The Promise of Summer as a Time for Teacher Professional Learning

Findings from a National Survey and Implications from the BellXcel Program

by Elizabeth D. Steiner, Laura Stelitano, Andy Bogart, Sophie Meyers

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent do teachers nationally participate in professional learning during the summer; what do these activities entail; and what are teachers' perceptions of these activities?
  2. What are BXS teachers' perceptions of their professional learning experiences?
  3. How do BXS teachers' perceptions of their summer professional learning experiences compare with those of teachers across the United States?

Helping teachers improve their instructional practice through high-quality professional learning opportunities is a key strategy for improving student academic, social, and emotional outcomes. Little is known about the professional learning activities teachers participate in over the summer. This report begins to fill that gap by presenting data from the first nationally representative survey of teachers about their summer professional learning opportunities. It also presents data from a descriptive study of BellXcel Summer (BXS), an academic-focused summer program model for students that provides teachers with numerous professional learning opportunities, and compares BXS teachers' perceptions of their summer professional learning experiences with those of teachers nationally. Exploring the possibilities of utilizing summer as a time for teacher professional learning is imperative in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 crisis, which has disrupted opportunities for school-year professional learning.

Key Findings

  • Nationally, 99 percent of teachers participated in one or more summer professional learning activities and believed that they were relevant, helpful for improving instructional practice, and just as useful as other activities the teachers' schools and districts provided. However, opportunities to receive developmental feedback (i.e., feedback for the purpose of developing instructional skills) about instruction in the summer were uncommon.
  • Teaching in an academic-focused summer program may provide teachers nationally with opportunities—such as coaching and observations—to receive developmental feedback about instruction and to practice and improve in certain classroom practices.
  • According to teachers, BellXcel Summer (BXS), an academic-focused summer program for students that provides professional learning opportunities to its teachers, had a positive and supportive environment that supported their professional learning.
  • BXS teachers reported that the absence of school-year constraints such as testing and curriculum pacing requirements made the use of some student-centered classroom practices easier during the summer than during the school year.
  • BXS teachers were more likely than teachers nationally to report that their summer professional learning experiences helped them improve their use of student-centered practices during the school year.
  • Academic summer programs may provide unique professional learning opportunities for teachers to practice and improve their use of student-centered classroom practices—particularly positive behavior management and promoting social and emotional learning for students. BXS provided useful insights into the features of academic summer programs that may facilitate teachers' professional learning, such as the absence of school-year constraints paired with positive and supportive teaching environments.

Recommendations

  • School and district leaders should consider capitalizing on academic summer programs as a time for teachers' professional learning.
  • Summer environments that are low-pressure, positive, and supportive can enhance teachers' professional learning. School and district leaders should explore how they could foster a low-pressure environment in existing summer teaching settings to enable teachers to experiment and build confidence in classroom practices.
  • Summer may support teacher professional learning of student-centered practices—particularly strategies to support students' social and emotional learning and positive behavior management. School and district leaders should consider leveraging academic summer programs as settings for teacher professional learning of student-centered practices.

Research conducted by

This study was sponsored by BellXcel and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.