Working Toward Improving Professional Development

Every teacher experiences professional development, some good, some bad, some engaging, some not so engaging. Authors and PhD students Jeanne Dyches Bissonnette and Katie Caprino have recently published an article titled A call to action research: Action research as an effective professional development model. The article addresses the importance high quality and engaging professional development, offering empirical support for teacher participation in action research as a high-quality mechanism for professional development.

No Child Left Behind mandates that high-quality professional development be made available to teachers within the public school system, yet there is no definition of what this high-quality professional development must look like. In their review of the literature, Bissonnette and Caprino found that researchers have identified the following key features as ineffective within professional development: “fragmentation, lack of implementation, and lack of teacher-centeredness” (p. 13). They also found that researches described effective professional development as “ sustained, content-based, contextually situated, and teacher centered” (p. 14). One way for schools to eliminate the ineffective factors while incorporating all of the effective factors is through action research.

Action Research engages teachers in research focused on a particular issue that will lead to the improvement of their own instructional practice. “In short, teachers function as researchers; their classroom becomes their laboratories, their students become their subjects” (Bissonette & Caprino, 2015, p. 15). This professional development requires that teachers scrutinize their own practice and become more reflective practitioners. This process can be done individually or teachers may chose to work as teams organized by content area, grade level, or by the issue that needs to be assessed.

The article lists Babkie and Provost’s (2004,p. 262) planning guide for conducting action research as follows:

  • Identify the problem/concern to be researched.
  • Collect information from various sources and evaluate it.
  • Develop a plan for intervention/change.
  • Implement the intervention/ change and collect data.
  • Analyze the data/evaluate the results of the intervention or change.
  • Plan for future action: keep, revise, or alter intervention.

Action research is professional development proven to be beneficial for students, teachers, and entire schools through its content-based, teacher- and student-centered qualities. It allows the time and space for explicit conversations about meeting the needs of individual teachers and students.

Jeanne Bissonnette and Katie Caprino. (2015). A look at ineffective and effective professional development: Moving toward action research. Mid-Atlantic Education Review, 2(1).

Babkie, A.M., & Provost, M.C. (2007). Teachers as researchers. Intervention in School and Clinic, 39(5), 260-268.

Helping Students Use Technology Wisely in the Classroom


It is becoming more and more apparent that high school students use technology daily in and out of the classroom. While students may be experts at using online technology to communicate and socialize, Greene and Bolick’s review of literature shows that “many of them struggle to navigate computer-based resources to complete academic tasks” (p. 3) and still need a great deal of support to self-regulate their learningby avoiding the many distractions on the Internet and learning which sites are helpful and trustworthy and which sites to steer away from. Classroom teachers are faced with the difficult task of providing this support while not allowing the technology to become a distraction. Greene and Bolick found that there is minimal research literature to help define best practices for teachers facing this challenge; therefore, they have developed a way to help both teachers and students use technology in a more productive manner. Greene and Bolick use the acronym PSUM, standing for planning, strategy use, and monitoring to provide a supportive method for high school students and teachers across subject areas to implement technology as an academic tool while self-regulating their learning process.


Greene and Bolick used the literature to define self-regulated learning as . Self-regulation takes place before, during, and after a learning task and some of the activities that a self-regulated learner would take part in are listed below:

  • Before Learning the learner:
    • Identifies what needs to be learned,
    • Activates prior knowledge about the learning goals,
    • Sets goals and establishes a strategic plan to accomplish those goals.
  • During Learning the learner:
    • Engages with the content,
    • Monitors how well they are progressing towards their learning goals,
    • Employ multiple effective strategies to maximize learning (i.e. imagery, asking questions, making inferences).
  • After Learning the learner:
    • Self-reflects, processing the prior two phases and analyzing which strategies worked best for that learning task and which did not, as well as focusing on what was learned throughout the process.



