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Siloed teacher PD: Why it doesn’t work

By August 18, 2015June 10th, 20164 Comments

6a010536aec25c970b01bb08656e3e970dA new report on a two-year study conducted by TNTP on the effectiveness of professional development (PD) for teachers suggests that much of the available PD is ineffective in helping teachers improve, and that vast resources are being spent on programs that don’t stick.

Our experience in working with districts and regional/state agencies has been that some PD works, and some doesn’t.

What doesn’t work, in our experience, are those PD activities that are “siloed.” These are sessions or efforts that have little or no direct connection to a school or district’s improvement goals, and aren’t built on a researched, proven framework. They may have ignited a spark of enthusiasm or interest among participants in the moment, but when learnings and take-aways aren’t embedded into daily practice, they become easily forgotten or ignored. Outcomes are not monitored and analyzed, and the focus might shift or a new spark might ignite after a year or two.

Teachers who have been in education for a while see many PD programs come and go, often with little time to fully develop, implement, test, and master the new processes. Because of this, unfortunately, I’ve heard about cases of veteran teachers who advised newer teachers to wait a new PD program out, knowing that the PD pendulum will likely swing in a new direction soon enough.

PD that does work is driven by, and aligned with, strategic plans and an assessment of staff needs. Session content is founded on research and proven frameworks. The delivery of the professional learning is thoughtfully planned and spread throughout the school year, giving participants time to hone their use of the new strategies and establish a sequence of learning and mastery for each concept. Implementation is monitored, feedback is given, and effect on professional practice and student learning is measured. The spark is fed and fanned into a sustained flame.

The following components of effective PD can yield better, long-lasting results:

      • Relevancy over time
      • Practical application
      • Conducted by professionals with classroom experience
      • Immediate application of the new learning with students
      • Buy-in and support from administrators who incorporate the same practices into their own work

Here’s an example of this more systemic approach in action. The Florida Department of Education embarked on a statewide initiative a couple of years ago to provide more effective PD systems for teachers, focusing on protocol standards across four strands: planning, learning, implementing, and evaluating. McREL helped the department with this initiative, focusing on data-driven, systemic planning that assessed PD needs, monitoring each stage of implementation, and evaluating the impact of the PD on classroom practice.

Paramount to every aspect of the process was the development of a common language in which PD was discussed, with clear definitions about what success was and how it would be measured. This framework enabled districts to collaborate with each other throughout the process, encouraging feedback that further informed the improvement process and helped districts align their policies and practices on curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

To read more about good PD system practices, check out these additional blog posts by my colleagues at McREL:

You might also be interested in this response to the TNTP study from three educators who question its findings and explain their position.


AblaCheryl_6851_webCheryl Abla is an education consultant and product manager for McREL International. After 26 years in the classroom, she now works with teachers and schools on what matters most in classrooms using knowledge gleaned from The 12 Touchstones of Good TeachingClassroom Instruction that Works with English Language LearnersUsing Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, and Classroom Instruction that Works. You can reach her at

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.


  • Elizabeth Hathaway says:

    The blog is very impressive and I will be interested in following your progress. How can I know when Cheryl Abla is available?

  • JC says:

    I totally agree with your thoughts. Sometimes professional development plans comes about because of the need for a change is perceived, an obvious solution is found, and improvements are made without much thought of future and larger contexts.
    While “siloed” professional development plans might solve a specific problem, they are characterized by a limited focus and functionality, and containing information that cannot be easily shared with others.
    Professional development plans must be aligned with the schools strategic goals, have an assessment of teacher and staff needs, and be founded on a proven framework. The framework you outline here should help steer away from those plans developed in isolation.

  • Hello Elizabeth,
    Thank you for your post. I will contact you with available dates and would love to visit with you about McREL and share some of our success stories.
    Thank you again,

  • JC,
    Thank you for your comment. I completely agree with you. Learning in isolation rarely produces the results hoped for. McREL has discovered with purposeful ongoing strategic planning, schools tend to build capacity and sustainability; which in turn, has a great impact on student achievement.

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