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Why You Need a Professional Development Plan for Teachers

Why You Need a Professional Development Plan for Teachers

September 13, 2022

This summer, my family went on a vacation. It was great to get away after a few years of staying close to home. Planning a vacation takes a lot of time and effort. You have to research various destination options. 


Determine a budget for the trip. Decide where you want to go. Consider your transportation options–do you drive or fly? And of course, create an itinerary for your final destination. Missing a step in the process can result in a less-than-satisfying vacation experience.


Creating a Professional Development Plan for your organization is much the same as planning a trip. You must develop your professional learning goals, determine the route you will take to get there, identify the needed resources, and the expected outcomes. 


For school-based educators, locally facilitated professional learning is the most accessible means to develop the new knowledge, skills, and practices needed to positively impact student learning. A well-developed professional development plan is critical for teacher growth and student outcomes. 


The plan is your roadmap and provides much-needed focus and clarity for professional learning while demonstrating the organization’s commitment to the improvement initiative and building capacity for sustaining the change. 

Identify Professional Learning Goals and Related Strategies

The professional development plan delineates your destination. It is created to support an organization's ongoing efforts for continuous improvement. In education, continuous improvement efforts are designed to support student outcomes. Identifying the professional learning goals associated with the organization’s improvement efforts is vital to achieving the desired results.


Once school improvement goals are established it is necessary to examine the professional learning needed to realize the intended outcomes.


To craft professional learning plan goals, one must first compile and analyze sources of evidence related to the school improvement goal. Multiple measures of data should be reviewed. That data may include evidence such as student performance data, demographic data, aggregated educator observation & evaluation data, school-level data, and staff needs assessment data.


Goals should be broad, based on the desired results, and reasonable to achieve within a specified time with the available resources. Setting goals provides focus, establishes new behaviors, connects staff to the organization’s missions, vision, and values, and helps to sustain the improvement effort.


After identifying the goals, you must determine the strategy to achieve the goal. While the goal is ‘the what’, the strategy is ‘the how’, the course you choose to take to achieve the goal. 


Professional learning goals and strategies must be research-based, deeply related to the established school improvement goals, and informed by standards for professional learning. While many states have their own professional learning standards, Learning Forward, an international organization dedicated to professional learning, has a newly revised set of standards


No matter the source, professional learning standards are created to address adult learning needs, lead to teacher growth, and improve outcomes for students learning.

Determine Professional Learning Experiences to Support Each Goal

After the professional learning goals and strategies have been established, it is time to consider the learning experiences that will bring the goals to life. Do you take the scenic route or the highway? Or do you fly to your destination? Learning experience considerations should include what we know about adult learning. 


Experiences must be relevant and related to an educator’s specific role, grade level, or content area of instruction, and provide a sense of agency or control in their learning experiences.


A great place to begin is to administer and examine the results of a needs assessment or survey. One would be remiss to organize professional learning experiences without taking into consideration the skills and practices teachers already possess. Juxtaposed against the needed skills and practices to achieve the learning goals, the emerging gaps allow you to focus on the learning teachers need to grow their professional practice.


It is also important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Not every teacher needs the same learning experience. Consider the audience related to the goals. Yes, some goals may require new learning for everyone, while other goals may be unique to a specific subgroup, content area, or grade level. 


Remember to integrate ways for teachers to express voice and choice in their learning experiences. As author Allie Rodman states, “Effective professional learning must be focused, sustained, job-embedded, and personalized.” 

Determine Essential Resources

Time is the fuel needed for your professional learning journey. In this case, think outside the box. Professional learning can happen in various formats and times. While teacher in-service days are notorious for professional learning, consider how professional learning experiences can be ongoing and job-embedded. 


Some of the greatest learning will happen when teachers are provided the opportunity to collaborate and share. Creating time and space for teachers to practice and reflect upon their new learning will allow for deeper integration into teacher professional practice. 


Personnel is another precious resource. Much like a plane needs a skilled air-traffic controller to land successfully, consider utilizing a coach to extend teacher learning. Participating in a coaching cycle allows teachers to be supported as they try new strategies. It is also a way to provide personalized support to teachers, targeting a specific skill or strategy for teacher growth. Coaching is a great way to foster collaboration and to provide an outside perspective that is non-evaluative. There are many different coaching models. Choose one that works best in your context. 


And finally, when planning professional learning experiences, don’t always think an outside presenter is best! Look inward at the teachers who are doing remarkable things and invite them to share their practice with colleagues.

Evidence of Learning

When planning a trip, you envision the experiences you will have and the satisfaction that will result. When planning your professional development plan, envision your destination. Ask yourself how will you know if your professional development plan is working. Have a conversation with your team about ‘what would success look like.’ Knowing the target and expected outcomes will help people be more motivated to achieve the goal.


Create a feedback loop. Provide opportunities for people to provide insights along the way. Create a common language around the professional learning goals and initiatives occurring during the school year. Use that language consistently when interacting with staff. 


Provide feedback to staff both individually and the whole group. What are you noticing related to teacher growth and student learning? Recognize the strengths and provide the next steps needed for continued growth.


Monitor multiple measures of data. Define the checkpoints to achieve the goal. Be reflective: What improvement in student performance can be realistically expected in the first year? the second year? What about attendance data? Discipline data? 


And not all data measures have to be quantitative! Garnering people’s perceptions about their learning and its impact is also important. Consider the evidence of teacher growth that may be observed during classroom visits. Give credence to qualitative data such as survey data and teacher reflections. 


A high-quality professional development plan is a roadmap to teacher growth; it is instrumental in achieving the continuous improvement goals of a school or district. Documenting and implementing the professional learning experience needed to support the goal demonstrates the organization's commitment to continuous improvement and builds capacity for sustaining the improvement effort. 


Most importantly, an exceptional professional development plan that considers the adult learner leads to high job satisfaction, teacher retention, and collective efficacy. Where will your next professional development plan take you?

Professional Learning & Eduplanet21

With the Eduplanet21 platform, you can provide both voice and choice for your educators and access professional learning from some of the best names in education. From learning about Differentiation with Carol Ann Tomlinson, to understanding the Habits of Mind with Bena Kallick and Art Costa, to designing Curriculum with co-author of Understanding by DesignⓇ with Jay McTighe - Eduplanet21 has a wealth of expertise and content to help fuel your professional learning experiences. Learn what Eduplanet21 has to offer.

REQUEST A DEMOAbout the Author

Dr. Lori Stollar has served as a Director of Curriculum & Technology, a Professional Development Specialist, adjunct professor, and high school social studies teacher. She recently retired after having served 35 years in public education.   


Lori is passionate about helping teachers and school leaders positively impact student learning. Her research interests are in professional learning communities, collective teacher efficacy, and classroom instruction.

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