The Intervention:



Greene and Bolick reviewed literature across the content areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history looking for ways that teachers can incorporate direct instruction of self-regulated learning while using technology. Strong empirical evidence and common themes throughout the literature identify self-regulation interventions that can be applied to technology use across content areas, These include the following tips:

  • Setting goals is key for students to self-regulate while striving to reach the achieved learning objective.
  • Students can learn to self-monitor, particularly their understanding of the material while completing a task, through explicit direct instruction. The literature indicates that students can internalize the skill with practice and feedback.
  • Content-specific learning strategies (e.g., comparing and contrasting in science, creating narratives in history) should be explicitly taught.
  • Teacher modeling, guided practice, peer group practice, and independent practice have been shown to be effective ways to scaffold self-regulated learning.


This information is the basis for Greene and Bolick’s acronym PSUM. Here is how it works:

  1. Planning – Instruct students to use the learning task to set clear goals for themselves based on the gap between what they already know and what they need to learn.
  2. Strategy – Help students learn to prioritize these goals by considering the task, the amount of time, and what information is most important. “Through instructing students to plan for an assignment, we enhanced their ability to plan their learning process by encouraging them to identify clear individualized goals, develop a time management plan to keep them on track to meet those goals, and identify useful information for meeting those goals (p.25).”
  3. Monitoring – Students should use the following four types of questions to attentively assess their learning process throughout the task :
    1. relevance of content question, for example, “Did I pick something useful?”
    2. monitoring understanding, “Do I understand what I have learned?”
    3. reflect back to the goals set during planning, “Am I reaching my goals?”
    4. And future accessibility, “Will this information be accessible or remembered for a later assessment if I am unable to recall it?”


Greene and Bolick developed the intervention based on the research in the area of SRL and technology use in the classroom. This is an exciting addition to the research literature about how to use technology as a tool that increases student knowledge.

The Economics of Education in North Carolina: Superintendents’ Perspectives

At North Carolina Central University on February 3, 2015, four NC superintendents sat down for a forum discussing the financial issues within our system of education. The goal of the discussion was to help the public understand how the state budget affects public education. This event, presented by the League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham, and Chatham Counties and the university, was titled Economics of Education: What We Owe our Children and our Nation;the theme was clearly equity. The superintendents on the panel were Dr. Del Burns, Orange County Schools; Dr. Tom Forcella, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools; Dr. Derrick Jordan, Chatham County Schools; and Dr. Bert L’Homme, Durham County Schools

While each superintendent said much more than can ever be contained in single blog entry, I wanted to represent each message through a series of take-away statements that stood out to me, both as a teacher and a parent.

Dr. Del Burns:

  • The greatest inequity in our state is in education funding. The per pupil expenditure from local funds across the state ranges from just over $300 per student to over $4,000 per student. This is due to the ability of some local communities to fill the gaps left by the state budget through property taxes and sales tax.
  • “It matters where you live.”
  • State funds have decreased more than 20% over the past several years.
  • Engage all community stakeholders by asking: What is the community’s vision for the public school system?
  • Become informed and then talk to people ”outside the room,” people who are on the other side of the issues, people who may not understand. Engage in a lot of conversation in order to raise awareness and call stakeholders to action. So often we are preaching to the choir, which is much less effective than conversing with those with different views.
  • Understand that NC is NOT a purple state. It is deep blue and deep red.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.25.35 AM

Dr. Tom Forcella:

  • All that we do should be about our most precious commodity, our children.
  • “There doesn’t seem to be the will on the part of the legislature to turn this around.”
  • The state must think about who we are attracting to come and teach our children. This is about more than salary. Teachers care much more about children and their working environments than they do about their salary. We must ask: How can we pull in good people into the profession?
  • At this point there is a lot of state control and much of that control needs to be passed back to the local level.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.26.02 AM 2

Dr. Derrick Jordan:

  • When the state eliminated the growth formula within the education budget, it caused an equity issue for counties that are growing rapidly. These counties cannot receive an increase in funds for these new students until after the school year has begun, so the local budget must carry this weight, decreasing the per pupil expenditure.
  • The state has cut professional development funds; the counties are not able to supplement this. Therefore, the state is constantly asking teachers to improve without any support or development opportunities.
  • 1 million dollars equals only 18 teachers; therefore, a lack of funds is resulting in larger class sizes.
  • There is a gross lack of resources due to budgetary cuts; this is resulting in negative impacts for all of our students.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.26.02 AM

Dr. Bert L’Homme:

  • In Durham, the local property and sales tax revenue have been able to fill in the financial gaps created by the dwindling state budget, yet this is coming to an end as the county is struggling to maintain this funding balance. “Local budgets are to supplement, NOT supplant.”
  • Charter school populations have increased by 77% over the past several years. Each child that leaves for a charter school takes with them the local funds, creating an equity gap between traditional public schools and charter schools. Durham County Schools sends 16 million dollars annually to charter schools.
  • As funding is continually cut, the students who are affected most are those not in the “middle,” meaning that the programs that are having to be eliminated are those serving both gifted and special services students.
  • When the state legislature cut extra pay for Master’s degrees, it sent the message that its members do not value teacher education. Durham County Schools wants desperately to preserve their investment in teachers; this choice makes it much more difficult to recruit and retain high quality teachers.
  • “Our children cannot wait for us to get the funding right.” We must speak out, speak to our General Assembly, our neighbors, and all those who will listen about these budgetary issues.

For More Information:

“Falling through the cracks”: Challenges for High School Students with Autism


High School is a challenge for most students, and for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) it tends to be an even more difficult transition. In order to explore some of the challenges that these students and their service providers face during their high school experience, Hedges, Kirby, Sreckovic, Kucharczyk, Hume, and Pace (2014) conducted two focus groups: one with parents, teachers, and school staff, and another with individuals with ASD. Because research literature shows that students with ASD have very limited success in post-secondary settings, this research aims to better understand what challenges secondary students are facing and the impact of these challenges and experiences on their post-secondary success in order to work towards better outcomes.

Analysis of the focus group discussions showed three challenges faced by ASD high school students. The first is that high schools are filled with inconsistencies throughout the school day. Students interact with several different teachers daily, each teacher presenting students with different personalities, rules and expectations. There are often schedule changes due to drills, assemblies, etc. that cause adjustment difficulties for students with ASD. Another area of inconsistency is between the amount of support that ASD students received in middle school and what they receive in high school. The amount of support generally decreased rapidly once students enter high school, causing confusion for students and families. Inconsistencies within the home and school environments often cause conflict for the students. For example, the level of independence required at home might be less than the level of independence required at school. This daily transition to and from school can be challenging for an ASD student and can cause difficulties in collaboration between parents and teachers.

The second emerging theme is that many students with ASD find that there are difficulties with interpersonal connections; it is very difficult for students with ASD to build and maintain successful relationships with their teachers, school staff, and peers. Often students with ASD have behaviors that Many parents commented about the lack of friends that child had at school, while teachers noted that the students displayed behaviors that negatively impacted their relationships with peers without ASD. Many students with ASD noted that they experienced negative social interactions and reported being bullied or ostracized. Teachers also mentioned that they found it difficult to interact and connect with students with ASD leading to a lack of the student-teacher relationship.

The final theme discussed in this study was also the most frequently discussed within the focus groups: the general lack of knowledge, preparation, and adequate supports for students with ASD at the high school level (Hedges, et al., 2014). It was found that the roles and responsibilities of high school personnel are often unclear and that staff felt like they had too many responsibilities and roles across the school, without sufficient time to perform them, resulting in the inability to adequately provide services to students with ASD. The gross lack of knowledge about ASD within school staff was also discussed at length within the focus groups. General education teachers have not been adequately prepared to teach students with ASD; professional development is not present to help classroom teachers effectively teach students with ASD. Finally, although designed to support students with special education needs, the special education process, which can be daunting, can at times create barriers for these students. Parents felt that plans were not adequately implemented; teachers discussed not always knowing how to implement the goals successfully. This leaves the students underserved and everyone involved frustrated.

This is an important study that unpacks some of the barriers that students with ASD face within high school. The first step to alleviating these barriers is recognizing them. While more work will need to be done in this area, it is wonderful to have a study that incorporates the voices of all stakeholders: parents, teachers, school staff, and most importantly the students.


Susan H. Hedges. and Anne V. Kirby. and Melissa A. Sreckovic. and Suzanne Kucharczyk. and Kara Hume. and Stephanie Pace. ““Falling through the Cracks”: Challenges for High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” The High School Journal 98.1 (2014): 64-82. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <>.


