Our Impact


Cotsen is committed to investing in excellent teaching in ways that are both supported by research and validated by ongoing evaluation of our programs.

Research Support: Why does Cotsen do what it does?

Our approach is grounded in national and international research on the kinds of teacher professional development that make an impact on student learning. Click any of the statements below to link to short reviews of the research that supports our work.

1 U.S. teachers lack effective professional growth opportunities
2 PD that works needs to be sustained and embedded
3 Teachers need support for transferring learning to the classroom
4 Adult learners need choice and voice
5 Great coaches are made not born
6 Change happens in professional communities
7 Teaching for understanding leads to student efficacy, engagement, and achievement
8 Research Cited
1 U.S. teachers lack effective professional growth opportunities

U.S. teachers lack effective professional growth opportunities

U.S. school districts invest billions of dollars in teacher PD each year, but both external research and direct reports from teacher surveys indicate that much of it does little to change classroom practice or improve student learning (TNTP, 2015).


The 2009 report Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad found that “U.S. teachers participate in workshops and short-term professional development events at similar levels as teachers in other nations. But the United States is far behind in providing public school teachers with opportunities to participate in extended learning opportunities and productive collaborative communities. Those are the opportunities that allow teachers to work together on issues of instructional planning, learn from one another through mentoring or peer coaching, conduct research on the outcomes of classroom practices, and collectively guide curriculum, assessment, and professional learning decisions. (p.6).”


118ÍĽżâ program fills precisely this need to move beyond the workshop for participating teachers, giving them an extended opportunity to dig into a specific area of their classroom practice with the support of a mentor.

2 PD that works needs to be sustained and embedded

PD that works needs to be sustained and embedded

Although much actual PD spending continues to go to workshop-style events led by external consultants, a consensus is emerging among both researchers and practitioners about the characteristics of PD that changes teacher knowledge and practice and therefore student achievement. Desimone’s (2009) review of this literature identifies the following characteristics:


  • Content focus
  • Active learning
  • Coherence
  • Duration
  • Collective participation


Notably, the definition of professional development in new federal legislation (the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA) reflects many of the same characteristics: sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused.


Yoon et al (2007) conducted perhaps the most rigorous review to date of the impact of teacher PD on student learning, accepting only studies that met the What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards (just 9 of 1300 considered). Among the common characteristics of those highly rigorous experimental studies was the need for PD to focus specifically on “effective curricula or instructional models” and for an average duration of 49 hours.


The design of AoT includes all of the characteristics of effective PD identified by these reviews:


Research-based characteristic of effective PD ART of TEACHING design
Content focus Fellows focus on a specific instructional model within a single content area
Active learning Teachers apply new learning immediately in their classrooms through the coaching cycle
Coherence Professional development experiences, classroom observations, and coaching are all tied to individual Professional Growth Targets
Duration Fellows receive hundreds of hours of PD and mentoring over two years
Collective participation Fellows participate as a cohort within their school, including monthly inquiry meetings
3 Teachers need support for transferring learning to the classroom

Teachers need support for transferring learning to the classroom

The greatest flaw in workshop-style PD is the lack of support for teachers to transfer new learning back to their classrooms. Garet et al’s (2001) large scale empirical test of the impact of different features of PD on teacher knowledge and practice identified several supports for the application of learning that made a difference, including supported planning for implementation, observing and being observed, and collaborative analysis of student work relevant to the changed practice.


In the Yoon et al (2007) review, 8 of the 9 studies showing the impact of PD on student learning included follow-up support. Darling-Hammond et. al (2009) suggest that it is not just sheer duration of learning that matters, but the fact that extended PD experiences usually include a mix of learning new content with “applications to practice, often supported by study groups and/or coaching (p.9).” Any number of reasons can keep teachers from implementing approaches learned in PD, from lack of clear understanding to philosophical resistance to fear of failure to sheer busyness.


Coaching can address all of these barriers to transfer, providing built-in accountability for at least trying new strategies and on-going support for continuing to refine them. Joyce and Showers summarized their several decades of research and development on teacher coaching in 2002, concluding that teachers who worked with coaches following PD differ from peers who receive identical training but no coaching in several key dimensions:


  • They are more likely to practice the strategies learned;
  • They retained and increased their knowledge over time, and
  • They demonstrated clearer understanding of the approaches learned and how to adapt them to different situations.


Implementation support through mentors is the core of the ART of TEACHING program. Mentors help fellows select training relevant to their goals, attend PD with them, then coach them through the classroom application.

4 Adult learners need choice and voice

Adult learners need choice and voice

Most teachers have remarkably little say about either the content or form of the professional development they receive. Not surprisingly, school and district-provided PD is often viewed as a compliance activity with little immediate relevance to what teachers see as their most pressing needs. There is a strong correlation between teacher choice and teacher satisfaction with professional learning (Gates Foundation, 2014). Adult learning theory makes it clear that choice leads to investment and motivation, which increases the likelihood that teachers will apply what they have learned and persist through challenges (Lieb and Goodlad, 2005).


118ÍĽżâ is driven by teacher choice, from when teachers apply to the program, to their selection of content focus, to their goals and the specific learning activities they choose to pursue them.

5 Great coaches are made not born

Great coaches are made not born

Research on the skills needed by effective instructional coaches makes it clear that great teachers are not automatically great coaches of other teachers. In addition to solid knowledge of content and pedagogy, coaches need an understanding of how to work with adult learners and technical skills in goal setting, classroom observation, data collection, and analysis of data from both observations and student work. Perhaps most importantly, effective coaches need to be skilled at questioning and at promoting reflective practice (Feger et. al, 2004; Knight, 2007, 2011; Russo, 2004).

