Why Teachers Need To Start Their Own Professional Development

With our current school structure, it’s no wonder teachers are creating our own PDs outside of whatever our school districts offer us. Not only do we lack a real sense of what professional teachers need / want, but we’re still under an archaic model where we believe student learning is linear instead of jagged, oft scattered progressions. If they progress at all.

In school structures today, we have slots for different types of days off. Besides the summers and holidays, we can take sick leaves or personal days, each with their own set of regulations we must absolutely and utterly adhere to, including doctor’s notes and the like. Professional development comes in many forms, but schools have often had to find ways to provide it, whether through scheduling teaching experts in their own schools or letting a set of teachers go to a “paid” professional development session somewhere out there. Big conferences and small meetings all technically go towards the same goal, and that is to help teachers develop skills and transfer it to their students, perhaps sharing things from those meetings.

Yet, there’s a new type of professional development that’s arisen from connected educators. I’m calling it a third-rail professional development, a hybrid of tech saavvy and a healthy dose of networking can make for professional development that neither stagnates nor overbears. The thing with PD right now is that, no matter how creative central offices try to be, teachers still come out of them feeling like they learned nothing of substance when they hoped for at least a nugget of information. Principals want something tangible to come from these meetings, often choosing only a select group of people to attend these things and expecting a boost of some nature from kids.

Yet, those of us who see this third possibility, the hybrid, aren’t always given either the professional respect or the space to pursue this. Being at the forefront of any movement is tough, but we have to push an agenda that validates our efforts as teachers.

Of course, the question is, “Vilson, so if that’s the case, don’t students suffer when teachers are out of the building for an extended period of time? Shouldn’t students always have the teacher in front of them in order to learn?” This philosophy has plenty of holes, but I’ll only address one: why do we have school structures that allow teachers to follow a prescribed set of PD sessions and miss as many days as they please, but doesn’t allow for teachers to create their individualized PD plan at no additional cost to the school?

It’s bizarre, and perhaps you all can help me think this through. In the meantime, the wedge I sit in between teaching and leading continues to wax and wane by the day …

  • Marian Dondero

    Professional Development

    I agree that PD should be a priority for administrators and teachers. Often the time and resources are not available to support the ongoing commitment to PD.  I support a redo of the PD sessions.  What is needed are  more dynamic and flexible opportunities.

    Thanks for the oppportunity to share.

    • Ken Rinehimer

      PD – A Blended/Flipped/Social Model


      We couldn’t agree more. Eduplanet21 has recognized the need to change how PD is being delivered and has a unique approach. We offer districts/teachers the abiltiy to engage in ‘Learning Paths’ authored by some of the most recognized thought leaders in education. The Learning Paths are topical, sustainable and best of all, very affordable. I would love to share more..please check our web site http://www.eduplanet21.com and let me know if you would like to know more.



  • sujones@parkland.edu

    PD indeed

    So, I have this rather bizarre image of a waxy wedge, changing size and temperature…

    … keep in mind the rather important economics of paying consultants to come hold PD sessions in schools around the world!  (Waxing cynical: ) why should taxpayer dollars go into classrooms when they could be keeping Chimerical Learning Management Inc rolling? 


  • Julie Hiltz

    So true. I thought about two points when I read this:
    1. Even well-intentioned PD offered by “curriculum specialists” lacks a certain sort of credibility because it is not supported by real-time feedback from students.
    2. I understand how districts might want to control PD so everyone gets the “same message” but I’ve been in PD rooms where several participants walked away with different messages. How effective is that?

  • PaulBarnwell

    Jose, you’ve beat me to this post…

    Because I missed our summer retreat, when most of my colleagues earned 12 hours of “PD,” I’m now way behind on my required hours.  Bringing students from Kentucky to Vermont to present at a Food Studies conference hasn’t counted so far.  Blogging and writing for publication?  Nope.  Engaging on Twitter, reading the latest in education and policy?  Nope.  

