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Why is it important?

Thirteen mathematics and Spanish teachers took part in one partnership lasting for 3 years. In the other partnership lasting for 5 months, 15 mathematics and Spanish teachers took part. They also were not used to discussing their practices with colleagues, let alone university researchers. A qualitative study conducted in Sweden by Olin and Ingerman focused on a collaboration between a team of two science teachers from a lower secondary school and a team of four researchers.

The study indicates that the teachers wanted to obtain useful tools immediately for their practices. At the same time, other tools, as didactic models, became useful for teachers in the long run. The article comments that future researchers should be careful about the content they introduce in the initial phase because it takes time to establish trust between the parties involved. The study ultimately found the following steps necessary for collaboration: identification of shared and flexible content, free time for meetings, and a reflective meeting style.

The researchers also noted that the collaboration was constrained by a low degree of connection to teaching activities as well as cultural differences in schools and universities in terms of meeting expectations and outcomes. In a qualitative study conducted by Wood et al. The teachers were engaged in cycles of evidenced-informed action research and supported by a facilitator and a research assistant. The study notes that the facilitator played an important role in sustaining the process while empowering the group to take part in its own decisions.

Lyna, Hung, and Chong conducted a qualitative study of teachers in primary and secondary schools in Singapore. The researchers partnered with a university researcher supported by a cluster of superintendents and school leaders in order to develop teachers, particularly in terms of classroom assessment. The teachers collaborated across five schools, including four to nine teachers from each school for a year. Two of these partnerships were studied during the 2-year research project. The teachers were expected to conduct action research in their own classrooms guided by a university researcher.

The teachers from the various schools met during a lunch meeting. They also were involved in h consultancy sessions throughout the year, as well as a learning symposium at the end of the project where they presented their classroom action research. The study indicates that teachers became familiar with alternative assessment measurements in the classroom, and they acquired action research skills at the classroom level due to the guidance of a university researcher and support from superintendents and school leaders.

Furthermore, the teachers took ownership of their own learning, and they led their peers through alternative assessment practices and action research. The teachers represented a range of subjects, including math, science, English, social studies, and technology education. The researchers found that the OCEs used three key patterns to help the teachers rethink their instructional plans.

First, they demonstrated a flexible mind set and adapted their expertise to the local needs. Second, they applied their expertise through diligent follow-up work between meetings using e-mail. Finally, both OCEs patiently guided their respective teams to new insights and judiciously applied pressure to expand their horizons of instructional possibilities. They introduced their ideas as options to consider, rather than asserting opinions or overtly leveraging their authority as an outside expert or researcher.

Within the frame of a 4-year qualitative study of four large urban school districts in the US, Andrews-Larsen, Wilson, and Larbi-Cherif decided to focus on two math teacher teams from two middle schools. Specifically, they sought to understand how external facilitators supported the teacher teams because they exhibited growth in instructional quality.

The teachers had daily common planning time by grade level, with a facilitator coming in to work with the teachers in grade-level groups one to two times per month. The facilitators, who were also the researchers, worked together with five mathematic teachers in a group. The teachers participated in a 2-year professional development intervention. The study shows that the facilitators used clarifying, pressing, and explanation moves to sustain a stance of inquiry. When the facilitator shared insights based on her own experiences as a teacher, the explanation move seemed to accomplish co-membership between the researchers and teachers.

These moves indicate that the facilitators did not take a neutral stance. Tan and Caleon conducted a case study of a teacher team including four biology teachers from grades 9 to 10 in Singapore. This study focused on the problem-finding phase in development work. The researchers in this case were also the facilitators for the teachers under study.

School leaders provided the teachers an hour per week to engage in professional development activities. During the first meeting, the researchers gave the teachers an overview of the learning study and an introduction to the notion of a learning object. During the next meeting, the researchers introduced variation theory to serve as a resource for the teachers. The researcher also provided examples of how variation theory has been applied to help teachers craft learning objects in their professional development.

