Making PD Effective: Move it into the Classroom

Few would be able to argue that teacher learning is the key to any educational improvement effort. When new curriculum or technology are introduced, literacy strategies and math manipulatives are adopted, or new programs are presented, teachers need to make the changes in their classrooms. Only then will student learning outcomes be affected.

There are a number of valid reasons why teachers do not change with the demands of reforms. Although some of these reasons may be understandable, they can also serve as excuses to continue safeguarding traditional approaches that are less effective for today’s 21c students.  Changes need to happen in all classrooms for a school to have a impact on student achievement.

If we want things to change, then that means we need to move professional learning where it actually counts for teachers: in their classrooms!

I have heard time and time again from teachers “We do our PD hours because we need to just get our license. So we sit in the PD workshops, do our time, and get our paper so that we can get on with our work!”

Traditional PD activities for teachers are not effective because they don’t target teachers’ practices and beliefs in their working environment. Even when the PD idea/content is good, the delivery mode is critical if we want real change in the classroom. Research has shown time and time again that teachers will not make the effort to change their practices if they do not believe that the changes will be useful. But they will not see an impact on student outcomes that will change their beliefs unless they make a change in their practice.

Sounds like a Catch 22? Well – it is!

Solution: Change the PD model to help our teachers make the most of the professional development content out there. Workplace learning rejects the tradtional one-stop workshop where knowledge is in content compartments. In workplace learning models, the content of the PD is tied directly to classroom application and teacher knowledge sharing while they are trying out the new ideas in their classroom. Workplace learning recognizes that teachers need to see the application of their new skills and see the results in terms of improved student outcomes – in real time – if they are to invest the hard work it takes to change.

When the PD model is a workplace learning model, the teachers can own the new knowledge and skills creating the opportunity for sustainable change.

So why is this not common?

The logistics of workplace learning PD requires more time and thinking from the district and school leadership. As a leader, you need to be more innovative than simply brining in an external “expert” in phonetics for a 1/2 day for your school and check off your PD box. But there are hundreds of school and district leaders who are alredy redefining PD in their schools and reaping the benefits of happier teachers, better student learning, and improved school culture.

Be an innovator, step out of the traditional PD box and make the move to supporting sustainable professional learning. 🙂


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