Public School Teachers’ Discretionary Participation in Continuing Professional Development: Perceptions, Influences, and Action

Open Access
O'Connor, Jr., Thomas William
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 14, 2000
Committee Members:
  • Eunice May Askov, Committee Member
  • Dennis Ray Lott, Committee Member
  • James Truman Ziegenfuss Jr., Committee Member
  • Donna Sutin Queeney, Committee Chair
  • William A Henk, Committee Member
  • Professional Development
  • Teacher Staff Development
  • Participation
  • Continuing Education
The prevailing perception of teachers’ discretionary participation in continuing professional development (CPD) fails to reflect the scope and substance of their actual involvement or the rationale underlying their participation. Four research questions guided this study: (1) In what kinds of CPD activities do teachers engage on a discretionary basis? (2) To what extent do teachers engage in CPD on a discretionary basis? (3) What reasons do teachers express for choosing to participate, or not participate, in CPD activities? (4) What demographic and professional characteristics are associated with teachers’ discretionary participation in CPD activities? A stratified random sample of 2,450 members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) (N=147,000), was mailed a self-administered questionnaire, with 888 respondents meeting all criteria for inclusion in the research sample. Telephone interviews also were conducted with 15 school district and 2 PSEA officials having responsibilities related to the provision, supervision, or promotion of CPD. Virtually all teacher respondents reported discretionary participation in CPD activities during 1998-99. Paired-samples t-testing revealed significantly greater discretionary participation in informal activities versus formal activities. Reasons for participation were more often associated with intrinsic motivation than with extrinsic rewards. Reasons for nonparticipation carried less importance and were associated with issues related to time, convenience, and program relevance perceptions. No significant differences in participation were attributable to gender or teaching assignment. One-way ANOVA results revealed that the effects of age and years of experience were significant with respect to teachers’ decreased participation in formal CPD and total participation, but not for informal CPD activities. The effect of formal education attainment was significant with respect to increased participation in both informal CPD and total participation, but not for formal CPD activities. Perceptions of interviewed officials coincided fairly well with teachers’ actual participation behaviors, but officials moderately underestimated participation in formal, noncredit CPD activities, and severely overestimated utilization of distance education. Officials overestimated the importance teachers attributed to extrinsic rewards and financial incentives, but underestimated the deterrent influences of time and inconvenience constraints and program irrelevance perceptions. Suggestions are included for school districts’ professional development plans under Pennsylvania’s Act 48 of 1999.