Dual Language Programs: Language as More than Communication

In October, UNC School of Education Assistant Professor Dr. Claudia Cervantes-Soon shared her research on Dual Language Programs from the perspective of Latin@ students in a presentation entitled “Interrupting the Silence of Latin@ Students in Dual Language Education.” Dual Language programs have the potential to promote equity and social justice goals within public school settings for Latin@ students; Cervantes-Soon studied students’ identities at a personal level within these programs. She did this through an ethnographic approach, observing the culture of multiple Spanish/ English dual-language programs and classrooms. Her research uncovered that while there are multiple goals within these dual language programs, the goal of the dominant group, the white students and families in this study, were

Cervantes-Soon framed the study through the lens that language is more than just a way to communicate. Language is attached to a person’s identity and this makes it political. Two-way dual language programs often state that their goals are to promote bilingualism, biliteracy, and cross-cultural competencies. Instruction takes place in both English and the target language, which for the schools in this study is Spanish. The hope is that Latin@ students will feel more secure and will participate more within these programs because at least some of the instruction is their native language. Cervantes-Soon, however, found just the opposite.

Here are some of the findings of this study:

  • Latin@ students do not always speak standard Spanish, just as native English speakers often do use Standard English. This led Latin@ students to self-censor, often silencing them in class.
  • English dominates spontaneous conversation within all class time regardless of the language used for instruction.
  • Many English speaking parents see Spanish as a commodity and many times this leads to Latin@s serving as cultural brokers to the mainstream students.
  • Many teachers felt that the silence from their Latin@ students was due to cultural differences, but Cervantes-Soon’s investigation revealed other factors at play. Some of these factors include classroom norms, the dialect of Spanish used in the classroom, and the few students who dominated classroom interaction, calling attention to themselves and away from other students.
  • Those who seem to get the most out of dual language programs are white boys because of their ability to dominate the teacher and their classmates primarily through verbal mechanisms (interrupting, challenging, questioning, participation).
  • There are three agents for change to interrupt the silence of Latin@ students: teachers, students, and Latin@ parents.

Cervantes-Soon continues to investigate dual language programs and asserts that there are many benefits to these programs and that no two are exactly alike. As schools implement these programs and school boards adjust their policies, this idea of working to strengthen the identity of the Latin@ students needs to be made a high priority.

cervantes-soonCervantes-Soon’s scholarship contributes to U.S. and international perspectives of social and educational contexts, as well as to understandings of transnational processes that examine the degree to which educational institutions are able to fulfill their potential in reducing inequality, promoting social justice, and resulting in greater humanization.


Housing Identity Privilege and Our Public Schools

According to the recent report “Brown v. Board of Education at 60,” schools across the United States have become resegregated since the civil rights era with more than 40% of Black and Latino students attending schools whose populations are 90% to 100% minority (Orfield, Kucsera, & Siegel-Hawley, 2012). Authors Gooden and Thompson Dorsey explore this report and how the concept of housing identity privilege weakens our ability to address school segregation. They argue “that despite some progress, schools are essentially still segregated by race and class, and housing identity privilege has worked against the original goals of Brown” (Gooden & Thompson Dorsey, p.764, 2014). According to their article, schools will not desegregate until these housing identity privileges are addressed.

What does the report say?

  • There has been a 30% decrease in White students attending public schools.
  • Black and Latino students often attend the lowest performing schools .
  • White and Asian students are more likely to attend middle-class schools.

What is housing identity privilege?

  • Housing identity privilege is “a historically supported system of advantages in America that is based on how much house one can afford, and it is correlated directly with the degree of educational choices one can afford”(Gooden & Thompson Dorsey, 2014, p. 771)
  • Housing identity privilege is a result of segregation policies, such as federal home ownership policies, and private discrimination and provides unearned advantages from society for living within a certain area.
  • The research states that: “Segregated neighborhoods often mean stratified school districts in which the schools located in low-income, high-racial minority neighborhoods are besieged by high student poverty, high student turn-over, less experienced and noncredentialed teacehrs, limited resources, overcrowded and unruly classrooms, and below-par achievement levels” (Gooden & Thomson Dorsey, 2014, p.772).


