4 Steps To Highly Effective Professional Development

“.  . . Several studies over the past few years have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers.”  Hechingereport.  Just think of all the time and money consumed by PD activities each year with such disappointing results.  This is tragic, especially because we have the knowledge to significantly improve teacher training.  But this knowledge is rarely used.  This post applies this knowledge in mapping out 4 steps that will lead to an effective professional development program for your school.


This step is often overlooked.  Someone comes up with a idea for PD and a decision is made to focus on that topic for the year.  A top down approach to teacher training rarely works.  If you want teachers’ commitment then they need to be included at the beginning of the project.  To obtain teacher support for the PD program they must believe that it is relevant to their teaching and will benefit their students.  This may take time to accomplish, but it pays off in the end.   It’s important to take the time to get staff buy-in to whatever teacher training is being proposed.  Working with your leadership team, you might review formal and informal assessment data that will give rise to a consensus as to the school’s priority for the next school year(s).


Here are questions that provide focus to create an effective plan:

*  What is the length of time it will take to fully implement this plan?

*   What is the schedule of activities needed for effective implementation?

*  Who will do the training? Inside or outside presenters?

* What support will be provided to staff during the implementation phase?

* What materials and monies are needed?

*  How will the project be evaluated?


The training begins and at some point the staff is expected to implement new skills and knowledge into their classroom lessons.  Some teachers will take to the new program like fish to water.  Others will have more problems translating strategies discussed in the workshop to the classroom.  At this initial stage of implementation, it is vital to reduce teacher fears of inadequacy and being judged by their peers or the school administration. Coaching and peer support become essential to the success of adoption by all teachers involved in this PD.  One option is to establish a visitation schedule where teachers observe their colleagues who are successfully implementing the new approach to teaching.

Other ways of follow-up to the initial training can take the form of: additional workshops; discussions at faculty and other meetings; and informal chats with the principal.  Quick anonymous surveys eliciting  feedback and suggestions from teachers with appropriate responses from the leadership team can help lead to needed mid-course corrections.  At some point in this stage, a written school-wide agreement as to what the new program will look like in every classroom should be drafted.  This agreement is negotiable, but the essence of the new program must be retained in the agreement.  It commits every staff member to follow the new guidelines.

Finally, congratulate the staff for their hard work and the success they have had in implementing the PD program.


One of the most difficult questions facing school principals is how to maintain effective programs over time.  Say that you’ve done Steps 1, 2 and 3 to a tee; what will this program look like in 5 years? Will it have been watered down? or become non-existent.  Here are some ways to sustain the program that you and your staff worked so hard to implement:

  •  Booster Shots– in the years following  implementation, provide a couple of mini-workshops on the topic
  • Review the written agreement early in the school year with all staff and  at new staff at orientation sessions
  • Periodically email readings to staff about the topic
  • Provide coaching for new staff as they implement the program
  • Include it as part of the teacher evaluation process.

The above is not theoretical.  It is based upon real-life experiences that made my staff and me proud of ourselves and our school.

Add your insights into the topic of effective staff development in the Comment section.  Let’s start a true community of learners on issues related to school  improvement.

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Thanks always.

Further Reading:









3 Crucial Ways to Launch the New School Year

Steve Smaller (1 of 1)1. The Value of Values

 Roy Disney said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”  This quote has special relevance for school administrators who make hundreds of decisions during the school year; many of them significant to the lives of those they supervise.  But aside from decision making, values, if shared throughout the school and community serve to give people the sense that they are part of something special.  So, the start of a new  school year is a great time to remind your staff of your school’s core values and how each day it is imperative to live these values; in their interactions with students, each other and parents.

2. Respect is the Glue . . .

that holds it all together.  The trick is act as the “boss” while also honoring the humanity of your staff.  We all need to feel a sense of control over our lives.  This feeling does not stop at the school’s door step.  Staff members should at the very least be consulted, if a decision has an impact upon them.  They may not agree with your decision, but at least they’ll feel valued and more likely to accept it.

The start of the new year is also a good time to visit with teachers individually while they are planning their first few lesson plans. All relationships need frequent attention and showing personal interest in your staff is a great way to demonstrate that you care about them as people.

3.  Going Where?

*  So what are your key goals for the coming year?
*  Do you have specific plans for achieving these goals?
*  Who will be involved in this planning and are the roles defined?
*  How will you know if you have met your goals?
*  Will you know why you did, or did not meet the goals?