The researchers went on to present research literature that could assist the teachers in determining critical aspects of the learning object. Rather than discussing the learning object, subsequent sessions had the teachers engaged with discussion around the curricular flow, because it helped them to crystallize their focus. Altogether, in-service teachers in primary schools took part, with the teachers being allocated into groups, each consisting of teachers working with students in the same developmental stage. The research team supported the teachers with literature and research findings related to the skill under development.

During monthly sessions between the teachers and the research team, dialogue and reflection led to the development of action plans. The teachers also set goals and created activities to reach these goals. The teachers were expected and encouraged to cooperate and to revise and improve their action plans. In an article based on a qualitative study focusing on collaboration between teacher educators and teachers in three lower secondary schools in Norway, Postholm found that both structure and culture can lay the foundation for professional development, thus leading to school development.

Having discussed the role of outside resource persons, this section turns to the subject of teacher collaboration in order to answer the research question. In a qualitative study of six primary school teachers in Australia, Ambler found that classrooms and schools provide teachers with opportunities for learning.

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The study shows that teachers need to be able to talk and thus put words to their daily work; in short, they need to work with others during school days to learn from their everyday practices. In practice, however, this goal proves difficult. For instance, Horn, Garner, Kane, and Brasel conducted a qualitative study of 77 meetings of teacher teams in middle schools in the US, finding that teachers rarely accomplished collective interpretations for future work.

Rather, most communication focused on logistics and pace as well as topics to be taught. This finding held true even though the researchers included best-case workgroups through purposive sampling. Communication was also the focus of a qualitative study conducted by Vrikki, Warwick, Vermunt, Mercer, and Halem in England. Primary and secondary school teachers took part in a lesson study LS project for a total of 30 teachers groups 27 from primary school and three from secondary schools.

There were three teachers in most groups, most of whom participated for three to seven months. The intention of the study was to understand how dialogues between teachers could enhance their learning. The researchers focused on three dimensions—dialogic moves, scope of discussion, and learning processes—by analysing videos in which teachers reflected on the observed teaching in groups. Dialogic moves included requests for information, opinions and clarifications, building on ideas, and providing evidence or reasoning.

No dialogic moves were found to be significant with regards to interpretive learning processes ILP , meaning that the teachers connected concrete practice to theory. Furthermore, the study shows that supportive moves are vital to learning processes. In a mixed-methods study, Popp and Goldman focused on language use while comparing meetings about assessment and classroom instruction.

Altogether, nine meetings were chosen for analysis from 67 observed meetings. The researchers specifically focused on three meetings from an elementary school comprised of six language arts teachers. Expository talk is descriptive whereas exploratory talk involves the collective examination of ideas leading to knowledge building. This collective examination occurs through questioning, proposing ideas, elaborating on proposals, negotiating, and explaining thinking. The researchers found that the focal point of meetings played a role in language use, with significantly more knowledge building occurring in meetings that focused on assessment systems.

Mohan, Chand, and Lingam conducted a qualitative study in two Fijian secondary schools including 30 teachers. Their study shows that professional development situated in school is necessary to change teaching practices. Their major finding was that the opportunity for teachers to collaborate to share ideas forms a strong foundation for professional development.

A qualitative case study conducted by Cheng and Wu in a secondary school in Shanghai focused on three particular English teachers. This study demonstrated that collaboration—including observations and discussions—enhanced the teachers learning when it came to basic lesson plan elements and steps in classroom activities. In the research, teachers reflected more thoroughly and became more willing to offer comments and share ideas with each other.

The study also shows that individuals are the driving force in community development and social affordances, which in turn enable the further development of individuals in the community. First, the teachers who volunteered to participate observed their own pupils being taught by the university staff or researchers. Next, the teachers themselves used the observed teaching as a model. After both of these teaching rounds, the teachers reflected together with the researchers taking part. Throughout the year, the teachers from the same school could teach, observe, and reflect together.

