7 Tips for Powerful Professional Development

Professional Development – it can be valuable and impactful or it can be dreadful. How can you assure that PD is powerful and effective? Read on! 

As a 21-year teacher veteran, I have experienced my share of professional development – both presenting and receiving. The educational landscape is constantly changing, and new methods, tools, and strategies appear almost daily. Professional development is used to disperse information so that teachers can incorporate new pedagogy, technology, and strategies into our teaching practice and continually improve. But teachers’ time is valuable, and each day the hours on the clock and days on the calendar seem to shrink at an astonishing level, so it’s important that PD be both powerful and useful. Here are 7 Tips for that will assure that it is:

1. Research-based and classroom-tested strategies. Teachers want proven techniques grounded in the cognitive sciences and/or based on the classroom-tested practices of master teachers. They want to know that the professional development has been shown to make a difference, so that implementation will address an issue in our practice or help to increase student achievement. The PD should have longevity.

2. Response to a need. The best kind of professional development addresses a need at a school – it’s a response to some problem or issue teachers in a school are facing. The professional development should provide an answer to that problem. With the increase of English Language Learners in classrooms throughout the country, for example, WIDA (World Class Instructional Design and Training), as well as RETELL (Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners) in Massachusetts, and workshops in Cultural Competency have become a very important part of teacher training.

3. Time to practice. As with any type of training, teachers need time to practice and model the new skill. Providing time in the professional development workshop allows teachers to work through the new ideas and formulate questions, as they test out how to use the new knowledge and skills in their own classrooms. Theory is great, but having time to plan to put theory into action is truly powerful.

4. Something we can use in our classrooms immediately. Teachers get excited about PD when they realize that it includes information, knowledge, and skills that they can use immediately in their classroom. Knowing that PD can almost instantly impact our teaching makes it extremely potent.

5. Talk the talk and walk the walk. A friend once took a workshop on creating effective rubrics in the classroom. After spending hours learning about how to make meaningful and useful rubrics, participants needed to create a rubric as part of the assessment to receive credit for the course. But guess what? The instructor never provided a rubric on how the assignment would be graded. Meaningful professional development should model the techniques being taught.

6. Engaging delivery. Delivery is important. Instructors must be knowledgeable, organized, and well-prepared. The format of instruction should be structured efficiently. Haphazard or weakly-planned PD can be tough to get through. Online PD that is confusing or counter-intuitive can also frustrate teachers. Nowadays there are plenty of platforms that can provide stimulating and inspiring professional development. I recently took a 40-hour online course on Making Student Thinking Visible that was so well produced and so engaging that I ran to my colleagues to encourage them to enroll. It added a great deal of value to my classroom, and most definitely positively impacted my teaching practice.

7. On-going support and opportunities for follow-up questions. Keep in mind that professional development can be overwhelming – especially when it involves change that radically affects a teacher’s pedagogy. What happens after the PD is over? What if we have questions? Will there be support? It’s always great to have resources to turn to, and in today’s world that can be an online group, an email address, or a resource site to turn to with questions.

Professional development can help teachers sharpen their skills, develop their knowledge-base, and stay up-to-date with a rapidly-changing world. It can energize a teacher’s practice. Keeping ihese 7 tips for powerful PD in mind will ensure that PD is both engaging and effective (and having a few snacks available works, too).

  • ReneeMoore

    Sounds Like Learning Forward (formerly ASCD)

    Your practical points remind me of the work of Learning Forward (formerly ASCD) and their Standards for Professional Learning.

    Curious how many people are familiar with these, and how many of your schools or districts use them in developing PD in your area?

  • JohnHolland


    Thanks for sharing these tips. I especially appreciated your comment:

    Meaningful professional development should model the techniques being taught.

    Oh so true.

  • JessicaCuthbertson

    Great list!

    This is a great list of tips for ensuring PD is meaningful — I’ve seen #3 (Time to Practice) ignored or clipped short for adults in many sessions. However when/where there is adequate time for practice this makes a huge difference in transfer.  Time constraints often shortchange a PD agenda in this area even though I believe it to be crucial for adult learners (as well as students — teaching without practice doesn’t set our students up for success and we need time to practice, too!) 

    While I have some mixed feelings with certain strategies, one of the most effective professional development workshops I’ve attended was led by Doug Lemov. It was planned in a cycle of repeated opportunities for practice, coaching and feedback. Not only did we practice, we practiced again to incorporate feedback in the moment. This experience propelled me to read his book Practice Perfect and changed the way I plan and facilitate professional learning — often the practice part makes adults uncomfortable, which in some ways, learning should be :). Too often we forego the practice assuming adults “get it” without giving them the opportunity to demonstrate or approximate the learning and get safe feedback in the moment before trying something with students. 

    • akrafel


      I agree that this Practice part is critical and so often left out of PD sessions for reasons of time. What happens to me in PD, especially if it involves a new way to use technology, is that if I don’t get a chance to practice and repractice I will not hold on to what I have been taught which makes the whole thing a frustrating waste of time.  To save time, people often cut out the practice time which makes the time you did spend in the PD not time effective.  We would never teach something to students and then not let them have time for guided practice. We know that teaching without practice does not work in the long run so why this happens in PD sessions is beyond me.  You do not get much bang for your buck this way.

  • C. Jimenez

    Blog Comment

    Hello everyone,

    Having a few snacks available is great for the educators that are usually on the go and have no time to pack food for themselves. I do believe PD  is a great possibility to explore learning the things needed to help teaching buy in to our  program.  The more you are able to model that you as a leader could benefit from the information that you are learning in the PD.  However, I do think as a leader you must plan for the right PD that is beneficial for you and your teachers.  Overall, I do believe that you if you engage the PD and treat it like a learner-centered classroom, the teachers will benefit from this lesson.