There is a significant difference in the terms integration and desegregation in both school and legal literature. Desegregation refers to the fact that public schools cannot legally assign students to schools based on race. Integration is the process of unifying groups as equal members of society. The courts have ruled that desegregation must be enforced within public schools; however, there is no way to legally enforce integration because individual housing preferences are constitutional. Because most school systems base their assignment policies around vicinity of the school and neighborhoods tend to be segregated, schools then are also segregated. Until there is a societal shift in thinking about housing, lending, and neighborhoods, our schools will remain segregated and many of our poor and minority students will continue to receive a separate and unequal education.

Gooden, M. & Thompson Dorsey, D. N. (2014). The distorted looking glass: Examining how housing privilege obviates the goals of Brown v. Board of Education at 60.Educational Administration Quarterly50764782.


LGBTQIA Resources for Teachers

Good teachers and administrators are constantly working towards creating and maintaining learning environments where all students cannot only reach their full potential but also feel safe, respected, and cared for. LEARN NC and Safe Schools NC, an organization working towards equality in education, have teamed up to make resources available to teachers to assist in reaching this goal. LGBTQIA Resources for Educators provides resources on LGBTQIA vocabulary, school-related issues, classroom practices and lessons, bullying, and Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) for teachers of all grade levels and content.

While LEARN NC and Safe Schools NC anticipate that this site will continue to grow, at this time there are four chapters of resources:

  1. LGBTQIA youth and schools-this chapter looks at why LGBTQIA issues are relevant for educators and students.
  2. LGBTQIA vocabulary– This section covers the different words used by LGBTQIA individuals including the basic acronym, sex and gender, advanced vocabulary, and discrimination.
  3. Supporting LGBTQIA students– This section contains ways to apply the information in chapters 1 and 2 in the classroom. There are classroom ideas, lesson plans, curriculum alignment, school policy ideas, and sections of being tolerant when you’re not affirming and what to do if your school administration is not supportive.
  4. Student Resources-In this chapter, students can find information about GSAs, online and North Carolina-specific resources, as well as dealing with and reporting bullying.

This is a great resource to help walk teachers through how to expand their own knowledge as well as how to incorporate this knowledge into their classroom in a manner that helps to create and foster a caring and respectful learning environment. Fir more information or assistance in using these resources please visit LGBTQIA Resources for Educators.


Mark Dawson, an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, was dissatisfied with the lack of community between teachers at his high school in Mississippi. He and his friend Grace Sullivan, an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi, have created the EMBRACE Program to address this issue. This on-line professional development creates communities of teachers dedicated to improving one aspect of their teaching while building a community of support. The belief behind their professional development is that when teachers are in supportive communities, students will succeed.

Dawson and Sullivan refer to their program as “a journey to improving”. EMBRACE accomplishes this through two specific parts of its program: a supportive community and the Problem-Goal-Solution (PGS) process. Here is how the program works:

  • Teachers register through the website to join a community of teachers. These communities are founded on three core beliefs: courage, kindness, and learning.
  • Once registered and in a community there is a brief orientation process where teachers watch an orientation video, read the detailed PGS plan, and have a conversation with EMBRACE staff to share thoughts and ask questions.
  • Teachers then begin their PGS Action Plan:
  1. Choose a problem from the E.M.B.R.A.C.E. categories to focus on.
  2. Set a goal.
  3. Pick a solution to implement.
  • Teachers distribute a student survey as a baseline measurement prior to implementation of the solution.
  • The larger community breaks into teams of 4-6 teachers that will meet multiple times throughout the semester.
  • At the end of each semester, teachers administer the student survey provided through the site. The survey results are used to measure improvement as well as a basis for professional development.
  • Teachers then have a follow-up meeting with their team to discuss their solution and how they will continue to face the chosen problem in the coming semester.
  • Teachers who have completed this process become EMBRACE teachers and continue the PGS process.

Mark Dawson, Co-Founder and Director of the EMBRACE Program Madison, MS | UNC – Chapel Hill ‘17

Village of Wisdom

Village of Wisdom (VOW) works through parents of Black boys to enhance their sons’ belief in self, promoting greater academic performance. Led by elder parents, VOW parents form learning communities providing them space and time to thoughtfully consider how to prepare their sons for success.


