Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 8, No. 3/4, 2002
Professional Development and Teacher
THOMAS R. GUSKEY
ABSTRACT This article describes a model of teacher change originally presented nearly
two decades ago (Guskey, 1986) that began my long and warm friendship with Michael
Huberman. The model portrays the temporal sequence of events from professional develop-
ment experiences to enduring change in teachers’ attitudes and perceptions. Research
evidence supportin g the model is summarized and the conditions under which change
might be facilitated are described. The development and presentation of this model initiated
a series of professional collaborations between Michael and myself, and led to the
development of our co-edited book, Professional Development in Education: new
paradigms and practices (Guskey & Huberman, 1995), which was named `Book of the
Year’ by the National Staff Development Council in 1996.
High-quality professional development is a central component in nearly every
modern proposal for improving education. Policy-makers increasingly recognize
that schools can be no better than the teachers and administrators who work
within them. While these proposed professional development programs vary
widely in their content and format, most share a common purpose: to `alter the
professional practices, beliefs, and understanding of school persons toward an
articulated end’ (Grif® n, 1983, p. 2). In most cases, that end is the improvement of
student learning. Professional development programs are systematic efforts to
bring about change in the classroom practices of teachers, in their attitudes and
beliefs, and in the learning outcomes of students.
This article presents a perspective on the nature of these three areas of change
and the conditions under which they take place. It examines the order of occur-
rence of change events and how speci® c types of change might be facilitated and
sustained. It proposes a model for viewing change in teachers in the hope of
clarifying aspects of that change process. In addition, the implications of this
model for the practice of professional development are considered in light of
Despite the general acceptance of professional development as essential to im-
provement in education, reviews of professional development research consist-
ISSN 1354-0602 (print)/ISSN 1470-1278 (online)/02/03/040381-1 1 Ó2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080 /13540600210000051 2
382 T. R. Guskey
ently point out the ineffectiveness of most programs (see Cohen & Hill, 1998, 2000;
Kennedy, 1998; Wang et al., 1999). A variety of factors undoubtedly contribute to
this ineffectiveness. It has been suggested, however, that the majority of programs
fail because they do not take into account two crucial factors: (1) what motivates
teachers to engage in professional development, and (2) the process by which
change in teachers typically occurs (Guskey, 1986).
Although teachers are generally required to take part in professional develop-
ment by certi® cation or contractual agreements, most report that they engage in
these activities because they want to become better teachers. They see professional
development programs as among the most promising and most readily available
routes to growth on the job (Fullan, 1991, 1993)Ð not only as a way to combat
boredom and alienation, but also as a pathway to increased competence and
greater professional satisfaction (Huberman, 1995).
It is important to note that, for the vast majority of teachers, becoming a better
teacher means enhancing student learning outcomes. In an early study of teachers’
perceptions of success, for example, Harootunian & Yargar (1980) found that,
`regardless of teaching level, most teachers de® ne their success in terms of their
pupils’ behaviors and activities, rather than in terms of themselves or other
criteria’ (p. 4). Other researchers since report similar ® ndings (for example, Fullan,
1999; Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996).
What attracts teachers to professional development, therefore, is their belief that
it will expand their knowledge and skills, contribute to their growth, and enhance
their effectiveness with students. But teachers also tend to be quite pragmatic.
What they hope to gain through professional development are speci® c, concrete,
and practical ideas that directly relate to the day-to-day operation of their
classrooms (Fullan & Miles, 1992). Development programs that fail to address
these needs are unlikely to succeed.
