You can pretty easily tell when a professional development session went well. There’s something different about the way your teachers talk about it. They’re more energized, motivated, and ready to improve. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Too often, professional development is a chore. Just another activity on an already full school calendar.

Done right, professional development can significantly improve classroom experiences. What does it mean to do it right? In this article, I’ll outline a few steps your school can take to make sure PD programs are meaningful, and speak to the heart of what teachers (and ultimately students) need. Toward the end, I’ve also included a template you can use to plan your PD approach.

First, decide where your school is headed.

Before you plan out your professional development plan, take a step back, close your eyes, and envision your school: the students – are they engaged, joyful, leaning in to learning; the teachers – are they engaging, attentive to the diverse needs of learners, raising the rigor and closing gaps for every student; the programs – is curriculum aligned to what your data is telling you, are parents happy, are graduates going on to schools, colleges, careers that your school has prepared them for? What kind of school have you been in the past? What kind of school are you today? Perhaps most importantly, what kind of school do you want to be in the future?

During this step, I encourage you to define a vision for excellence. This statement should define what you, and your staff, believe an excellent classroom experience should look, sound, and feel like and, ultimately what all of your graduates will know and be able to do when they leave your school.

Next, plan with your teachers.

Your teachers are on the front lines of daily teaching and learning. Yes, a 2009 report from the National Staff Development Council said that while 90% of teachers participated in professional development, most of them found the trainings had little impact in the classroom. The big takeaway here is the importance of keeping teachers involved in the PD planning process. Look at your school’s data and talk to your teachers. Together, determine where there are strengths to build upon and gaps to fill.

Think about which areas your school – and teachers – need to improve on. Are the lessons taught in classrooms aligned to standards? Are teachers implementing PD from past programs? If not, why? Take steps to objectively answer those questions, using data from things like surveys and in-classroom assessments.

And, ensure your novice teachers – those in their first year through third year of teaching – have the most support to launch their career in education. Invest in them to ensure they have the fundamental skills to be highly effective: lesson design, classroom management, formative assessments, and best-practice instructional strategies. With these fundamentals mastered, they’ll have the solid foundation to build upon and hone skills over time.

Bottom line: Make sure your professional development plan has these seven features.

  1. Focused Content. Combine the feedback you’ve gotten from teachers, PD best practices, and any additional research you’ve done.
  2. Active Learning. Content is retained when lessons are more engaging and interactive. Make sure your PD efforts are presented in memorable ways.
  3. Collaboration. Include things like peer reviews and PLC to give teachers an opportunity to connect with each other while they’re learning.
  4. Models of Effective Practice. We’re learning new methods of education every year – make sure your teachers are updated on any relevant innovations.
  5. Coaching and Expert Support. Make sure someone (or a group of people) are held responsible for mentoring – if you’re a school leader, it could even be you!
  6. Feedback and Reflection. Once teachers have gotten support from coaches or experts, give them the opportunity to revisit and reflect on how well the newly-learned strategies have worked.
  7. Enough Time to Digest Lessons. More often than not, a single webinar (or even a group of webinars) isn’t going to change your classrooms overnight. Plan to give teachers plenty of time to spend reading, collaborating, and implementing the lessons they’ve learned.

Finally, put it all together.

After you’ve done your research, it’s time to put together the plan itself. To start, I always like to make sure I’ve answered these questions. From there, I’m able to add specific deadlines, information, and people/partners we’ll need to work with. But first, it’s important to set the groundwork.

  • What’s your vision for excellence?
    • Define your vision in 3-5 bullets. It should be clear, straightforward, and jargon-free.
  • What’s your data?
    • Name the core data sets you’ll use to track progress toward that vision. (Surveys, MAP results, workshop reviews, etc.)
  • Where are the gaps in curriculum?
    • Do teachers need a refresher in a particular area?
  • Is PLC PD the right PD?
    • Are you running faculty meetings, or is there a professional learning community in place? If so, how are they involved in PD efforts?
  • What do your teachers need?
    • List any first, second, or third year teachers (or those who require additional growth).
  • What PD do teachers need to get smarter?
    • Connect the dots between learning and teaching – if teachers get PD in X, how do students benefit?
  • How will coaching fit into this PD plan?
    • Who will coach my teachers? What form will that take? (Virtual? Hybrid? In person?) How often? How will you know if coaching mattered?
  • How will you support teachers?
    • What’s your plan to ensure PD lessons actually stick?

We’ve included all eight of these questions in a template you can use to organize your PD plan. Download your copy here.