The study also demonstrated that experienced teachers could lead professional development activities, meaning that the model could work without researchers. In , a new policy was introduced to move the schools away from traditional teaching to a more student-centred and democratic approach. The program, called Hyukskin School HS , had been introduced in 6.

Focusing on a middle school through a qualitative study, the researchers studied community building, whole-school observations, and reflections.


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Participants engaged in a whole-school observation of a lesson nearly every week, which was possible because administrators adjusted the timetable in such a way that one class continued after the others finished. This adjustment gave teachers the ability to observe others at the same grade level, also making them more aware of their own teaching. The researchers found that a shared mission is essential for school change but difficult to achieve because of the test-driven teaching tradition; nonetheless, collective learning and democratic teaching can lead to school change.

In a primary school in Zambia, Hennessy, Hasler, and Hofman conducted a qualitative study on 12 teachers using videos as a tool to develop their practice. Recorded by the researchers who were teacher educators, the videos showed real lessons taught. Finally, they discussed their own observed lessons afterwards. The researchers found that this activity helped the teachers to develop their teaching from lecturing monologues to more active learning for the pupils over the duration of the year.

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However, the researchers also pointed out discrepancies in progress between the teachers, who also noted that they needed more time to integrate this activity into their busy working lives. In brief, teachers must work and reflect together. In the study, the researcher includes teachers from 10 schools in China. The findings report that the teachers perceive that they can make mistakes and that the repeated teaching in LS provides an object of focus. The teachers also feel that they are emotionally rewarded when working collaboratively in their teaching groups.

The study concludes that practical reasoning in repeated teaching based on useful standards actually improves the quality of lessons—more so than standards codified in theoretical books and official documents. How the teachers experienced the LS work depended on how the regional officers positioned the LS work in terms of the overall school improvement strategy, thus forming the contextual conditions. How the teachers experienced the work also depended both on the lead teachers supporting the teachers and the level of teaching proficiency at the schools.

The teachers expressed more professional autonomy if they decided on the goals together with the lead teachers and felt that they created relationships and practices where mutual learning took place rather than participating in a one-sided expert coaching model. The teachers expressed that reflecting while using the LS method helped them to develop a professional dialogue connected to their classroom practices. Goh and Fang studied how teachers learn and develop in a qualitative case study of a team composed of 11 primary school teachers in Singapore.

In their joint collaboration processes, the teachers moved from a lesson-based view to a curriculum-based deliberation. The processes challenged their shared assumptions and enabled them to improve and adapt their teaching to the pupils. In a comparative mixed-method study of two communities of mathematics teachers, Shuilleabhain found that the teachers one group of five and one group of seven made professional improvements through LS work in two post-primary schools in Ireland. These gains occurred despite the fact that the teachers in one school were used to collaborating while those at the other school were not.

Their learning became evident through the evolution of their dialogues over successive cycles of lesson study. This study noted that voluntary participation was a necessary prerequisite for professional development. An observation study conducted by Kullberg et al. The learning study builds on variation theory, meaning that learning is enhanced when pupils are presented with different concepts simultaneously. The researchers found that the teachers had improved their teaching practices at the time of the second observation.

Petra oriented her participation towards profession and wanted to give good teaching lessons to show that she was an expert in the field whereas John looked upon LS as an exploratory activity. The teachers developed a research question based on their own needs before collecting data in their classrooms. They then analysed and reflected both individually and collectively, an activity they were allotted time to do. Joint reflections occurred 7 days a year. The teachers also read literature related to their research topic.

The author and research team supported the school during the development processes for a period of 5 years, and included two AR cycles data from 2 years in the qualitative study. The results indicate that the AR process motivated the teachers and made them feel in control over their own learning process. They became more knowledgeable about the content, thus increasing their confidence and comfort in teaching science. This review now has covered four categories.

