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How to make staff development stick

By September 3, 2010June 14th, 201610 Comments

Educators have probably all grown wary of drive-by staff development—the one- or two-day workshop that momentarily energizes staff, getting everyone excited about doing something new, but then, like a photograph left too long in the sun, fades over time.

So who are we to blame when this happens? Teachers? Is it their fault when guidance from a workshop doesn’t take root in classrooms?

Not so fast, according to McREL staff members Jane Hill and Anne Lundquist in an article that’s now online at the site.

School leaders actually hold the keys to making staff development stick.

Hill and Lundquist lay out several strategies that they have used effectively in the English Language Learner Instructional Leadership Academies they have led in Colorado, Nebraska, Virginia, Iowa and other states to turn drive-by workshops into something lasting in schools.

These strategies include identifying, up front, a leadership team, consisting of school administrators, district staff, and teachers, who take responsibility for helping teachers to implement what they learn in staff development sessions in their classrooms.

Leaders also need to recognize that any change worth making is difficult and takes people out of their comfort zones. To loosen folded arms or “this too shall pass attitudes,” leaders must work on getting everyone on the same page (something at McREL we call creating a “purposeful community”) so they see the need for change and believe doing something different will make a difference. They also need to take steps to overcome the anxiety and pushback that comes with any difficult, meaningful change (which we call “second order” change).

Hill and Lundquist’s article offers practical steps for how leadership teams can accomplish both of these objectives. While their article focuses on staff development related to improving the achievement of English language learners, their practical tips and advice for making professional development stick translates well to all kinds of teacher learning.

Read the entire article online.

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications.

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.


  • Esther says:

    I keep a “greatest hits” professional development list in my brain. At the top is Bryan Goodwin’s, “Changing the Odds”
    I believe that is you.
    Your article clearly outlined ways schools could change the odds while supporting the technical core of teaching and learning. Most impressive was the honest and forthright tone that acknowledged some painful truths about professional developments play out in schools.
    I am wondering if there isn’t a way to create a school/district web-based template that would incorporate the ‘less is more’ philosophy for schools and districts and break that down to action at every level–from students to teachers to administrators.
    I believe that some of the reason changes don’t stick, is because of the way the information is disseminated. Having a “whole” for districts and teachers, and a “part” for everyone involved could change the feeling of a school from ‘do as your are told in professional development’ to here is the big picture and here is your part in it….
    I’d like to see teachers authentically engaged. I’ve had plenty of coffee. Voila! Coffee meets vision on a blog….

  • Esther,
    Thanks for your coffee-fueled compliments! 🙂 I’m glad to hear the report has been helpful in your thinking.
    I really like the idea of creating a school or district template for planning. Actually, I’m right now in the process of expanding the report into a book for ASCD, so perhaps that’s something I might incorporate into the expanding version (due out sometime next year).
    Thanks again for the kind words.
    Warm regards,
    Bryan Goodwin

  • Esther says:

    I am glad you are making a book out of Changing the Odds.
    I predict it will become a classic.
    Good work.

  • Amanda says:

    I love your comment about having a “whole” for districts and a “part” for everyone involved could change the feeling of a school. Many times our paraprofessionals or specials teachers are essentially left out in the cold but expected to follow the “whole” plan. I think the action plan also sounds like a great idea. We always get this great information but never know what to do with it. So many educators believe that many of the demands are a “this too shall pass” activity or meeting or curriculum but when all actuality it is usually something that has come back around because it was not properly handled or taught. I look forward to hearing how others get their staff development to stick! I too think a district wide template would be very helpful.

  • Rachel Clover says:

    Rachel Clover
    It is so true that the entire staff need to be on the same page to effectively incorporate what is learned from professional development into their classrooms. Whether it is comfortable or not, it is our privilege to teach our youth and we must embrace that and use best practices from professional development although it can be tough. No two students are the same and with our school populations changing every year we need to take professional development seriously and reflect on it regularly as a school community. Most importantly we must implement it in our daily routine, even if it applies to only one student.

  • Theresa C. says:

    I was just discussing with a coworker about how many handouts we get from professional development workshops go in my trunk never to be seen again. We shoud support each other in finding ways to utilize the resources we receive at these meetings and adapt them to our classroom.

  • Angie says:

    This sounds great. With all the pressures educators have placed on them to make sure the students succeed, it’s nice to see that we can work together to have this kind of success.

  • Norma says:

    I agree that everyone should be on the same page. Our main goal is to educate children. At our school we use PLC (Prof Learning Communities) and try to make our staff development meaningful to all teachers. We have a grade level rep on our PLC team, so we can have input from each grade level on topics we need to discuss.

  • Voters in our district supported a large bond two years ago that allowed us to establish 21st century learning environments in all of our content classrooms k-12. This includes interactive white boards, voting systems, document cameras, etc. We are pleased with the professional development model which includes pre-briefing sessions, professional learning sessions, and debriefing sessions for all trainer of trainers. The debreifing has proven to be the catalyst for sustaining professional learning within the PLC at the school site. It also has given us the ability to identify needs and address them quickly.

  • Leslie says:

    I agree with what is said in this article. Education is constantly changing and unless the change is supported by the leaders then it will not stick. I also have trouble understanding how some leaders are “trying” to hold teachers accountable for implementing current strategies when they may not understand these strategies.

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