Rethinking Professional Development

Rethinking Professional Development

Focus, I tell myself. You will need this information later when 20 students are eagerly looking at you, waiting to begin the next leg of their learning journey. Yet, despite trying my best, my mind wanders back to the classroom. How can I better help Anuhea with her number sense? What can I do to help Denny identify main idea and supporting details? What time is our next PLC?

Does this sound familiar to you? Can you guess where I am? Yep, that’s right … I’m in a professional development session for teachers.

As a teacher, most of my professional development has consisted of one, two, or three-day workshops with little to no follow-up. I’ve implemented some of the strategies or ideas learned, but not all. And, when implementing something new, I haven’t ever been sure if I was doing it effectively. There isn’t typically a person to go to to ask questions or to provide feedback, and it is easy to feel lost.

For me, professional development has become a lot of trial and error, reflection and discussion with fellow educators. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, as many a useful strategy has come about through trial and error. However, this process takes time and patience, and can be stressful for teachers and students. With teachers’ plates already overflowing, how can we make professional development more powerful and efficient?

I’ve had the good fortune to be on both sides of the professional development fence as a participant and professional developer/facilitator/coach. My time as a professional developer changed my ideas about professional development because I saw how it could be effective. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, though. The teachers that I worked with didn’t exactly like me ALL of the time and the professional development took quite a bit of time and work. The process of changing the teacher professional development experience was uncomfortable for participants. Additionally, I had to change my idea of professional development. Yet, I still have teachers tell me that the professional development we did together has been the best such experience of their career.

So, why was this professional development so powerful? It used an effective teaching strategy or direct teaching and the “I do, we do, you do” model. In the classroom, the teacher directly teaches a concept and then models it. This is followed by teacher and students working on the concept collaboratively. Students practice the concept independently (i.e. without the teacher) after demonstrating their competency with the concept.

This professional development consisted of direct teaching, modeling of the skill within a teacher’s own context, teacher observations with targeted feedback and coaching, and professional learning community meetings where teachers collaborated and reflected on their learning. Let me be very clear upfront that the professional development I implemented was structured by others and not me. I was merely one of the people that implemented it.

Hands down, teachers were most positively affected by lesson demonstrations and observations. The lesson demonstrations showed teachers how to implement certain strategies. This is the “I do” part of the “I do, we do, you do” model. Most importantly, they took place in teachers’ classrooms with their own students. The strategy was demonstrated within the teachers’ own context, not with the “perfect” class. Teachers were able to see how their students worked with certain strategies and could predict student misconceptions.

Each demonstration was followed by a lesson debrief where I answered teacher questions and teachers provided me with feedback. And, let me be the first to say, not every lesson was a success. However, through this dialogue, the teachers and I were able to brainstorm ways to refine these lessons to make them more efficient. This created a collaborative professional development environment where we all were learners, rather than the traditional expert and learner experience.

My view of professional development changed because of this experience. I see it now as a two-way street where all participants are learning together. While one participant may have more knowledge in a given area, collaborating provides opportunities for all participants to grow, learn, and share their expertise.

Teachers indicated the model lessons provided a structure for them to follow. It gave them a low-risk entry point to try a new strategy. In the “I do, we do, you do” model, this would be the “we do” or “you do, I help” portion. Afterwards, teachers then created their own lessons with the strategy. This would be the “you do” portion of a lesson.

Lesson observations were another powerful component. Some teachers were initially uncomfortable with being observed because it isn’t a standard practice in professional development. They connected observations with evaluations, rather than seeing them as a learning tool. Over time, teachers came to see these as an opportunity to get targeted feedback about their practice.

The observations also included a pre-conference, where we discussed the lesson plan. The pre-conference provided teachers time to talk through their lesson and identify potential areas needing more or less detail. At times, the pre-conference consisted of co-planning lessons for those that needed extra support.

Effective educators give their students feedback about their work and a post-conference meeting gives the coach a chance to give teachers feedback. Targeted questions were used as a framework for the post-conference. This eliminated the evaluative nature of the observation. These questions helped to identify the lesson’s successes, challenges, and possible areas of refinement. Over time, the question framework fell away and the post-conference became more of a reflective conversation between two educators.

Again, throughout the lesson observation process, I found myself learning right along with the teachers. I learned new ways of engaging or managing students, as well as different styles of teaching.

This type of professional development was best summed up by a teacher who commented that her experience was coaching in its truest sense. It provided information, a model, practice, and feedback.

My hope is that we can continue to have conversations around effective professional development. This is just one model that was positively received by teachers; a learning opportunity for all participants, including the coaches, it was students who ultimately benefitted from the refined instruction. This was a win-win situation for all involved. So let’s use our knowledge of effective teaching to teach educators and together we can create professional development that will benefit everyone.

For more information about this professional development and the results, please visit and/or

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