In Singapore, each school is conceptualized as a PLC with professional learning teams consisting of teachers teaching either the same subject or working at the same grade level. In the Singapore model, school leadership is supposed to support the process, and the teachers are expected to work in learning circles including lesson study or action research. The researchers found that the teachers in Shanghai were more positive about the collective working method because of their more collectivist orientation and lighter workload.

In Shanghai, there is also an appraisal system that rewards group effort, thus valuing PLCs highly. The authors conclude that social norms and value influence how PLCs are valued in different educational contexts. The mixed-methods case study was conducted at one elementary school with 28 teachers and leaders in the US. The project team included the principal, a teacher representative from each grade level, a regional trainer, and the researcher. The findings show that open communication with the principal, shared decision making, learning structures, and autonomy in decision making are factors that support professional development; by contrast, lack of time, accountability pressures, teacher attitudes, lack of communication, and lack of shared vision and values hinder such development.

In a qualitative study of five Irish primary schools with 20 teachers taking part in a literacy project, King considered the systemic factors that support or hinder change implementation and sustainability in schools. King condensed these factors into the concepts of support, initiative design and impact, and teacher agency.

The study shows that allowing teachers to volunteer for collaborative practices increased their engagement and made the practice sustainable over time.


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Teacher agency influenced the sustainability of the practice, meaning that the teachers adapted their practices to their classroom needs. I analyse the findings by first examining the connection between the following factors: subject, mediating artifact, and object. The articles illustrate that a team of teachers is generally the acting subject, a team that either teaches the same subject or same grade level. All of the teachers at the school took part in the professional development activity in only four studies Haiyan et al.

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It therefore seems that there might be a disconnect between the work conducted in the various teacher teams and the collective activity at the school, an aspect to which I will return later in the discussion. Mediating artifacts can be both ideal conceptual and material Cole, as well as both technical and psychological Wertsch, , , It appears that teachers fail to use literature often to improve their practice, a practice recommended by Darling-Hammond and Richardson In one LS project, the teachers used dialogic moves that influenced their individual descriptive learning processes, meaning that they did not connect the theory to their practice Vrikki et al.

Ambler states that teachers must be able to put words to their daily practices. As Polanyi points out, this process can be difficult because knowledge is often tacit. However, Cheng and Wu found that teacher collaboration, including observation and discussions, led to teachers reflecting more thoroughly; they became more willing to share their ideas with others. As such, the collaboration processes can contribute to implicit knowledge becoming more explicit; meanwhile, this knowledge can be brought into reflection processes and contribute to learning.

LS and action research are learning methods that include both data collection in the classroom and reflections; as such, both observation and reflection are based on concrete practice. Lyna et al. Data material that teachers collected from their classrooms and analysed together therefore became a mediating artifact that created the conditions for learning Wood et al.

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While school leaders, teachers, and researchers see the potential for learning and development in dialogues, many realize that they could develop their language use in such dialogues to enhance learning Postholm, Cravens and Wang found that only having teachers collaborating together can be a limitation in teacher groups. The anthropologist Kluckhohn has pointed out that the fish is the last one to detect the water. In these studies, teacher participation also has been voluntary Girvan et al. Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, and Fung note that participation does not have to be voluntary, but that all teachers should understand the purpose of the development work.

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As such, time must be allotted to the start-up phase of development work in order to develop an understanding of the object and why one should act upon it Postholm, Logistics and pace tend to be the most frequent topics in teacher communication Ambler, , indicating that teachers are not conscious of a common goal.

This study concludes that researchers have to be sensitive to the teachers when defining the problem. In one of the presented studies, the teachers developed their research question based on their own needs, allowing them to feel that they were in control of their own learning processes Goodnough, However, according to Elmore , it is unlikely that observation and reflection connected to concrete practice will lead to changed and improved practice if the school as an organization does not focus on this developmental practice.

