George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Development

8 Top Tips for Highly Effective PD

Among the top strategies for highly effective professional development are making it useful, making it relevant, and making sure that teachers start practicing it ASAP.

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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.

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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?