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Taking some of the stress out of professional development

By October 30, 2014June 13th, 20165 Comments

6a010536aec25c970b01b7c6fd4880970bFor most occupations, routine continuing education is necessary to keep current with new and changing policies, procedures, and technologies and is critical to job expertise and career advancement. Why is it, then, that educators too often view professional development (PD) opportunities with a touch of dread and angst? From our conversations with teachers, we know these feelings are often rooted in concern about the relevancy of the PD and a lack of time to apply what’s been learned. In this post we offer a few suggestions for PD planners to address those challenges, based on our experiences working in schools and districts.

As mentioned in a previous blogpost, PD sessions ideally should be spread across the entire school year, giving teachers time to absorb the material and integrate what they are learning into their classrooms in a more meaningful way.

We also know that developing positive and open classroom environments helps students learn. Setting these same standards for teachers’ PD encourages a more meaningful and engaging adult learning experience, helping teachers feel more comfortable with sharing ideas, less anxious when struggling with new concepts, and at ease in acknowledging what they don’t know.

Building relationships and developing trust between the PD leader, teachers, and administrators is key, especially when multiple PD sessions will occur throughout the year. Begin developing those relationships prior to the first session by planning one-on-one meetings with each key stakeholder in the building or by scheduling an all-staff meeting. Encourage building administrators to attend the PD sessions to demonstrate that the learning is a priority and that teachers will be supported as they learn and apply their new skills in the classroom.

Consider these strategies for setting a positive tone in PD sessions:

  • Elicit teachers’ strengths and expertise by asking what they already know about the subject.
  • Encourage teachers to consider new ideas on the subject. Very few people know everything there is to know about a subject; keeping an open mind is essential to trying out new ideas and strategies.
  • Ask teachers what is important to them as learners and as program participants.
  • Ask teachers what concerns they have about the PD program. Even if there are factors out of a PD leaders’ control, at least teachers will know their concerns have been acknowledged.

We used these key strategies when piloting and field testing McREL’s mathematics formative assessment program, the Assessment Work Sample Method (AWSM). Middle school teachers attended twelve 45-minute sessions throughout the school year that were embedded in the school day. Over the course of the AWSM pilot, PD leaders developed a sense of trust and openness with teachers by taking time to build relationships and inviting administrators to attend sessions. Teachers shared their thoughts and concerns, related what they knew about formative assessment, shared strategies they used in their classrooms, and considered new ideas about formative assessment.

Developing a positive learning environment does not happen in one session—making time for these conversations throughout the year will further strengthen the trust and openness that are key to an engaging and meaningful PD experience for teachers.

2012_Gopalani_WEB 2014-RaineyJesse_webSarah Gopalani and Jesse Rainey conduct quantitative and qualitative analyses in support of McREL’s research and evaluation projects.

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.


  • I think this is an excellent method for delivering Professional Development. As a new teacher I often hear, more seasoned, teachers groaning about PD that is irrelevant to their needs. I think they would appreciate receiving PD in chunks where they can absorb what they have learned, apply it to their learning environment and have the people and resources available to assist them through their challenges.

  • K Hope says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. The way a PD is presented does leave a lasting impression on how it is implemented in a classroom or even what a teacher can take away from the presentation. I think presenters should take the time to build relationships with staff and faculty members. Through these discussions, that person can find out strengths and areas of improvements, as well as, what the teacher needs to help them. Teachers are learners too, so it is important to also meet their needs. Also, through those discussions, teachers will be willing to open up and address concerns with colleagues.

  • I definitely agree with the following statement in this article,”PD sessions ideally should be spread across the entire school year, giving teachers time to absorb the material and integrate what they are learning into their classrooms in a more meaningful way”. I feel it Professional Development is delivered in this manner, more teachers would appreciate how their PD time is being utilized. Being able to receive new information about a strategy or resources is always good; but being able to take it back to your classroom, work with it, collaborate with others, and then be able to go back and give or receive feedback would change how PD is viewed on a huge scale. Teachers need to feel the significance of information they are receiving, as well as, feel supported as they explore the new information. In my learning environment, I do believe all would agree, PD was delivered in this manner, teachers and students would reap the rewards in a positive and engaging way.

  • Education is the most essential tool for a human being; through which he or she is able to get better success in life. No doubt people are studied up to a particular age and after that they are busy with their livelihood; but education is a never ending process. With the help of proper education we are able to build a strong and successful career and therefore still people are searching for better learning system to boost their career goals.

  • Ashlee says:

    I definitely agree with this article. Professional Development is suppose to have a lasting impression on the teachers. Most of the presenters that teach the classes are retired and do not try to build relationships with the staff or educators that are present.

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