    District PD is mostly useless, like you say, and it’s all about compliance.  There should be more pathways for motivated, engaged teachers to earn PD credit…solutions?


  • Elisa Waingort

    PD and Professional Learning

    When I think about PD nowadays I get discouraged. The kind of PD I’ve been exposed to recently has mostly left little mark on my practice. That’s why I’ve stopped depending on my school to sanction the kind of PD that for me leads to professional learning: reading professional books, engaging in conversations through blogs, taking online courses, participating in twitter chats whenever possible, etc. Although most of this is rarely recognized by schools, unless directed by them, it’s what keeps me going as an educator. 

  • DavidCohen

    moving in the right direction

    I’m optimistic that we’re headed in the right direction here, but I would love to see more teachers seize the initiative to accelerate teacher-led PD. We know what motivates people – autonomy, master, and purpose (as Daniel Pink laid it out). That doesn’t mean PD is separated entirely from admininstrative oversight, but the teachers need to provide the drive, the initiative, and we need to demand the conditions that will allow us to not only learn, but master what we learn and put it to effective use with our students. Here are some good examples – are they scalable and sustainable?

  • Cindy D.

    Professional Development

    I agree that the current Professional Development practices are not effective in increasing teacher capacity.  I have sat through countless district-wide PD days where we read power point slides and came away with some handouts.  How is this inspiring teachers to engage their students in the classroom?  If the presenter at the PD is not modeling for the teachers how to make learning dynamic, how are the teachers expected to do this for their students?

    I like your idea of teachers taking charge of their PD, but I am not sure how realistic this is.  Teachers are bogged down by so much with the system in place in most districts across the nation that they don’t have the time or energy to create their own professional development opportunitites.  I’d like to offer a different solution.

    I am an educational consultant and math coach for Education Resource Group.  Our focus is to grow all learners (by learners I am including teachers and students).  We approach this goal through a process called job-embedded professional development.  Essentially it means that we come into the classrooms alongside the teachers and model, coteach, observe, discuss, collaborate, and team with them in order to help them build capacity.  It is non-evaluative and becomes a partnership.  What makes this so effective is that it is happening in REAL TIME with REAL STUDENTS in ACTIVE CLASSROOMS.  It is not a power point slide.  Feedback is given immediately (within 24 hours) both verbally and in writing.  We have collected data for years and have shown through statistical research analysis that this is a successful approach to professional development.

    If you are interested in hearing more about it and finding out how we could customize a project for your school feel free to contact us at myedresource.com  We offer services in a variety of areas (not just mathematics).  Why not hop on board now while it is still on the cutting edge of professional development?

  • Tony Erni

    Grade 8 Science

    Some teachers are already doing their own PD but admin need to provide some time to train teachers how to get online PD and then provide time so that teachers can build their personal learning network.  This is essentially free for the school in the long run. More importantly it allows for differentiation – it can be grade level specific and subject specific.  Too many admin and teachers alike are stuck back in the 20th century when we should be embracing the opportunities of the 21st century.

  • Chris Toy

    PD is learning

    Here’s my quick thought…PD should look and feel like effective teaching and learning! Learner centered, differentiated, ongoing, assessed along the way, meaningful, engaging, transferrable to authentic use in the learner’s life, and more!

  • Mary Ann Johnson

    The Search for Meaning in Staff Development

    The whole evolution of a teacher’s learning across a career has moved from one of self-direction and self-motivation to a bureaucratic superstructure run by states and districts, sometimes for perfectly good reasons.  But the most powerful learning is that which is chosen by a teacher, done at the right time for that year’s work, and deeply processed.

    See my article about this historical shift and some suggestions for bringing vital capacity-building choices into the lives of dynamic teachers at http://www.nwconsult.org

  • Fredrick Shair

    Teachers should continually develop professionally.

                When addressing important challenges or problems, it is “wise to borrow from the best, and invent the rest.”

