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Designing Better Professional Learning with the Brain in Mind

By January 30, 2024May 1st, 2024No Comments

Why does some professional development fall flat, while others resonate with teachers and make a real difference? How can professional learning be made better and lead to lasting changes in teacher practice?

Schools and districts can get more out of their investment in professional learning for teachers (and principals) by creating PD systems, sessions, and supports that align with decades of research on brain science and effective adult learning.

In this paper, we share an overview of six phases of learning that everyone goes through when learning something new (which you can read about in more depth in Learning That Sticks). We show how this learning model offers clarity and practical guidance for school and district staff who develop PD sessions, helping them design and sequence professional learning experiences that are more engaging and more effective at addressing educators’ needs.

Big Ideas

  • A brain-based, six-phase model that facilitators and developers can use to guide the creation, planning, and delivery of more effective sessions.

  • Evidence-backed guidance for closing “knowing-doing” gaps and connecting sessions with educators’ real problems of practice and growth goals.

  • Practical insights and takeaways for school leaders, instructional coaches, and PD coordinators to make the most of their professional learning investment, build positive school cultures, and help their educators flourish.

From the Paper . . .

In short, teachers do need professional learning—but they need it to be good professional learning. They need the learning they experience to reflect what we know about how our brains work and what we’ve learned from decades of research about effective adult learning.

Instead of should-ing on teachers (guilt-tripping them with more stuff they should do), effective professional learning starts with teachers’ real problems of practice and gives them additional knowledge, skills, and tools they need to address their classroom challenges.

Schools and districts can get more out of [their PD] investment by making the intentional decision to stop delivering PD of the past and instead thoughtfully creating professional learning systems, sessions, and supports that provide teachers with the very same kind of rich, relevant, engaging, and effective learning experiences that we want for our students.

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McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.