George Lucas Educational Foundation

Professional Development

Professional Development

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Throughout my career as an educator I have been involved in many professional development workshops/seminars in which I took away very little from the experience. Today it seems harder than ever to motivate and engage staff in meaningful professional development. Even though I am satisfied with how I have planned my upcoming staff development day on 11/3, I am interested to hear everyone's thoughts about how teacher professional development should be structured. What are the essentials? What are the pitfalls? Is there a protocol that you or your district follows when making a decision on requests by teachers to attend off campus PD opportunities? Are teachers held accountable when they return from outside PD events?

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Rod McQuality's picture

PD in education has always been tough. I have been an administrator for over 20 yrs. and have always found it tough to present PD that meets the need of all staff members. We devote so little time in educ to PD, we need to follow example of the business world. I have taught online classes and thus have developed online PD for educators. I feel this is a very reasonable approach to PD allowing educators the chance to hear from other educators from many different areas. Using Rick Wormeli's books makes for some very interesting discussion. Rick will even log in when available to make comments. I am trying to encourage schools to use more technology w/book studies online and offer free "Kindles" for group registration. See more info

David Ginsburg's picture
David Ginsburg
Instructional Coach, Leadership Coach, Math Specialist

My response to Anthony Rebora's recent blog post,Save Professional Development! (Or Maybe Not ...) applies to this conversation too. So here it is:

As a former teacher and administrator, and current PD provider, I reject the usual cookie-cutter PD for one reason: it doesn't work.

Sure it makes sense to standardize certain best practices, and provide teachers training accordingly. But to get the biggest bang for their shrinking PD buck, schools need to allow for the type of collaboration Caoilhe is asking for.

They also need to provide individualized coaching, which we know from research, including Joyce and Showers' study showing that new ideas are far more likely to be implemented with fidelity when learned through coaching than through workshops or classes. And education economist Eric Hanushek found student learning gains from classroom coaching to be six times greater than those from class-size reduction!

So when it comes to PD, let's focus less on cloning teachers and more on coaching them and letting them collaborate.

Rod McQuality's picture

We learn so much more from each other than we do by being spoken at. I have seen PD fail for over 30 years, there has to be something better. PD days within the school are treated as luke warm at best. Teachers are talking, reading a paper, grading papers etc. Develop a format that requires interaction and open discussion with leader and other participants. That is exactly why I developed on line book studies. To participate you must become involved, or no credit. Teachers learning from fellow teachers. It also encourages use of technology which hopefully will carry over to the classroom.

George Stern's picture
George Stern
Intern at Edutopia, college student, aspiring Educator.

Hey all,

On the topic of Professional Development -- we're doing a giveaway over in our Reform Starts Here group. We have bundles of great teacher support and teach development books and we're going to give them to the six commenters with the most votes by next Wednesday. Comments must be in response to the question: "How can we support good teachers and keep them in the profession?" You all are well equipped to answer this question, so please head on over and share your ideas!

Glenn Moyer's picture

I have just ran across the book, Teach Like a Champion. 49 techniques are examined to help teachers craft their skills. Excellent resource.

brahim elouafi's picture
brahim elouafi
teacher of English at a high school Morocco

let's ake this PD a non-stop process of bringing our potential to iits utmost .this won't be posible unless we come to stand together as a team sharing all resources,experiences,insights and good will.

Susan Murrell Castaneda MS, NBCT's picture
Susan Murrell Castaneda MS, NBCT
Founder: Teacher Leadership Academy™ A New Model of Leading and Learning

As a recently retired district level Administrator, I asked myself many questions related to comments I see posted here. Those questions served as the impetus to create a very unique and intensive professional development experience for teachers and educational leaders that approaches leadership through relationship.
Before I "officially" entered administration, I viewed my options in black and white....either I am a teacher or I am an administrator. Once I took the Admin step,I began to hear the deepest needs of the teachers with whom I was working. In my supervisory capacity for K-12 Instructional Coaches, I began tweaking what was emerging as a new way of leading.
Instructional Coaches found that establishing relationship was critical to inspiring and supporting teachers as they conceptualized leadership as occurring in the classroom, among their peers and within the community. Along the way, the IC team began to see startling changes when teachers could reframe leadership as "sharing what each knew and experienced, building connections and forming alliances."(as Elena quoted above) Perhaps most striking were the "aha" moments teachers experienced when they embraced Personal Leadership; Leading Yourself Before You Lead Others.
The Teacher Leadership Academy was born out of this experience. The instructors are the same Instructional Coaches who were crafting a teacher leadership model based on relationship and who passionately believe in its efficacy. As you can see, I am quite jazzed about the results we teaching, in learning and in student outcomes!!
It's a passionate undertaking and one that is about serving and supporting the possibilities.If you would like to know more, go to Leave your contact information to be linked to the Teacher Leadership Academy. We would very much appreciate your comments and would like to forward periodic updates!