According to Timperley et al. In addition to supporting the teachers, the principals also have expectations, requiring preparation work and follow-up tasks in connection with joint observations and reflections Pang et al. It is a prerequisite for teachers to be able to collaborate and use language productively in a trusted and supportive atmosphere. As Forte and Flores point out, structure and culture must be in interplay if teachers are to learn together. Only one study commented on school change, saying that collective learning can lead to school change if teachers and leaders have a shared mission Sung et al.

The LS method gives the teachers an object to focus on because of the repeated teaching Chen, , but only a few teachers at the school know about this teaching object, not the whole school community. This problem exists despite the fact that the intention is for goals in LS activities to align with school development goals Lewis et al. The most prevalent contradiction found in this review study exists between the factors of subject, object, and community.

The subject, often a group of teachers, is usually detached from the rest of the school community; in addition, these teachers often do not define an overall goal or object for the professional development. One article also pointed out that external resource persons, such as researchers, can collect mirror data; meanwhile, insiders and outsiders can develop an object or a developmental question together. In the midst of these collaborative learning dialogues, both researchers and teachers can develop their competence in terms of using language as a mediating artifact while dissolving possible contradictions that arise between the acting subjects and language the mediating artifact when they act on the object.

This review indicates that it is insufficient for researchers to simply research the learning processes in school. More research is needed to show how outside resource persons, as researchers, can contribute to school development in collaboration with teachers and school leaders at work. You are free to: Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.

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We use cookies to improve your website experience. To learn about our use of cookies and how you can manage your cookie settings, please see our cookie policy. By continuing to use the website, you consent to our use of cookies. More information Accept. Cogent Education. Authors 1. Close May Britt Postholm may. Download PDF. Cite this article as:. Article Figures and tables References. Methods 2. Analysis strategy When examining the articles, I sought to pinpoint their main findings. Teacher collaboration Having discussed the role of outside resource persons, this section turns to the subject of teacher collaboration in order to answer the research question.

Funding The author received no direct funding for this research. References Adolfsson, C. The nested systems of local school development: Understanding improved interaction and capacities in the different sub-systems of schools. Improving Schools , 20 3 , — Teacher leadership and professional development.

Abingdon: Routledge. The day-to-day work of primary school teachers: A source of professional learning. Professional Development in Education , 42 2 , — Teacher College Record , , 1— Professional development and teacher learning: Mapping the terrain. Educational Researcher , 33 8 , 3— Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago.

Embedded teacher learning opportunities as a site for reflective practice: An exploratory study. American Journal of Education , 4 , — Constructing grounded theory 2nd ed. London: Sage. Theorizing Chinese lesson study from a cultural perspective. International Journal of Lesson and Learning Studies , 6 4 , — The affordances of teacher professional learning comminities: A case study of a Chinese secondary school. Teaching and Teacher Education , 58, 54— Tietel, L. Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning.

A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition. Salomon Ed. Cambridge University Press. Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cultural-historical approaches to designing for development. Rosa Eds. New York: Cambridge University Press. Teacher peer excellence groups TPEGs. Building communities of practice for instructional improvement.

International Journal of Lesson and Learning Studies , 55 5 , — Elementary teacher talk in mathematics study groups. Educational Studies in Mathematics , 63, 29— Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Teacher learning: What matters? Educational Leadership , 66 5 , 46— Interaction in teacher communities: Three forms teachers use to express contrasting ideas in video clubs. Teaching and Teacher Education , 47, — Cultures built to last: Systemic PLCs at work. Building a new structure for school leadership.

American Educator , 23 4 , 1—9. Learning by expanding. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy. Activity theory and individual and social transformation. Punamaki Eds. From individual action to collective activity and back: Developmental work research as an interventionist methodology. Lauff, J. Heath Eds. Recovering work and informing system design pp. Expansive learning at work. Toward an activity-theoretical reconceptualization. London: Institute of Education, University of London.