                During the past two decades, the PISA test results indicate that Finland has had a meteoric rise in preparing their high school graduates to think creatively and quantitatively.(1)

                As reported by Amanda Ripley(1), only the top quartile or so of college students are admitted into their 5th year program leading to a credential for teaching  in grades K-12. Over a couple of decades, the Finns had engineered a robust system with highly educated teacher-scholars.

                Finally after struggling with their version of “No Child Left Behind,” the national leaders decentralized their national set of rules, and local school leaders and “teachers were free to write their own lesson plans, engineer experiments within their schools to find out what worked and generally designed a more creative system than any centralized authority ever could.”


    (1)   Amanda Ripley, 2013. “The Smartest Kids in the World – and how they got that way.” Simon & Schuster, New York.

  • Hugh O’Donnell


    Hey Jose,

    Although this post of mine was narrow focus, the ideas (and your comments on them) point in the same direction. Teachers shouldn’t wait for admin to ram and cram PD. We should recognize our needs and seek out the knowledge. Keep putting it out there…it takes time for the “word” to get around.


    Good post here, amigo!



  • Mary Ann Johnson

    Continuing the “Search for Meaning in Staff Development”

    Thank you for raising this important topic.  Teachers are raising their professional capacity in many significant ways, and much of the most engaging and relevant new information is developed and shared by fellow teachers.  The history of the changes that resulted in organized  “staff development” came about in the 1970’s.  Ongoing professional education has become more and more distanced from the control and timing of learning options that teachers themselves have chosen, designed, or sought.  While there are reasons for the consolidation of professional development in district and state venues, there are still valid reasons to return more control of one’s ongoing education to the professional educator. See the analysis of the problems and some exciting solutions at http://www.nwconsult.com, “Meaningful Staff Development.”

  • Laura Larson

    Connected Educators

    I enjoyed your post. I am a high school teacher in Florida and I’m currently doing my own PD – an online course based on the book “The Connected Educator”, and another online course through Montana State University called “Inquiry Through Science and Education Practices”. Both courses are free. I am learning how to form a personal learning network and choosing the PD that I need.


  • SusanGraham

    A Missing Piece

    I’ve noticed that the really sad missing piece of sending teachers to a major conference is this: They come home excited and informed and grateful for the two days they were granted to attend. But there is often no structure in place for them to share that fresh insight, skill or knowledge. One could argue that two days of conference should come as a package of a day to prepare and a day to share what they’ve learned with colleagues.

  • Ernie Rambo

    The Research Shows

    Isn’t it interesting that teachers are held accountable for increasing student achievement, but that admisitrartors and school districts are not held accountable for providing High-Quality Professional Developmnet as mandated in title IX of the No Child Left Behind Act? I’m admittedly a nerd, but I can’t read definition 34 of section 9101 often enough! http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg107.html#sec9101

    Despite research that points to the effectiveness of teacher led, job-embedded professional learning, the concept always seems to get micro-managed by my well-intentioned school district. I agree with several of those who posted before me that teachers need to take charge of their personal professional development. We also need to encourage our colleagues to promote the establishment of teacher-led/teacher-managed professional learning communities at our schools. The best resource I have ever found to help teachers understand how to create high-quality professional learning at their schools is Speck and Knipe’s Why Can’t We Get it Right ( http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=speck%20and%20knipe ). 

  • Heidi Roycroft

    Choose Your Own Adventure PD

    I have been blessed to work in a district that has begun to open the gates to non-traditional PD.  What makes this possible is a learning management system (of sorts) that allows for a menu of options from which teachers can choose those resources that best fit them.  No, it isn’t canned questions for videos.  It is called 3DGameLab.  I build quests and put them into the 3dgamelab PD group that I started.  Teachers sign up for the course with me and I grant them access to my quest group.  Then they work through quests and respond in meaningful ways to the content.  They can even suggest content for the quests so that they can pursue something of interest to them.

  • Eddie09

    Tyansks for your article

    Tyansks for your article