Professional Development

The Importance of Choice in PD

Providing effective, impactful, differentiated professional development is vital to the well-being of the teaching profession.

October 30, 2018
Four teachers discussing a professional development handout at a table in a classroom
©iStock/BakiBG

Despite coming to the profession with possible natural instinct and high-quality learning from their teacher programs, our most talented and dedicated teachers starve without continued education. Learning is their fuel.

However, when we start to look at some data, we see that those who receive the most professional development (PD) are administrators. Don’t get me wrong—administrators absolutely need PD to help guide their research-based vision for their school or district.

And it’s hard to look forward to teaching when mandated PD is not always high quality. When a teacher is disengaged from the act of learning, it can impact their engagement in the classroom overall. And that lack of engagement trickles to our students. Conversely, an engaged teacher, research shows, has a positive impact on student achievement. So even though PD pulls teachers out of the classroom, the quality of time spent in the classroom is greatly impacted in a way that targets both student and teacher engagement and achievement.

Any great school leader understands that providing PD is vital to teaching practice, but it’s important to note that not all professional development is equally effective, and a good number of teachers complain that some mandated PD crosses over into wasted time.

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Differentiated PD

At Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzalez requests that school leaders be mindful of teachers’ time and ensure that PD is compelling, engaging, and meaningful.

The key here is choice. Choice in what teachers can learn about and choice in how to learn it. It is, after all, professional development, and as such, we need to be professional about it.

If we want to see a measurable impact of PD in the classroom, the only way to guarantee that is to differentiate it. What might that look like?

Webinars: Districts can also produce webinars for teachers to attend during the evenings, after the kids are asleep, when they can focus on their own growth. These webinars can be attended synchronously, sure, but then they can also be archived so that teachers can watch them asynchronously, at their convenience.

Face-to-face instructional coaching: Coaches can meet with teachers during preparation periods, offer after-school sessions for departments, or provide scaffolds and advice to meet very specific needs. Effective instructional coaching is all about differentiating support for the variety of needs of teachers on any given campus.

Lunch and learn: Schools can ask department chairs and other teacher leaders to be available during designated lunch times to share their expertise and answer challenges from colleagues.

Tic-tac-toe board of choice: Districts or schools can offer a menu of choices of PD on a variety of topics. Those topics can be brought in by teachers, parents and guardians, students, or school leaders. One approach with this method: Educators might select three in a row for a badge or certificate, or hit as many as possible within a set period of time to increase their diversity of knowledge. Some educators call this model a Pineapple Chart.

Edcamps: Schools can tap into the experts in their building by hosting rooms that are designated to cover topics participants want to discuss. This is a free-form system—people can walk in and out of rooms based on their interests. Those in the room keep a dynamic record of the conversation using something like a poster or Google document so that there’s an artifact of the conversation to reflect on later. A version of this can be found in Catlin Tucker’s book Power Up Blended Learning. The station rotation model she discusses can be used with teachers as well as students.

Providing effective, impactful, and differentiated PD has become a vital need in our well-being as a profession. A competitive salary is needed, but so is support in helping us maintain our own education. I believe that personalized or differentiated PD can cure some of the ills plaguing our profession. It can help attract new candidates, retain the teachers we have, and guide us to continue to grow our ability to innovate as educators.