Preston Webster's picture
Preston Webster
Education Consultant

It makes sense for teachers to show up to professional development (PD) a little disconnected if they have found little value in it, felt unprepared to do anything with it, or felt unsupported for implementing it. I mention this because when we add elements of effectiveness and accountability, no matter how on target we are, we can expect a mixed reaction. But if we can quickly produce results, increased motivation and engagement will follow.

I've lost a lot of sleep over the effectiveness and accountability of professional development. Today, it's seems they go hand-in-hand. An increased focus on what it takes to be effective (i.e., prepare a teacher to walk in, close the door, use an effective strategy, and analyze results) creates opportunity to add accountability. And then added accountability loops back to increase effectiveness. But we have to start with what is effective because trying to hold teachers accountable for something unachievable or ineffective damages motivation and engagement.

What is effective? One of the most important things we can do to understand the effective design of PD is to understand why the majority of it is never transferred from the lab to classroom practice. When we ask teachers, we often find the vast majority of reasons teaching didn't change after PD was because they found it irrelevant, unbelievable, or unachievable.

For the sake of time and function, let me focus on achievability. Most of my failures providing professional development to teachers had to do with failing to maintain a sense that something is possible long enough (not losing them) to reach a sense of achievability (i.e., a readiness threshold). I failed in two primary ways: First, too often I overloaded them with ideas. So where to start and how to implement became a blur, causing some to just check out. Second, I failed to help them prepare to teach the new strategy. I failed to help them meet a critical and individual threshold of readiness that makes them willing to try.

There is always risk in change. But willing, and potentially willing, teachers resist because they do not feel prepared. We fail to make them feel confident in their ability to succeed with the new strategies. This risk creates anxiety, and resistance is a by-product of this anxiety. Time constraints make it difficult for PD to help teachers meet a readiness threshold. Nevertheless, professional development has to offer a way to create a reasonable assurance of success. Creating readiness within the time constraints is critical to implementation and effectiveness.

Today, we create readiness (i.e., relevance, believability, and achievability) through our continual attempts to perfect brief cycles of either creating or analyzing classroom materials. Most of what teachers begin to learn about a specific research-based, reading, or writing strategy now begins during the act of solving a specific instructional problem by creating new standards-based, classroom-ready solutions. These materials help ensure transfer to the classroom because both process and product allowed the teacher to test and fit ideas while creating predictability and control.

With transfer to the classroom, now teachers learn more about the strategy by doing. Then the materials generate student work samples that can be analyzed.

During instruction, materials help facilitate research-based, reading, and writing strategies, often simultaneously; and materials provide data for clear and immediate student feedback. In classrooms, written materials provide students opportunity to clarify and align ideas to objectives, and help students develop and articulate learning. After instruction, students have an historical record of their learning to study, build, and revise. Teachers have powerful evidence of teaching and learning to share with all stakeholders, and they have evidence for analysis.

New strategies look like something in the classroom. When strategies take form, this level of readiness and focus now create a common language develops as well as a collective willingness, engagement, and accountability.

I'm sorry I went long. I have more information on my blog:

Jennifer Paxton's picture

I have been on both sides of the issue as a teacher and as a presentor as well. My best presentations are the ones where I knew where the teachers in their skills as well as their attitudes regarding the PD topic du jour. Recently, our CEO has set the expectation for all instructors to incorporate more cooperative learning opportunities for our students. To begin our series of training sessions, we first sent out a letter letting teachers know that we wanted their input in creating useful PD for them. We followed with a survey that helped us learn they experience and how much value they placed on cooperative learning. Learning the teachers strengths and attitudes helped us plan opportunities for experienced teachers to present and for us to bond as a staff. I think the teachers felt respected as professionals by our survey and by the fact that we chose their peers to present.

Bob Sullo's picture
Bob Sullo
author, educational consultant

If you have anything to do with staff development, I hope you'll read "Drive-By Staff Development." Here's a sample:

One problem is what I call "drive by staff development." Sadly, this is fairly typical. A consultant is brought in to work with a school or district for a day. Typically, things go well, people are engaged, the consultant gets positive reviews, and ....nothing changes.

Please share this with anyone you think may find it interesting, especially those who coordinate staff development opportunities.


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