A second important factor that many professional development programs fail to
consider is the process of teacher change. Professional development activities
frequently are designed to initiate change in teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and
perceptions. Professional development leaders, for example, often attempt to
change teachers’ beliefs about certain aspects of teaching or the desirability of a
particular curriculum or instructional innovation. They presume that such
changes in teachers’ attitudes and beliefs will lead to speci® c changes in their
classroom behaviors and practices, which in turn will result in improved student
This perspective on teacher change evolved largely from a model developed
by early change theorists such as Lewin (1935), who derived many of his ideas
about affecting change from psychotherapeutic models. More recent research on
teacher change indicates, however, that the assumptions of this model may be
inaccurate when considering professional development programs for experienced
teachers (Huberman & Crandall, 1983; Huberman & Miles, 1984; Guskey &
Huberman, 1995). An alternative model that re-examines the process of teacher
change is needed to guide the creation of more effective professional development
Professional Development and Teacher Change 383
FIG. 1. A model of teacher change.
An Alternative Model
As stated earlier, the three major goals of professional development programs are
change in the classroom practices of teachers, change in their attitudes and beliefs,
and change in the learning outcomes of students. Of particular importance to
efforts to facilitate change, however, is the sequence in which these outcomes most
The relationship among these outcomes is detailed and highly complex, and
numerous factors can snarl the change process (Fullan, 1991; Guskey & Sparks,
1996). Still, professional development programs are deliberate and purposeful
endeavors, and the changes a professional development leader wishes to bring
about can usually be well de® ned (Grif® n. 1983). Although the relationship among
desired outcomes is reciprocal to some degree, efforts to facilitate change can and
should consider the order of outcomes most likely to result in desired change and
the endurance of that change (see Guskey, 2000).
Professional development programs based on the assumption that change in
attitudes and beliefs comes ® rst are typically designed to gain acceptance, commit-
ment, and enthusiasm from teachers and school administrators before the im-
plementation of new practices or strategies. They involve teachers in planning
sessions and conduct need surveys to ensure that the new practices or strategies
are well aligned with what teachers want (Joyce et al., 1976). But, as important as
these procedures are, they seldom change attitudes signi® cantly or elicit strong
commitment from teachers (Jones & Hayes, 1980).
The `Model of Teacher Change’ shown in Fig. 1 presents an alternative ap-
proach. This model suggests a different sequence among the three major outcomes
of professional development. According to the model, signi® cant change in
teachers’ attitudes and beliefs occurs primarily after they gain evidence of im-
provements in student learning. These improvements typically result from
changes teachers have made in their classroom practicesÐ a new instructional
approach, the use of new materials or curricula, or simply a modi® cation in
teaching procedures or classroom format.
The crucial point is that it is not the professional development per se, but the
experience of successful implementation that changes teachers’ attitudes and
beliefs. They believe it works because they have seen it work, and that experience
shapes their attitudes and beliefs. Thus, according to the model, the key element
384 T. R. Guskey
in signi® cant change in teachers’ attitudes and beliefs is clear evidence of im-
provement in the learning outcomes of their students (Guskey, 1985, 1986, 1989).
This model of change is predicated on the idea that change is primarily an
experientially based learning process for teachers. Practices that are found to
workÐ that is, those that teachers ® nd useful in helping students attain desired
learning outcomesÐ are retained and repeated. Those that do not work or yield no
tangible evidence of success are generally abandoned. Demonstrable results in
terms of student learning outcomes are the key to the endurance of any change in
Attitudes and beliefs about teaching in general are also largely derived from
classroom experience. Teachers who have been consistently unsuccessful in help-
ing students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds to attain a high
standard of learning, for example, are likely to believe these students are in-
capable of academic excellence. If, however, those teachers try a new instructional
strategy and succeed in helping such students learn, their beliefs are likely to
change. Again, the point is that evidence of improvement or positive change in the
learning outcomes of students generally precedes, and may be a pre-requisite to,
signi® cant change in the attitudes and beliefs of most teachers.
