focusing on data and dialogue in professional learning is evident in the success of elementary schools that consistently produce higher-than-expected student achievement (Strahan, 2003).

Lesson study is another format for professional learning communities.  Defined by the Lesson Study Research group (LSRG) at Columbia University, lesson study is a professional development process that Japanese teachers engage in to systematically examine their practice, with the goal of it becoming more effective. In this examination teachers are working collaboratively in small groups to “study” a group of lessons which involves planning, observing, and critiquing the lessons.

The Spillover Effect

In all of these professional learning formats, individual teacher learning is accelerated by the influence of their peers. A recent study published in the American Economic Journal on the importance of peer learning for teachers (Jackson & Bruegmann, 2009) documented that other teachers on the team became more effective due to the presence of a skilled colleague, and that positive changes in the quality of teacher colleagues were associated with student test score gains.  Most importantly, they found that the effect is persistent over time.

This is the ultimate goal of “membership” in the CLI professional learning community, and in particular the goal of developing and sustaining Model Classrooms within a school.  The effect that professional development has on Model Classroom teachers “spills over” to the colleague teachers in the same grade and eventually effects change in the quality of instruction in the whole school.

While there has been previous evidence of this spillover effect in other professions, the Jackson & Bruegmann study now proves the same impact in the teaching profession.

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