Some 80 percent of Oklahoma's public school districts are located in rural settings. Rural districts face significant challenges in providing teachers with high-quality professional development (PD). The members of our Oklahoma Rural Schools Research Alliance expressed a high-priority need for data to guide state and local efforts to ensure high-quality PD for all rural teachers.
Oklahoma Rural Schools Research Alliance Planning Team (from left): Darrel Fincher, Corporation Commission–Public Utilities Division; Melody Aufill, Yale Public Schools; Susan Pinson, Office of Educator Effectiveness, Oklahoma State Department of Education; Kurt Bernhardt, Oklahoma State Department of Education; Kathren Stehno, Office of Educational Quality and Accountability; and Haidee Williams, REL Southwest Alliance Liaison.
Reviewing the past research on professional development
To address this need, REL Southwest researchers began by reviewing previous studies that have examined professional development in rural schools and settings. The researchers summarized the PD practices shown to be promising in rural schools as well as the PD challenges specific to rural settings. The team then shared this information with the alliance and discussed the results.
The promising PD practices included organizational or process features (such as promoting coherence through local assessment and planning, involving local staff and leadership in the process, and embedding PD in everyday instructional practices) as well as PD structures (such as the train-the-trainer model, collaborative learning, and school-university partnerships). PD challenges included geographic isolation, limited tax base and PD funding, difficulty recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, and a lack of recognition in preservice training programs of rural schools' unique needs.
Developing an Oklahoma Teacher Professional Development Survey
The research team used these findings to determine the data needed to gain a better understanding of current PD access, practices, and needs in Oklahoma's rural schools. To collect the data, the researchers worked closely with alliance members to design an online survey for the Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (OEQA). OEQA administered the survey to all of the state's public school principals in Spring 2016.
The joint effort of the rural research alliance in creating the Oklahoma PD survey was nothing short of amazing and so well worth the time and effort as we are already gleaning responses that will enhance OEQA’s mission to provide schools with relevant information and informed technical assistance.”
Kathren Stehno, Ed.D., Coordinator, Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability
The close collaboration between alliance members and the research team was a key element in the survey's successful development and administration. Alliance members provided the contextual knowledge and PD expertise needed to determine the appropriate content for the survey. In turn, REL Southwest provided expertise in survey development, pretested the survey with a small group of principals recruited by alliance members, programmed the online instrument, and provided technical assistance in administering the survey.
Analyzing and applying the results
Our researchers are now analyzing the survey data, with input from alliance members, as part of a follow-up descriptive study. This study will describe rural and non-rural Oklahoma teachers' access to promising PD practices and barriers to quality professional development in Oklahoma. A public report of the findings will be available in 2017.
The Professional Development Survey project aligned with statewide initiatives to support the preparation, recruitment, and retention of highly qualified teachers and leaders. The State Department of Education anticipates the findings to be useful as baseline metrics in the agency’s strategic plan objectives.” Susan Pinson, Executive Director of Professional Development, Oklahoma State Department of Education
The final results will provide an overall picture of Oklahoma's teacher professional development in both rural and non-rural schools for the first time. In particular, the results will shed light on difficulties teachers face in accessing professional development, especially in rural schools. These findings will help inform state education leaders and policymakers in their efforts to develop PD policy, remove barriers to PD access, and allocate resources to support rural teachers' professional development needs.
I think the report will provide very valuable information that can be utilized by not only schools but other agencies whose role is to support our schools. I am really excited to see those charts completed with the real data! I think this data can be very useful in making decisions regarding professional development planning and implementation." Sharon Dean, Associate Director, K20 Center, University of Oklahoma
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