Does Professional Development Work?

By Ruth Manna on March 23, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

This year for the first time I’ve been on the planning side of professional development (PD) events. As I plan and attend events, I see PD with new eyes.

This year for the first time I’ve been on the planning side of professional development (PD) events. As I plan and attend events, I see PD with new eyes. I wonder to what extent professional development is effective, and what types of PD work best. We all accept that a knowing-doing gap exists between what we learn is the best practice and what we are able to implement, but how much PD is useful? I’m interested in what you think. What works for you? What's effective? Is it easy to put in-service training into action? Keep reading and voice your opinions.



5star Depending on how long you've taught, you may have attended anywhere from two to a hundred professional development events. Yet according to Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, in-service training is the least effective of all forms of teacher preparation.

Below are six formats for professional development. Tell me what you think about the value of these PD formats and rate them from one to five stars, based on their knowing-doing gaps.

One star = I didn’t learn anything I can put into practice.
Five stars = There was a lot I'll implement and apply to my practice.

Canada 1. Big Conference — A big conference may be a statewide technology conference or a regional International Reading Association conference. At a one-day conference, there are typically one or two inspirational keynote speakers and two to four short workshops. Teachers are nourished and inspired by the ideas at big conferences. How do big conferences add to your knowledge? How do you implement what you learn at a big conference?


Geoffrey Canada at last year's ASCD conference.

Books 2. Book Study Group — The leader of a book group may be a building administrator, teacher leader, or independent consultant. A book group leader is likely an engaging instructor who has a loyal following and a positive way with teachers. A series of meetings may occur before, during, or after school. Do you connect what you read and discuss to your teaching practice? Is there follow-through? Who holds teachers accountable? What about teachers who don’t attend regularly? 



ImagesCA5TKQST 3. Webinar — Recently we had two after-school Webinars for teachers. I was surprised by the negative feedback. I thought teachers would understand the limitations of this medium and take that into account when considering a Webinar’s degree of engagement and involvement. The pacing of one of the Webinars was slow and transitions were ragged, but the content was solid.

How do Webinars and online learning work for you?


ImagesCAFK5ANQ 4. Grade Level Meeting — Our school district covers 250 square miles of woods and fields. Schools are very small (with fewer than 100 students), and teachers don’t have grade level colleagues. So twice a year, in fall and spring, we come together for day-long grade level meetings. Because meetings are infrequent, I wonder how they work for teachers as professional development. While teachers talk specifics, what are the outcomes when they return to their small, rural schools? How would this work for you?


ImagesCAWVQ3KC 5. Mini-Conference/Workshop — An after-school, one-hour workshop on a specific topic like teaching writing or social skills is a common PD format. These are usually single events. Are they helpful? Do you learn practical things you can implement immediately? Are school-based workshops more effective than district-based ones?



02coaches1 6. Colleague Classroom Observation — I hope I saved one of the best professional development formats for last. Observing colleagues’ classes may have lasting effects on our day-to-day practice. There’s something about watching live teaching that prompts us to think and make connections to our own work. What do you think about the value of classroom observations? What makes observations meaningful?

There are other PD formats I haven’t covered this week, like graduate level courses, coaching sessions, weekly team meetings, and teacher evaluations. I’m interested to hear from you. Please post your thoughts. Let’s discuss the kinds of professional development that work for you!


I find our school's weekly "appy hour" sessions to be the best pd ever. It's a small group of us (that has become a community) working together every Tuesday after school to discuss and share apps and other resources that we can use in our classroom. It has spurred me on to be a better teacher in pedagogy and practical application.

I really enjoyed reading this article on walk-throughs. I try to do at least several walk-throughs each week, and I have observed interaction here at our school with teachers and students using technology--especially with our E-Beams. The article did provide some ideas of things that I should look for that I have not thought of in the past. I plan to use some of Manna's ideas in future walk throughs.

Megan, Thanks for your great ideas about what would make PD more relevant and useful. I can see that a more specific, concrete approach, where teachers are walked through what they're expected to do day-to-day, for example a Reader's Workshop, would be effective. Some PD seems too far removed from teaching. I like your ideas about working with standards and making long-term plans too. You should bring your ideas to an administrator in your building.

I think colleague observations are the best. When you can see it applied, see the transitions, the way the teacher talks about it, etc, it's really helpful. What I would like is to attend classes where the teacher takes us through lessons by teaching the lessons to us in the same manner she would teach the kids. So, if we were learning how to use reader's workshop, we might have a series of lessons that take us from how she gathers us to the carpet (or wherever) right through meeting back at the carpet afterwards for closure. During the time that we might be doing independent reading, it can be assigned reading from the text she wants us to understand and we can do reading response-type activities about the text we are studying. Also, I would want to bring my standards (well, I guess now it'd just be the common core standards?) and we complete a long-range plan during the workshop, with someone who really understands it guiding us through what we need to consider and such. After getting the long-range plan, then getting more in-depth--how to start the workshop (again, with lessons throughout the day in which the teacher actually DOES it for us so we can see how it should work), when to introduce strategies, what books would work with them (and we can have our list of books from our classrooms to input here). Do you see what I mean? That would be the most meaningful and helpful workshop ever!

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