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What Makes a High-Performing Teacher Professional Learning System?

By: MaryBeth Crissman Date: March 24, 2016

A recent study released by Learning First has revealed some compelling trends that are common amongst high-performing teacher professional learning systems across the globe. Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and British Columbia were revealed to be high-performing education systems with their students performing at levels of 1 to 3 years beyond that of their global counterparts. And, as it turns out, these four high-performing systems place a high value on professional learning and have built professional learning systems that reflect the impact of teacher development on student performance.

Note: High-Performing Education Systems are determined by comparing the system’s scores in reading, math, and science performance to those of the U.S., Australia, and the E.U.

All four focus teacher professional learning systems had one primary practice in common. Their improvement cycle was three-fold and centered on student performance.

Teacher Professional Learning Improvement CycleLearning Improvement Cycle

The first stage in professional learning was exploring student learning and assessing the next steps in their progress. Once that was determined, appropriate teaching practices to address those needs were developed. Evaluating the effectiveness of those new practices comes next, and then the cycle begins again. This cycle is a constant and integral part of each teacher’s daily life. In the four focus systems, professional learning was never viewed as an obligation or “add on” to the teacher’s responsibilities. It was integrated into their routine and directly linked to their students’ achievement.

But each focus system approached professional learning a bit differently. Whether it was education or induction or evaluation or advancement, each system reinforced the importance of professional learning on teacher quality and student outcomes using different strategies.


A shocking dichotomy between American teachers and the teachers in the high-performing systems:



While one of the key take-aways of many professional learning reports is the need for more time or more balance within teachers’ daily responsibilities, time doesn’t bridge all challenges. While three of the four high-performing systems in the study spent only 10-17 hours per week teaching, the fourth, British Columbia, spent 22-23 hours teaching per week due to government mandates. But, even with more constraints on time, British Columbia remains a high-performing system. Why? Because they embrace a few key professional learning strategies.


Let’s learn from these high-performing systems to improve professional learning in our own school districts.

You can read the full report here.