Learning outcomes are broadly construed in the model to include not only
cognitive and achievement indices, but also the wide range of student behavior
and attitudes. They can include students’ scores on teacher-made quizzes and
examinations, as well as results from standardized assessments and achievement
tests. But they can also include students’ attendance, their involvement in class
sessions, their classroom behavior, their motivation for learning, and their atti-
tudes toward school, the class, and themselves. In other words, learning outcomes
include whatever kinds of evidence teachers use to judge the effectiveness of their
Support for the Model
Support for this Model of Teacher Change comes from many sources. Ethno-
graphic studies of teacher change show, for instance, that new ideas and princi-
ples about teaching are believed to be true by teachers `when they give rise to
actions that work’ (Bolster, 1983, p. 298). This research demonstrates that experi-
enced teachers seldom become committed to a new instructional approach or
innovation until they have seen it work in their classrooms with their students.
The Study of Dissemination Efforts Supporting School Improvements (Crandall
et al., 1982) offers additional support. This study examined efforts to implement 61
innovative practices in schools and classrooms in 146 districts nationwide. Of
particular interest to Crandall and his associates was the development of teachers’
commitment to the new practices. In several instances, they found project man-
agers tried to stimulate teachers’ commitment to the new practices by involving
them in problem-solving and decision-making prior to implementation. But, in
most cases, this was discovered to have deleterious effects. The new practices
Professional Development and Teacher Change 385
typically lost their effectiveness because they were altered by teachers beyond
In successful improvement efforts, on the contrary, teacher commitment was
found to develop primarily after implementation took place. That is, teachers
became committed to the new practices only after they had actively engaged in
using them in their classrooms (Crandall, 1983). Again, this supports the idea that
change in teachers’ attitudes takes place primarily after some change in student
learning has been evidenced.
Another example is Huberman’s (1981) case study of one school district’s efforts
to implement the Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI) program.
According to Huberman, the ® rst six months of program implementatio n were
characterized by high anxiety and confusion among most teachers. Then came a
period in which anxiety was reduced but teachers continued to have problems
relating speci® c teaching behaviors to the underlying rationale of the new pro-
gram. After six more months, the majority of teachers had cognitively mastered
the individual pieces of ECRI, but still had `little sense of integration of separate
parts or, more globally, why certain skills or exercises are related to speci® c
outcomes. Concern for understanding the structure and rationale of the program
grew as behavioral mastery over its parts was achieved’ (Huberman, 1981, p. 91).
Thus, as Fullan (1985) notes in his summary of this study, changes in attitudes,
beliefs, and understanding generally followed, rather than preceded, changes in
Still further support comes from studies of the separate effects of professional
development and the use of new instructional practices on teachers’ attitudes and
beliefs (Guskey, 1979, 1982; Huberman & Miles, 1984). One particular investiga-
tion (Guskey, 1984) involved a large-scale professional development effort that
focused on the implementation of mastery learning (Bloom, 1968; Guskey, 1997).
Following initial training, most of the participating teachers used the mastery
learning procedures in their classes and saw improvements in student learning. A
few teachers, however, used the new procedures but noted no improvements.
Several others took part in the training but never tried the procedures in their
Results from affective measures showed that teachers who saw improvements
liked teaching more and believed they had a more powerful in¯ uence on student
learning outcomes. Similar changes did not occur among teachers who used the
new procedures but saw no improvements in student learning, or among those
who took part in the training but never attempted implementation. Thus, neither
training alone nor training followed by implementation was suf® cient for affective
change. These particular attitude and belief changes occurred only when training
and implementation were combined with evidence of improved student learning.
