George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Highly effective classrooms can result from highly effective professional development. Recent research (Butler et al., 2004) has shown that effective professional development includes creating classroom content, modeling techniques for teachers to use in their classrooms, and feedback on lessons (Harris, Graham, and Adkins, 2015). It's not enough to teach the right things to your teachers -- you have to teach your teachers in the right way.

Here are some top tips for delivering highly effective PD to your teachers.

1. Use What You Are Teaching

If a method of teaching works, that method should be used for teaching the teachers in your PD sessions. For example, if you're teaching cooperative learning but you're lecturing about it, that's undermining the message. Teachers notice what you do, so model what you're teaching by teaching with it. If you don't have enough time to use the methods that work, then you've just given an out to the teachers who will say that they don't have enough time to do it either.

2. Develop Something That You'll Use Right Away

The best PD classes had us teachers create lesson plans that we could use within two weeks of completing that class.

3. Use the Lesson and Receive Feedback

Then, using a rubric created for the class, we would try out the lesson we'd created in our PD session less than two weeks ago and receive feedback from a trained administrator or a peer. If you wait to implement, you'll never implement.

4. Improve and Level Up With Another Lesson

After receiving feedback, teachers worked on another lesson. This approach of lesson design, lesson performance, and feedback is powerful. Not surprisingly, important features found in a recent study included integrating new knowledge, learning together with colleagues, and being actively engaged in meaningful discussions (van den Bergh, Ros, and Beijaard, 2015).

5. Local Responsibility and Buy-In

"Drive-by training" is rarely helpful. Without local acceptance, accountability, and follow up, teachers leave the PD class with continuing education units and not much else. Someone on staff needs to have responsibility for making sure that teachers use the technique and receive feedback in a way consistent with the class. Be sure that this person attends the class and takes part.

Ken Blanchard says in Leading at a Higher Level (p.213):

People often resent change when they have no involvement in how it should be implemented. So, contrary to popular belief, people don't resist change -- they resist being controlled.

6. Long-Term Focus

PD should fit in with the long-term vision for a school or district. Some teachers groan about their district's "technology du jour" approach. Like the soup of the week, some districts don’t know which technology or technique they want implemented. It takes time to learn, practice, and improve teaching. With too many different initiatives, it can send mixed messages and frustrate teachers. Fit PD into the long-term plan.

7. Good Timing

Fifteen years ago, I showed to up to train teachers how to use technology in their classrooms. As I walked on campus, I heard these words come over the speaker:

We have scheduled training for today after school. If you do not come, your contract will not be renewed. No excuses!

These angry teachers didn't know about the class (set up for months, by the way). They had their own children to pick up, and it was near the end of the school year. This was a horrific situation that happens all too often.

When teachers are in the midst of testing, let them focus on testing. I'm not sure why some state conferences insist on keeping their dates even when they know that their mandatory state testing will happen that week. If we want highly effective PD, the teachers need to be there in body and mind. While it is harder and harder to find a time that someone isn't testing, it can be done.

8. Empower Peer Collaboration

A great untapped potential lies in our ability to teach one another. Some teachers are curating Pinterest boards and sharing ideas, but we can do more. This past summer, our teachers hosted a personal learning community (PLC) and read Harry Wong’s The First Days of School. We met for lunch three times and taught the chapters to each other. It was one of the best training classes I've ever attended -- and we did it ourselves!

Professional development is a vital part of improving your technique as a teacher. Learning best practices and practicing best practices are both important. You can make a school better by improving its teachers. Effective PD can do that.

Please share your ideas. What makes highly effective PD?

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Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Yes, Susan! Great points here. My favorite PD is those that give me time to create a lesson and then get back with the instructor to discuss what we're doing.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Vicki: I'm a high school social studies teacher - 28 years - and ever since the start of the Common Core Era, I've felt this huge pressure coming from top down to provide my students, every single day, with a learning experience that they are sure to find interesting, informative, and engaging.

Now to deliver in response to that pressure, I have increasingly flipped . . . and yes, it has paid off.

In other words, my students (via their exit tickets) increasingly report that by flipping, I am providing them with interesting, informative, and engaging learning experiences.

Therefore, I strongly suggest that if those who conduct professional development want the teachers who attend PD's to leave the room feeling as if they have been provided an interesting, informative, and engaging learning experience, then they too should flip.

Teachers all to often are reporting that upon leaving a PD they find themselves feeling as if they have been lectured, bored, and had their time wasted.

Worse yet, they feel as if they've been pressured to change the way they teach, while those who's job it is to train them to teach continue to teach as if it's the 1950's (aka, teacher up front, lecture, handouts, little or no meaningful activity, etc.)

Yet whatever I've said above, I'm in any way attempting to sound critical of your tips. I in fact think everyone of them is sound and wise . . . and certainly in the absence of flipping.

I just think that for truly effective professional development, we must call for a sea change in how it's delivered.

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Hi Peter - guessing you're replying to me, Vicki. ;-)

Yes, I think flipping fits in. I just know some teachers who are not technologically proficient who would not be able to make it. It is a great alternative and many IT directors are using it. I think that the readers will see your comments and certainly consider it as a great alternative. Thanks again for a great conversation and sharing.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Yes. I'm so sorry. My latest should have been addressed to Vicki. Guess that's what I get for having stayed out so late last night. Holiday party. In any event, thank you Edutopia for the edit button and the chance to make the needed change.

jbormann3's picture
Technology Integration Specialist @KeystoneAEA. Former English teacher in 1:1 iPad school. SMART Certified Trainer. #flipclass enthusiast.

I agree with all of theses, Vicki. I had the opportunity to work with a district to retool what PD can operate like. This is the model that we developed that is now being requested by several other school districts throughout the state. I think it ties together a lot of the elements you address here.

Ryan Tren's picture

How much do you think schools should pay for CPD, anyway? Like for external training or events.

access_granted's picture

If we are asked to provide lessons that are "a learning experience that they are sure to find interesting, informative, and engaging" shouldn't our PD's be structured the same way? We as teacher set the atmosphere of our classes with our temperament and lessons, so the PD's should be an example on how to implement what was learned. I have been to a few PD's that was centered around a few small activities and I was engaged to the PD. I am a person that won't survive a lecture and those small activities kept me awake the entire time and fully participating.
I wonder if my fellow educators would have additional tips to help someone moving forward into a teacher leadership position?

If so, my tip # 9 would be: Have a small relevant activity that will keep them engaged.

My tip # 10 would be: Create opportunities to reflect.
I was at a PD about instructional coaching and we had to pick a random item out of a box and explain how it describe what we thought about instructional coaching. I had fingernail filer and I thought it could represent how an instructional coach can help a teacher smooth out the rough edges from their instruction.

Does anyone have a tip number 11, 12, or even 37?

Tracy K's picture
Tracy K
7th grade ED/BD teacher in Plainfield, IL

I am looking for PD or a masters program in special ed on students with autism -
I live in Illinois and I have taught SEL for 16 years - we have a large population of on the spectrum students and I want to educate myself on best practice, strategies, etc - TIA

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Tracy K, you might find something helpful here: or here:

Feel free to shoot me an email ( if you want to talk more about how you could design a MEd in this. Good luck. It's so frustrating when you can't find what you need to support your kiddos. Good on you for wanting to keep learning!

Tracy K's picture
Tracy K
7th grade ED/BD teacher in Plainfield, IL

Thank you for the info - I will look it over this weekend!

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