William Jackson, a doctoral candidate at UNC, is implementing a program in Durham, NC that will improve the lives and academic outcomes of African American boys by supporting their families. Village of Wisdom focuses on parents and their relationship with their children in order to impact students. In a recent School of Education article, Jackson says, “For most of us our parents were really important in making us believe in ourselves. My parents made sure that I knew regardless of what your race is, regardless of who other people say you are, you can achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve.” Village of Wisdom offers the opportunity for parents to learn how to do this for their children.

Jackson leads parents in a series of eight meetings where the focus is on conversations on racial identity development and Malleable Intelligence.

“Racial Identity development is believed to be pushed along by racial socialization, the transmission of messages about race from one person to another, in this case from parent to child,” Jackson explains. The parents develop ways to relay messages that are positive and supportive to their sons, helping them develop a racial identity that is robust and buffers the negative impact of experiencing racism in school.

Malleable Intelligence, also known as the Growth Mindset, is the belief that your own intelligence is not fixed or innate, meaning that you feel that you can grow your intelligence through hard work. Jackson chose these ideas because current research suggests that they have a positive effect on students’ academic and mental health outcomes. This is due to the fact that people maintain better mental health when they privately regard themselves in a positive light even when the public may not.

In addition to building parents’ understanding of racial identity development and Malleable Intelligence through meetings, Jackson also plans trips for the families to experience African American history in person and connects the families to community resources that they may have been previously unaware of.

To date, Jackson has facilitated these parental meetings; at this time, however, he is working on identifying facilitators in order to serve more families and to allow time for him to work on data collection and program development.

Jackson’s Advice for Teachers:

  • Teachers should refer to their students’ home culture or vernacular as just that while referring to school language and culture as “School Language,”. Ask students how they feel about the differences that exist between school and home. These conversations allow students to show teachers what they are bringing to school from their home environment, giving teachers the opportunity to communicate that one culture or linguistic practice is not better than the other is, but just different.
  • Teachers can create opportunities to incorporate cultural events that are relevant to students’ cultures into the classroom, going beyond events mentioned in the history book. Find ways to celebrate the culture of students of color in your classroom. If teachers are concerned about how to do this or being potentially insensitive, they should reach out to community resources.
  • Teachers should examine their discipline policies to see if there are any implicit biases in referral, detention, suspension, or expulsion rates. If teachers do not keep a record, then they should try keeping one in order to enable reflection about who is being punished, and for what offenses, within their classrooms.
  • Don’t be afraid to have a racist thought; be afraid to let a racist thought go unchecked and lead to a racist action with unfair consequences for children.


images-1William Jackson was previously a science teacher and is now a fifth year doctoral student  at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  William has been selected to present at several national and regional conferences on the topics of parent intervention programs and self-regulated learning. He continues to focus on improving the lives of children through his work with Village of Wisdom 

For-Profit Colleges: What are they?

Over the summer, the Carolina Education Policy Association at UNC invited Constance Iloh from the University of Southern California School of Education to share her research on For-Profit Colleges and their students through a presentation entitled “Degrees of Separation? Understanding the Complexity and College-Going Culture of the For-Profit Higher Education Sector.” As these colleges continue to gain momentum and popularity there are some important questions to be answered. Iloh is working toward finding empirical evidence to answer some of these questions, but her presentation this summer focused specially on who is attending these colleges and why. Below are some of the highlights of her research.

  • Students attending for-profit colleges account for 11% of the higher education population.

Who are these students?

  • Tend to be 24 years old or older (This population accounts for only 30% of the students at public and private colleges)
  • 40% are students of color (as compared to 29% within public colleges and 23% within private colleges)
  • Majority low-income
  • 96% of students at for-profit colleges take out student loans (Compared to 13% at Community Colleges, 50% at Public, and57% at private.

Why are these students choosing For-profit Colleges when they may be able to acquire the same degree at another college for less?

  • They are easier to get into
  • Provide more flexible scheduling
  • Have better initial human to human relations
  • Easier to navigate system

Iloh continues to research For-Profit Colleges and her current research is available through on her website.