What matters in teacher professional development?

Cross posted at the SMARTBlog on Education.

What’s been your most valuable PD experience? Come on, there’s got to be one! I want you to think about what made it meaningful for you. The time where you left feeling excited to try something new and jump in feet first. You felt like you were ready to conquer the world and couldn’t hardly wait to impart this new practice/knowledge to your students.

Was it one thing? A combination of things? Was it the facilitator? Another attendee you connected with?

While I haven’t been facilitating PD for teachers for very long (coming up on 9 years), I believe there are some factors that make professional development work well and help teachers leave feeling successful. I’ve encapsulated them within three things, in no particular order.


Everybody likes choices right? Aren’t we keeping to a pretty narrow-minded view of learning if it’s only presented in a “one means to an end” fashion? Teachers need choices about what they’re interested in, passionate about, and what matches their readiness level.

These choices can be given as a traditional model of professional development, in which teachers attend a class/workshop on a specified date and time and have to physically be in attendance, or choices could be given in the form of online learning via screencasts, live webinars, or social media. The point is to offer choice and in turn allow whatever choice teachers make to be credited as a viable means of professional development.


What types of learning illicit value? Fill in this blank: Learning is valuable to me when _____.  If teachers are going to invest time in professional learning, whether it be face to face or online, voluntary or involuntary, we all want to finish feeling it was valuable. When I facilitate PD, do I have a set agenda and plan in place? Of course I do. Do I ever intentionally or unintentionally deviate from the plan? Always. I am sure to let teachers know that this is their learning and I want them to feel our time together was valuable. If that means detours are taken and even some things are repeated so be it. We should want all students, regardless of age, to feel the value in what they’re learning.

Sometimes discovering the value in our learning experiences can lead to taking a self-directed deeper dive into a topic as well. Do you remember the last time that happened?

My response to the fill in the blank above? Learning is valuable to me when I understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’.


We’ve offered choices, come to understand the value, and are ready to accept the charge laid before us. Or are we? What if something doesn’t go according to plan (this never happens with technology)? If I’m in need of help where do I turn?

Teachers need multiple lifelines of support. This is a critical component of teacher professional development. Let’s say it’s the end of your face to face workshop. We need to make sure our teachers are aware of whom to contact, where to look, what to Google, etc. before they leave us. It can be an email address, the link to a backchannel, a Google Group, an Edmodo group, etc. Sure, teachers in my district know how to contact me, but I still remind them to please contact me whatever outlet I choose to provide. It can be a one way communication to you or a tweet on a hashtag. It can be both. Learn about the teachers you serve, just like we learn about the students we serve. We all need to know that support is there if we need it.

Are these the only components to making teacher professional development have meaning? No, but I think they’re three of the most important. What matters to you in making your professional development worthwhile? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford

3 thoughts on “What matters in teacher professional development?”

  1. These three criteria seem to really connect with Dan Pink’s three things that motivate people to do complex tasks – i.e. choice =autonomy , value = purpose, support = (developing) mastery. I suspect you knew that, but it probably means that they’re well on the right track 🙂

  2. There’s been a lot of talk about Teacher PD lately, but maybe I’ve just been more tuned into it. I like your three points, Kyle. I will emphasize your three in my own words and add a couple elements as well.

    Choice – You speak of choice in terms of workshops, webinars, and tutorials. What we have found over the last year is that teachers are often overwhelmed by the number of choices available to them. There are so many tools and ideas out there. They certainly need a filter – and that is one of the purposes of our project showcase. By sharing a showcase of projects with teachers, they become interested in the process/product and not the technology. In fact, our technology is almost completely absent until we’ve sat down with a teacher and selected a topic, project, or strand area to work on (communication, collaboration, creative media, presentation). These are the choices that we encourage our teachers to make during our small group workshop sessions. What are you and your students interested in? What topics are you studying? etc. What strand area interests you? This eliminates fear of technology, fear of not knowing where to begin, fear of technology failure…

    Value – The value of PD comes in the personalization for each teacher. Our client teachers meet with us a minimum of 2 hours a month in a small group (typically 1:3). Next year in one of our schools, we are developing a model that includes both a face-to-face workshop time as well as scheduled classroom time (this is in addition to normal contact time requested by the teacher). The value of the FlippedPD process comes in the fact that the learning is personalized and meaningful. For FlippedPD, each teacher creates a personal learning plan that they work on throughout the year. With the help of a Technology Coach, they are supported and encouraged to meet that goal. They receive personalized resources (links, videos, network connections, etc). The value comes in the personal accomplishment of each teacher.

    Support – Today, teachers need the support of a coach more than anything. This is one of the most vital components of successful PD. It is unfortunate that cutting technology integration/support/coach positions is so common these days. I like to compare teachers to a tight rope walker. They will not go our on the rope without a net. We are there to make sure they don’t fall. This is hard and exhausting work at times – but most coaching jobs are…

    And my additions:

    Time – teachers need time DURING THE SCHOOL DAY to play and collaborate, to think and explore. This has been the most critical component of our model. Together with building principals, we create a workshop schedule for the school year. Typically, each workshop day uses THREE rotating subs. These subs relieve three teachers two hours at a time for a total of 12 teachers each day. Teachers deserve this time. As mentioned in the ISTE whitepaper on effective coaching practice, PD needs to be embedded in the work day.

    Flipped – There you have it. The last component of good PD is that it needs to be flipped. Instead of using PD time to introduce teachers to a new tool and generate excitement about its potential, we need to give teachers access to personalized online resources that can be viewed prior to their work time. These resources introduce technology tools and processes, as well as past projects and provide teachers with real examples of how the tools can be used in the classroom. When teachers meet face-to-face with the Technology Integration Specialists (or PD facilitator), they are allowed to work and develop projects or plans of action that can be implemented with students, parents, or other teachers.

    We are passionate about our work and have seen amazing results with the teachers in our district. flippedpd.org is our site – we hope to share our work and resources. The #flippedpd site is new – more updates coming this summer.

    Kristin Daniels

  3. @kadaniels I agree with all points made, especially about the FlippedPD process. Choice, value, time – all very critical to PD for teachers. The old school method hasn’t worked well in our district for a long time now. While FlippedPD has not been officially embraced by my district, I have created a web site to offer to teachers at my school to attempt a simple version of flipping PD for the coming school year http://web2teachingtools.com

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