What We’re Reading: 3 Resources for Maximizing Teacher Professional Development

background image of classroom with text "What We're Reading Part 2 Maximizing Teacher Professional Development"

Teacher professional development is a key component of school improvement, but are your teachers really getting the most from your instructional PD?

Whether you’re a district-wide PD director or a school principal, it’s important to maximize the time teachers spend engaging in their professional learning and growth.

Teachers already have a full plate and should find their professional development experiences valuable and easy to turn into classroom action.

We’ve rounded up three resources for school and PD leaders to make sure teachers are learning effectively.

Check out the highlights of what we’ve been reading, including four important questions to ask teachers and what the research says about effective professional development and teacher retention.

Ask teachers these 4 questions about their professional learning goals

Having quality conversations around professional learning gives you the opportunity to energize teachers — and can also provide critical clues about teacher well-being and retention.

This New Leaders article shares that asking questions during conversations with educators about their professional learning is integral to teachers’ growth.

Asking effective questions about their professional development empowers teachers to be accountable, and often more motivated, about their learning goals.

In addition, questions can help uncover insights into how teachers are feeling, important for those who support them to know.

Here are 4 questions you can ask teachers the next time you check in about their PD:

  1. What have you learned, and how have you implemented those learnings in your classroom?
  2. What is the PD goal you’re going to set for the remainder of the school year, and how can I help you reach that goal?
  3. Independent of professional learning work, how are you doing?
  4. What is your vision for future professional learning?

Asking teachers these types of questions can help leaders gain a better understanding of how teachers are learning and developing over time through their professional development.

Read more about each of these questions to check in on teachers’ growth at New Leaders: 4 Questions to Ask Teachers About Professional Learning Goals

For more on effective questioning techniques, check out our blog post: Jim Knight on How to Ask Questions That Highlight Teacher Brilliance

Teacher professional development doesn’t stop when the session ends

Asking teachers questions about their learning shows how PD doesn’t end just when a session or workshop does.

This Edutopia article highlights the importance of follow-through after professional development, beyond classroom goal-setting.

It’s not enough for teachers to simply try out a new instructional strategy learned in a PD session. Measuring the impact (or lack thereof) on student learning is just as important so educators know if their professional learning is truly resulting in student growth.

School admin supporting teacher professional development can address the need for this follow-through:

“To remedy this situation and close the loop between evidence of student learning and action, we need to consider separating planning meetings from meetings that are focused on converting evidence to action and action to evidence.”

Here is one example of a process to help teachers make the link between their teaching actions and student learning:

Lower the threshold for teachers to begin a new strategy to improve student learning and collect evidence. This starts with linking the new strategy to something a teacher is already doing.

Learn: Given the capacity of our team, what do we need to learn or which capacities do we need to build in order to select, differentiate, and execute strategies that have the greatest potential for impact?

Locate: How can we connect this strategy or improvement effort to upcoming learning standards so that this is not more work but rather the work?

Design and implement: How can we design and implement this strategy in a way that makes it doable for us and rigorous for our students?

Observe and document: How can we observe the impact of this strategy in real time? What are samples of evidence (of student work and our practice) that we can collect over time that are heavy with information but light for the team?

Read two other ways you can maximize teacher professional development by connecting teacher learning to student outcomes at Edutopia: The Importance of Follow-Through After Professional Development

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Effective teacher PD can lead to stronger teacher retention

“When teachers get good quality professional learning they tend to stay. They tend to stay more often than teachers that don’t get that,”

That’s according to Heather Hill, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

This Harvard GSE resource notes a study that shows teachers receiving strong professional development were 10% more likely to stay in their roles.

Here are some of the ways Heather Hill shares for strengthening teacher PD:

  • Emphasize instructional practices over building teachers’ content knowledge.

Hill says that a lot of money in the United States has been poured into building teacher content knowledge in STEM, but there is sometimes a gap between acquiring greater knowledge of a subject and teaching it.

Hill explains, “The content knowledge is not in and of itself sufficient to change what happens in classrooms. Focusing on those instructional practices is going to get you a better bang for the buck.”

  • Offer teachers practice-supportive materials versus general principles.

Giving teachers materials to take back to their classrooms and support their day-to-day instruction is more beneficial than broader principles that leave them with the extra work of having to figure out how to best integrate those new ideas into their existing teaching methods.

“Supportive materials likely also increase uptake of the program and may improve the quality of implementation,” the authors write in their brief.

  • Focus on teacher-student relationships.

Improving teachers’ relationships with their students may be as critical as boosting subject-specific instruction. Programs that seek to help teacher-student relationships and create caring and emotionally supportive classrooms see greater student achievement and reduce racial disparities in discipline.

Read the full article about stronger teacher professional development: Turning Around Teacher Turnover

Want more education research insights from Harvard GSE’s Heather Hill? Check out our blog post: Will Increasing Teacher Content Knowledge Actually Increase Student Achievement


Missed the last edition of What We’re Reading? Find our resources and highlights on addressing teacher burnout.

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