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What Makes Great Professional Development?

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Good professional development doesn't come in a single kind of package. It kills me when I hear people say things like, “Everyone knows that one-and-done PD doesn't work.” Find a dozen master teachers and ask them to list the five best professional development experiences they've ever had, and you'll find that they's list every kind of PD that's ever existed:

  • all-day workshops,
  • keynotes,
  • in-person conferences,
  • master's degree programs,
  • PLC or department meetings,
  • online courses (e.g., the Student Motivation Course),
  • observing other teachers,
  • book studies,
  • talking through a problem with a close teacher friend, and
  • reading blogs by fellow teachers who think their opinions on PD matter.

So does this mean our approach to professional development ought to follow the ol' throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks? Not at all. My point is that the form isn't the point — it's the substance. Great PD varies in form but tends to have these things in common:

  • It's clear. All the words, stories, and studies serve the message. After good PD, you see better.
  • It's efficient. There's no stalling, no time-wasting, no fluff.
  • It's doable. It doesn't come in and blow everything up. It doesn't give you 1,000 new things to do. It asks you to get 1-15% better at your work this year — that's it.
  • It's memorable. The ideas in good PD need not be over-simplified, but there's typically a simple way to carry the ideas around — a sensible structure, a short list, something in which our brains can hold what we're learning. (E.g., here's an example of a diagram I used for years, to good effect.)
  • It's realistically idealistic. Our eyes are set on Everest even as we engage in the gritty, grueling work of getting there.
  • It encourages us to think. Trainings for technicians don't need too much space for thinking — and sometimes, when we're being taught to work the new grading software or use the new fifty-seven-point teacher eval rubric's online system, it's technician's work. It just needs to get it done and satisficed. But professional development isn't the same thing as technical training. PD encourages us to process and wrestle and reflect; during it, we need time to write or discuss or plan.

One more thing: do not use that list as a beating stick — for yourself, if you're a PD provider, or for the person standing in front of you at your next PD experience. We all need to get better at PD.

Note from Dave: The Student Motivation Course has been a smashing success. Half a thousand educators from around the world have seen their practice deepened, enlivened, and enriched. The course is cool. Check it out

One Response to What Makes Great Professional Development?

  1. Mari Bradley March 3, 2018 at 11:13 pm #

    Our district is finally getting PD right, hitting on all of the points you mention. Attended one recently on sketchnoting. The PD was an hour long. My students are thriving in the classroom from that one hour.

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