Professional Development is Not One-Size-Fits-All

Professional development (PD) is intended to ignite creativity, foster collaboration, provide opportunities for reflection, and introduce teachers to new methods of instruction, engagement, and assessment. But for many teachers, these sessions are seen as an opportunity to dress down, eat lunch out, and socialize with colleagues.

I fondly remember my first PD day as a first-year teacher: I arrived early with my legal pad, highlighters, and flair pens—eager to gain information to better myself as a teacher and help students achieve. As the session began, it quickly became clear that the topic of the session was on an assessment strategy I had just learned during my undergraduate years. I turned to another first-year teacher and we started discussing our puzzlement as to why such a fundamental and rudimentary strategy was being presented—this strategy was a best practice we had both learned our sophomore year of college! And to compound the problem, this same session continued to be presented during PD days in the next two years.

Unfortunately, my experience with poor PD has been the experience of many teachers across America. Professional development sessions I have attended often seem to be haphazardly put together. I’ve been to sessions in which materials were not ready to share with the group, the presentation timing was off or began late, and topics were often repetitive and non-innovative.

During these disordered sessions, I sat thinking about the numerous things I could have accomplished during this time if I were working in my classroom: grading, lesson plans, creating assessments, collaborating with other teachers on future units, deconstructing standards—list could go on and on. When I think about lost time, that's when I begin to resent professional development.

The term “professional development” can be thought of as both a noun and a verb. As educators we attend professional development (noun), but often we still fail to professionally develop (verb). We deserve better. So, to help improve our PD days, I have provided some tips for how professional development can become more meaningful. 

PD Is Not One-Size-Fits-All
  • Tailor Sessions: Districts can better support teachers in their professional development by tailoring sessions to their teachers. Reviewing professional teacher growth plans and surveying districts can end the cycle of one-size-fits-all professional development.
  • Make Differentiation Key: Often differentiation is used when referring to student instruction, but it can (and should be) utilized during professional development sessions. Just like our students, we don’t want to “sit n get” through direct instruction the entire period of time.
  • Collaborate and Network: “The best professional development is next door.” This is something my assistant principal always says. Teachers shouldn’t be afraid to open their doors to colleagues. We all have something to offer one another.
  • Advocate for Your Needs: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Analyzing the areas in which you can grow is part of the ongoing reflection process. Go to your principal, lead teacher, or building coach with the areas you’d like to refine and seek out professional development opportunities (in or out of your district).

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