In some ways, this Model of Teacher Change overly simpli® es a highly complex
process, and exceptions to the model certainly exist. For example, participants’
attitudes must at least change from `cynical’ to `skeptical’ for any change in
practice to occur. Furthermore, the process of teacher change is probably more
cyclical than linear (Huberman, 1992, 1995). In other words, changes in attitudes
386 T. R. Guskey
and beliefs are likely to spur additional changes in practice that bring further
change in student learning, and so on (Huberman, 1983, 1985). Still, the consist-
ency of the results from diverse studies makes a strong case for the proposed
A Similar Model
Striking similarity exists between the sequence of change events suggested by this
model and a change model proposed over 100 years ago to describe the temporal
relationship between emotion and behavioral response. The psychologist William
James (1890) theorized that the important factor in an emotion is feedback from
the bodily changes that occur in response to a particular situation. His theory
seemed to con¯ ict with commonly held notions about emotion and human
behavior. Simply stated, James suggested that we see a bear and run, therefore we
are afraid. Or, if we slip while descending a staircase, we grab for the railing ® rst,
and then sense the fear of our near fall. This theory was also proposed by the
Danish physiologist Carl Lange and is generally known as the James± Lange
Similarly, the Model of Teacher Change outlined here might seem to con¯ ict
with commonly held notions about the nature of educational change. The model
implies that change in teachers’ attitudes and beliefs is primarily a result, rather
than a cause, of change in the learning outcomes of students. In the absence of
evidence of positive change in students’ learning, it suggests that signi® cant
change in the attitudes and beliefs of teachers is unlikely.
Implications for Professional Development
Assuming that this Model of Teacher Change is accurate, what are its implications
for professional development? The following three principles stem from the
model. Consideration of these principles is believed to be essential in planning
effective professional development programs that result in signi® cant and sus-
tained educational improvements.
Recognize that Change is a Gradual and Dif® cult Process for Teachers
Learning to be pro® cient at something new and ® nding meaning in a new way of
doing things requires both time and effort. Any change that holds great promise
for increasing teachers’ competence and enhancing student learning is likely to
require extra work, especially at ® rst. The requirements of extra energy and time
can signi® cantly add to teachers’ workload, even when release time is provided.
Furthermore, change brings a certain amount of anxiety and can he very
threatening. Like practitioners in many other ® elds, teachers are reluctant to adopt
new practices or procedures unless they feel sure they can make them work
(Lortie, 1975). To change or to try something new means to risk failure. Not only
would this be highly embarrassing, but it also runs counter to most teachers’
Professional Development and Teacher Change 387
strong commitment to student learning. To change means to chance the possibility
that students might learn less well than they do under current practices. There-
fore, even when presented with evidence from the most carefully designed
experimental studies, teachers do not easily alter or discard the practices they
have developed and re® ned in the demanding environment of their own class-
rooms (Bolster, 1983).
It is also important to recognize that no new program or innovation will be
implemented uniformly. Teaching and learning are in¯ uenced by a multitude of
situational and contextual variables (Huberman & Miles, 1984; Fullan, 1985;
Firestone & Corbett, 1987). Reforms based on assumptions of uniformity in the
educational system repeatedly fail (Elmore & McLaughlin, 1988). Hence, an
appropriate balance must be struck between program ® delity and mutual adap-
tation considerations (Grif® n & Barnes, 1984). Close collaboration between pro-
gram developers/researchers and teachers can greatly facilitate this process and
can be accomplished in a variety of ways (Ward & Tikinoff, 1982).
Ensure that Teachers Receive Regular Feedback on Student Learning Progress
If the use of new practices is to be sustained and changes are to endure, the
individuals involved need to receive regular feedback on the effects of their
efforts. It is well known that successful actions are reinforcing and likely to be
repeated while those that are unsuccessful tend to be diminished. Similarly,
practices that are new and unfamiliar will be accepted and retained when they are
perceived as increasing one’ s competence and effectiveness. This is especially true
of teachers, whose primary psychic rewards come from feeling certain about their
capacity to affect student growth and development (Bredeson et al., 1983; Guskey,
1989; Huberman, 1992). New practices are likely to be abandoned, however, in the
absence of any evidence of their positive effects. Hence, speci® c procedures to
provide feedback on results are essential to the success of any professional
In programs involving the implementation of mastery learning, for example,
teachers receive this type of feedback through the regular administration of
`formative assessments’ (Bloom et al., 1981). These assessments are used in mas-
tery learning primarily to give students detailed information on their learning
progress. They are paired with corrective activities designed to help students
remedy their learning errors.