Co-configurational design of learning instrumentalities: An activity-theoretical perspective. Ludvigsen, R. Lund Eds. Abington: Routledge. Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. Educational Research Review , 5 1 , 1— Discursive manifestations of contradictions in organizational change efforts. A methodological framework. The authors assert that the principal reason for this is that data enable teachers to tailor their teaching to address student learning needs.

Using high-stakes standardized tests to assess schools and students puts undue pressure on schools to collect and report data that fulfill one-size-fits-all policy requirements, answering only how schools performed and not the reasons why they performed the way they did. With the passage of ESSA, administrators are now able to spend less time and energy on the one-time-a-year summative measures and more time focusing on the effective use of formative and benchmark assessment data to drive instruction and improvement across schools and districts. This white paper will examine three areas in which district leaders can use data to uncover opportunities for improvement: curriculum, resource allocation, and professional development.

Historically, the majority of data training has taken place at the classroom level to help teachers better understand the applications and benefits of data-informed decision making, but data training must also occur at the school and district levels. Data helps school and district leaders develop a blueprint with measurable results, instead of basing important decisions on requests, opinions, or insufficient information. For teachers, developing data-informed student profiles to understand how students learn has a tremendous impact on identifying student needs and planning effective supports.

For administrators, understanding the educational strengths and weaknesses across schools helps them to not only identify student needs at an aggregate level, but also how they can make impactful decisions about curriculum, professional development, resource allocation, etc. According to the West Virginia Department of Education, focusing on data throughout the school improvement cycle marks a great change from what administrators have used in the past to drive their decision making regarding student learning.

Here is an example of a district profile. This district has relatively strong phonological awareness and phonics skills, but is struggling with fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Based on this example district profile, here are three areas in which a district leader can use data-informed decision making to uncover opportunities for improvement.

3 Creative Ways School and District Leaders Can Maximize Data and Improve Student Achievement

This example profile will be referred to throughout the subsequent sections of this paper. Curriculum review is a critical opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of current curriculum selections and determine the impact on student achievement. There are many new and emerging challenges to education and demands on curriculum, such as digital literacy requirements, a growing English Language Learner population, and more rigorous state standards, which is why continuously monitoring and evaluating the implementation of curriculum and its responsiveness to new challenges—from state or federal requirements—is crucial.

Even when districts attempt to examine school data, they often only scratch the surface. For example, most schools will start with examining their end-of-year state tests and compare it to the year prior to see if there has been growth in student performance. While this is a good start to using data, it is still quite minimal. In a district that effectively uses data-informed decision making, a district leader will look at many different types and levels of student data such as growth on other measures, or if progress has been made only in certain grades or in a specific literacy domain.

The example district profile mentioned earlier in this paper shows that students are doing well in some areas phonological awareness and phonics and not as well in others fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Based on the profile, the first step for district leaders is to review the curriculum that was selected to meet the fluency, vocabulary, and overall reading comprehension needs of their students. Perhaps this is a district with a high ELL population or students from low-income families who have limited exposure to advanced language at home.

Determining teacher learning goals for professional development is driven by identifying school and district instructional goals. To determine instructional goals, all available data sources should be reviewed, including summative and interim assessments, behavior records, and curriculum maps. Using data-informed decision making ensures professional development resources target these exact areas of improvement. One common professional development mistake is assuming all educators need the same kind or same level of professional development.

Data helps administrators determine which teachers should participate in which sessions i. In this regard, educators, just like students, greatly benefit from differentiated learning. Example based on district profile. The data can help the district leader understand a broad area of professional development needs such as in the profile example , but taking this a step further, examining additional data might uncover more of the specifics. For example, vocabulary may emerge as an area of professional development, but upon further examination, a district leader could determine that the specific skill gaps relate to multiple meaning words, idioms, similes and metaphors, etc.

Similar to the curriculum discussion, administrators should also review this data by grade and school to make sure the professional development is targeted and differentiated for the needs of the various teachers in the district. When administrators allocate resources, they are tasked with determining the ways in which their time and money will address educational goals.