Planning Professional Development for Yourself and Others - Steve Barkley

Planning Professional Development for Yourself and Others

A report in the Washington Post caught a lot of attention in early August as school administrators prepared for the coming school year.

Study: Billions of dollars in annual teacher training is largely a waste 

 A new study of 10,000 teachers found that professional development — the teacher workshops and training that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year — is largely a waste.

 I can imagine some teachers saying, “Finally the word is out, we’ve known all along.” Some school leaders and instructional coaches must be asking, “How do we proceed?”

Nationwide school improvement plans frequently identify teacher learning as being critical to increased student learning. Where do we look for help?


Valerie Strauss writing a follow up article in the Washington Post, It’s no secret that most professional development for teachers is awful. Less well known is that some of it is great,  shares a post by written by Howard Gardner, Clayton Lewis, and Jim Reese identifying when professional development is effective.

These efforts are successful because they share certain beliefs about the ways teachers learn best:

Treat educators as the professionals they are.

Aim to end the practice of teaching being viewed a solitary endeavor; like other professionals teachers improve when they are engaged in collaborative learning, identifying best practices and critiquing one another.

Acknowledge that context matters. A practice that works in one classroom most likely will need to be adapted or significantly altered to be effective in another.

Strive to develop the dispositions in teachers that we also want to cultivate in children: curiosity, flexibility in thinking, open-mindedness, empathy, and an ability to reason with evidence.

Make learning relevant and meaningful. We know it is vital for children; it is just as important for teachers.

 I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a dialogue about teacher learning among a group of 20 educators who ranged from five to forty years’ experience in education. I provided this task to them in groups of three with mixed experience:

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Here are some of the items they identified as being common in experiences that they felt had the greatest influence on increasing their effectiveness in impacting student learning.

# A combination of theory and practice in the learning. Theory and practice seemed to increase the value of each. Why is this important and here is what it looks like and sounds like.

# Immediacy of practice/ job- embedded- There was an opportunity to quickly try what I think I understood and gain student responses to confirm or challenge my understanding.

#Mentorships/Coaching/Collegial feedback- Encouragement, observation data, and increased reflection provided by supportive colleagues advanced learning.

# Focused on student outcomes- There was a specific reason to learn how to get a student outcome that was currently not being achieved.

# Learning as a Team-  As a team, focusing on a specific learner outcome, developing instructional plans, observing each other and then meeting again for discussion….. a collaborative process.

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Peter DeWitt blogging in Education Week, Is Your Professional Development a Waste of Time? cites research by Timperley, Wilson, Barrar and Fung (Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration), the following is needed for professional development to be effective:

Over a long period of time (three to five years)
Involves external experts
Teachers are deeply engaged
It challenges teachers’ existing beliefs
Teachers talk to each other about teaching
School leadership supports teachers’ opportunities to learn and provides opportunities within the school structure for this to happen.

 Teachers themselves, as well as their instructional coaches and administrators, need to build PD experiences that have a high likelihood of positively impacting student success. Consider using the items listed here as you meet in PD planning activities.

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One Response to “ Planning Professional Development for Yourself and Others ”

  1. Bill Connolly Says:


    These are valuable principles or tenets that you are sharing with us. The one I want to push on (lightly) is the need for external experts. I can foresee circumstances (ex. a faculty with a predominant fixed mindset) in which an outside person is the best one to challenge things. However, while I am not asking permission to NOT have external experts, can you address how in some situations, external experts can be problematic. This is not to say that their inclusion in the list above means that they have to be involved at the onset or throughout a PD cycle, of course. But I am thinking of contexts in which a weak stream of experts has prejudiced a staff against outsiders.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts!


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