5 Professional Development Characteristics that Will Get a Bang for the Buck

The state of California is going to be spending $500 million to improve educator effectiveness. That’s right, half a billion dollars, or 50x the amount that Governor Jerry Brown initially proposed in his budget in January.

As the new standards require “monumental shifts in classroom instruction”, it is critical that professional development (PD) adequately supports teachers in effectively implementing these changes. A 2014 Gates Foundation Study found that less than a third of teachers are highly satisfied with current PD opportunities. So how can we leverage this incredible investment and make sure that teachers are getting the support they want and need?

Here are 5 key characteristics to look for in this “upgraded” PD for integrating new technology in the classroom:
  1. Aligned to the Principles of Adult LearningFor maximum impact, PD sessions should help educators understand the value of the technology so that they are motivated to learn. The trainer should leverage the knowledge and experience of the participants in a realistic, hands-on, and actionable session. Educators should leave the session with clear goals and next steps, as well as a plan and resources for troubleshooting.
  2. “Job-embedded”: The learning should go beyond how to use the technology itself, and focus on strategies for integrating it to enhance existing routines. Sessions should empower teachers to strategize how to best leverage the technology and incorporate it into other goals and objectives they already have. This way, the tool becomes part of instruction, and not in addition to instruction.
  3. Ongoing: Although workshop-based professional development has not been shown to be impactful for teachers or students, it is still the most common form of PD. More effective PD is focused on implementation of a new tool and is ongoing throughout the year. It may include coaching, modeling, informal discussions, and peer observation.
  4. Collaborative:  Creating a space for educators to collaborate with colleagues at their site or other schools who they don’t typically work with fosters innovation when implementing new tools. They can brainstorm solutions together and hold each other accountable for implementation.
  5. Competency-Based: PD should empower teachers to take control of their own learning, collaborate on goal-setting, and move at their own pace.

As all learners are unique, there is no recipe for the “perfect PD”. However, seeking out professional learning opportunities that meet one or more of these characteristics will be more effective for teachers, and thus a better bang for the buck.