In addition to the feedback formative assessments offer students, however, they
also offer teachers speci® c feedback on the effectiveness of their use of the mastery
learning process. They provide teachers with direct evidence of the results of their
efforts and illustrate precisely the improvements made in students’ learning.
Formative assessments can also be used to guide instructional revisions, when
necessary, to increase teacher effectiveness (Guskey, 1997).
Students’ scores on quizzes and class assessment are not the only type of
feedback indicative of successful learning outcomes. Stallings (1980) found that
providing teachers with regular feedback on student involvement during class
388 T. R. Guskey
sessions could be very powerful in facilitating their use of new instructional
practices. Giving teachers evidence on students’ feelings of con® dence or self-
worth can also serve this purpose (Dolan, 1980). Whatever the student learning
outcome considered, it is vitally important to include some procedure by which
teachers can receive regular feedback on that outcome to assess the effects of their
efforts. When teachers gain this evidence and see that a new program or inno-
vation works well in their classrooms, change in their attitudes and beliefs can and
Provide Continued Follow-Up, Support and Pressure
If change in teachers’ attitudes and beliefs occurred primarily before implemen-
tation of a new program or innovation, the quality of the initial training would be
crucial. But since, as the model suggests, such change occurs mainly after im-
plementation takes place and there is evidence of improved student learning,
continued follow-up, support, and pressure following the initial training that is
even more crucial.
Support coupled with pressure is essential for continuing educational improve-
ment. Support allows those engaged in the dif® cult process of implementation to
tolerate the anxiety of occasional failures. Pressure is often necessary to initiate
change among those whose self-impetus for change is not great (Airasian, 1987;
Huberman & Crandall, 1983), and it provides the encouragement, motivation, and
occasional nudging that many practitioners require to persist in the challenging
tasks that are intrinsic to all change efforts.
If a new program or innovation is to be implemented well, it must become a
natural part of teachers’ repertoire of teaching skills. Especially for program
continuation and expansion, teachers must come to use the new practices almost
out of habit. If this is to occur, continued follow-up and support are essential.
Of all aspects of professional development, sustaining change is perhaps the
most neglected. It is clear that, to be successful, professional development must be
seen as a process, not an event (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1987, 1998). Learning to be
pro® cient at something new or ® nding meaning in a new way of doing things is
dif® cult and sometimes painful. Furthermore, any change that holds great prom-
ise for increasing individuals’ competence or enhancing an organization’s effec-
tiveness is likely to be slow and require extra work (Huberman & Miles, 1984). It
is imperative, therefore, that improvement be seen as a continuous and ongoing
endeavor (McLaughlin & Marsh, 1978).
The model of teacher change outlined in this article presents a variety of opportu-
nities for future research. In particular, it will hopefully stimulate renewed interest
in the various components of the change process, the nature of the relationship
between components, and the transition from one component to the next.
Professional Development and Teacher Change 389
For example, we need to ® nd more creative ways to help teachers translate new
knowledge into practice, keeping in mind the problems related to `working on’
rather then `working with’ teachers (Ward & Tikinoff, 1976). We need better and
more ef® cient methods of providing teachers with regular feedback on the
learning progress of their students. We need to explore the speci® c teacher
attitudes and beliefs most crucial to professional growth and development, and to
® nd better ways of measuring these variables. Studies on these issues offer
exciting possibilities. The ® ndings are likely to have implications for professional
development efforts at all levels of education.
The model discussed offers a very optimistic perspective on the potential of
professional development. It illustrates that, although the process of teacher
change through professional development is complex, it is not haphazard. Careful
attention to the order of change events described in this model is likely not only
to facilitate change-making, but also to contribute to the endurance of change. As
a result, professional development programs will be far more effective and much
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