Investment in school-based mentors is the largest component of AoT’s budget. The investment begins with the selection process and continues with formal training in coaching models, monthly coach cohort meetings, and individual support from mentor liaisons.

6 Change happens in professional communities

Change happens in professional communities

A 2010 report by the international consulting firm McKinsey and Co. identifies characteristics of school systems around the world that have demonstrated consistent improvement. One trait that all of the systems studied have in common is that teachers share and work on their practice together, “becoming learners of their own teaching.”


Similarly, scholar Michael Fullan (2010) identifies “collective capacity” built through collaborative work in professional communities as the “hidden resource” that U.S. school systems have neglected to cultivate. He explains that collective capacity works for two reasons: “One is that knowledge about effective practice becomes more widely available and accessible on a daily basis. The second reason is more powerful still- working together generates commitment (p.72),” and in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (2011), Carrie Leana reports on research linking the “social capital” that educators produce through mentoring and collaboration to gains in student achievement, going so far as to call social capital “the missing link in school reform.” Leana explains how investments in the working knowledge and relationships that teachers develop through trusting relationships and frequent collaboration have a multiplier effect on professional development. The social capital perspective on change in teacher practice looks “not just at what a teacher knows, but also where she gets that knowledge. If she has a problem with a particular student, where does the teacher go for information and advice? Who does she use to sound out her own ideas or assumptions about teaching? Who does she confide in about the gaps in her understanding of her subject knowledge? (p. 32)” In schools with high social capital, teachers have richer resources for problem-solving and improvement.


118ÍĽżâ program invests in cohorts of teachers embedded in their professional context. By selecting mentors who are colleagues and fellows who go through the two year experience as a group, AoT builds intense relationships of trust and expertise within a school’s faculty. The program also connects cohorts of highly motivated educators across schools and districts, giving alumni a rich network of contacts for their ongoing learning.

7 Teaching for understanding leads to student efficacy, engagement, and achievement

Teaching for understanding leads to student efficacy, engagement, and achievement

The specific classroom practices that have come to be emphasized in Cotsen professional development (Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop, Cognitively Guided Instruction in math) share an underlying pedagogy of teaching for understanding, sometimes referred to as constructivism. In such models teachers provide less direct instruction and more facilitation of student thinking. One of the most visible signs of teaching for understanding is that students are doing more of the talking. These approaches also focus a great deal on differentiation, often through the use of flexible small groups. In these models, teachers emphasize listening to student thinking and providing targeted feedback (in workshop models this takes the form of “conferring”). John Hattie’s well-known meta-analysis of over 900 studies of influences on student learning found that feedback has one of the largest effect sizes of any teaching approach (2007). Taylor et.al (2003) found that teaching for engagement, which they measured as “approaches to teaching such as coaching versus telling, the enabling of students’ active versus passive responding to literacy activities… (and) teachers who emphasized higher-order thinking, either through the questions they asked or the tasks they assigned, promoted greater reading growth.” Research specific to the CGI math approach (Carpenter, et al., 2000) has demonstrated changes in teachers’ knowledge and beliefs, their instructional practice, and their students’ problem-solving performance.


The specific instructional approaches teachers are refining through the AoT program encourage teaching for understanding, a pedagogy that promotes greater student ownership for their learning and is correlated with higher achievement across subject areas.

8 Research Cited

References and Further Reading

Carpenter, Thomas P., et al. "Cognitively Guided Instruction: A Research-Based Teacher Professional Development Program for Elementary School Mathematics. Research Report." (2000).


Desimone, Laura M. "Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures." Educational researcher 38.3 (2009): 181-199.


Feger, Stephanie, Kristine Woleck, and Paul Hickman. "How to develop a coaching eye." Journal of Staff Development 25.2 (2004): 14-19.


Fullan, Michael.  All Systems Go: The Change Imperative for Whole Systems Reform. Corwin Press, 2010.


Garet, Michael S., et al. "What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers." American educational research journal 38.4 (2001): 915-945.


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development.” (December, 2014). Seattle: WA.


Hattie, John, and Helen Timperley. "The power of feedback." Review of educational research 77.1 (2007): 81-112.


Jacob, Andy, and Kate McGovern. "The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development." °Ő±·°Ő±ĘĚý(2015).


Joyce, Bruce R., and Beverly Showers. "Student achievement through staff development." (2002). In B. Joyce & B. Showers (Eds.) Designing training and peer coaching: Our need for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Knight, Jim. Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Corwin Press, 2007.


Knight, Jim. "What good coaches do." Educational leadership 69.2 (2011): 18-22.


Leana, Carrie (Fall 2011). The Missing Link in School Reform, Stanford Social Innovation Review, pp. 30-35.


Lieb, Stephen, and John Goodlad. "Principles of adult learning." (2005). Best Practice Resources. Accessed at wcwpds.wisc.edu/related-training/mandated-reporter/resources/adult_learning.pdf


McKinsey and Co. How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better. November, 2010. 


Russo, Alexander. "School-based coaching." Harvard Education Letter 20.4 (2004): 1-4.


Taylor, Barbara M., et al. "Reading growth in high-poverty classrooms: The influence of teacher practices that encourage cognitive engagement in literacy learning." The Elementary School Journal 104.1 (2003): 3-28.


Yoon, K. S., Duncan, T., Lee, S. W.-Y., Scarloss, B., & Shapley, K. (2007). Reviewing the evidence on how teacher professional development affects student achievement (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2007–No. 033). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs