Sunday, April 24, 2016

Waving Goodbye to Drive-By PD

There has been a great deal of knocks on professional development as of late and rightfully so. More often than not, professional development is something that is done to educators as opposed to an experience that they truly value for growth.  For many, district professional development is a one-size-fits-all isolated event with no follow-up or support.  If impact, changes to practice, and sustainability are the ultimate goals then efforts must be made to better support teachers and administrators. It’s time to move past the practice of “drive-by” PD that has very little, if any, impact on professional practice. 

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Let’s first tackle the stigma that comes with professional development. Learning is the ultimate goal for our students, not development. As such, districts need to invest in professional learning opportunities that will result in fundamental changes to teaching, learning, and leadership.  

Learning Forward describes what effective professional development looks like:
“Effective professional development enables educators to develop the knowledge and skills they need to address students’ learning challenges. To be effective, professional development requires thoughtful planning followed by careful implementation with feedback to ensure it responds to educators’ learning needs. Educators who participate in professional development then must put their new knowledge and skills to work. Professional development is not effective unless it causes teachers to improve their instruction or causes administrators to become better school leaders.”
Professional learning definitely matters and effective planning and implementation is key.  A research review by the Wallace Foundation found that effective districts invest in the learning not only of students, but also of teachers, principals, district staff, superintendents and school board members. A motivational keynote that provides practical, proven strategies for improvement is a good start to set the table, but what happens after this is what really matters. In order to ensure a wise investment of time and resources that will result in sustainable changes, it is important that professional learning be:
  • On-going
  • Job-embedded
  • Supported with coaching (face-to-face or virtual)
  • Personalized and differentiated (i.e. micro-credentials)
  • Facilitated by people who have done the work and implemented successful change that resulted in improved student learning outcomes and achievement
  • Directly correlated to professional practice
  • Aligned to research and cases studies
  • Addresses real challenges educators face
  • Sustainable over time
So what does this actually look like? Our work at the International Center for Leadership in Education has been focused on these elements above for many years.  This is something I take great pride in. Since coming to ICLE we have integrated these principles into our Digital Leadership and Learning services as outlined HERE. Using the Digital Practice Assessment (DPA) process, we have helped districts and schools embrace meaningful change leading to digital transformation.  

Change takes time. Districts need to take this into consideration when investing in and implementing professional learning if the goal is meaningful change to improve student learning and professional practice.  This cannot be accomplished with drive-by PD. 


  1. Eric - this is a timely article. I know as an educator I actually look forward to PD opportunities since my eyes they are learning opportunities, or at lease that is what I used to think. PD has become more of a top down initiative that relates to what the administration thinks is timely, but usually lacks input from their staff as to what is needed versus what is forced on us. Add in the fact that there is little to no follow through I can see how a staff gets weary of PD and just looks at it as a day of making money (our district pays for two PD days per school year) and the substance to the PD may or may not stick.

    How would you suggest PD change when there is a top down direction of PD?

    1. I have two suggestions. The first being one that you alluded too - giving staff more input into what the needs really are. The second, after consensus is reached, is a long-term plan that will actually lead to sustainable changes in professional practice that improve student learning outcomes. Take digital transformation for example. Most, if any, PD comes after the tech has been bought. There is also rarely any long term support or feedback. This is why ICLE and I have been working for years to develop the type of professional learning educators want, but is also rooted in long-term support.

  2. Your remarks regarding PD hit the nail on the head. In my consulting role as a Technology Integration Specialist, I visit many schools weekly, and teachers echo the same frustrations as above. That is why I helped one school develop a form of Personalized PD that intrinsically motivates teachers to become professionally driven. Though the focus initially was on integrating technology effectively, it has morphed into a direct focus on the learning process. I now have several schools in my area implementing it (as well as others outside my area), and teachers are loving it (and I have data to prove it). No gamifying, no gimmicks, just empowering teachers to lead their own learning with a specific focus. Best part, the instructional coaches in these districts also feel empowered and welcomed in classrooms as support for teachers. If you're interested in taking a look, I would welcome any feedback or criticism:,,

    1. Just looked this over Jason ( My first question is what does the accountability aspect look like? How does administration ensure improvement and success aligned to student outcomes?

    2. Great question, and I'm glad you asked. You'll notice on each page of each phase there is a Google Doc (not available to outsiders) called Coaching Guide. When a teachers feels they are ready to move on the next phase, they send an email to the instructional coach, and meet to discuss the 15 or so questions that are on that guide. The questions are derived from different coaching models and tailored for this model of PD. Once the conversation has been had, the teacher feels confident to move on to the next phase. As far as admins, they are in the same position as teachers where they can set forth on their own Personalized PD journey and go through the same process. I try to encourage admins not to tie the Personalized PD process to an evaluation process, that way intrinsic motivation can thrive (vs. feeling like the "have to" do it). The teachers are encouraged and supported throughout the journey in various ways. I don't like to use the word accountability, because, there are far too many negative connotations attached to the term. And my philosophy is, if you have a staff of teachers involved in a PD that is built on intrinsic motivation, there's no need for accountability. Some may argue otherwise, but I'm seeing this right now with more than one school district.
      There are other aspects to the model that is probably not clear on the websites and too lengthy to include in a blog comment, but I'm willing chat further if you wish. DM me on Twitter at @jbormann3.

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  4. Eric, You make some very strong points in this post. As we continuous make incremental improvements to professional learning, I believe the element we overlook is the participant engaging in the experience. Often the context of the professional learning and the need to engage is determined by someone other than the individual participating. You make great points aligned to this above, but we have to continuously ask ourselves, how we allowing this experience to be personalized and contextualized for each participant? How is the learning path adapting to the changing needs and interests of the participant? How are we motivating and inspiring them to seek out more on their own and share it with others? By answering these questions intentionally, we will get to something far more disruptive than anything we have seen to date. Thanks for the post.

    1. BHartsell, those are great questions, and very important ones. I was lucky enough to tackle some of those as I work with school districts. Take a look at the PD model that I mentioned in my previous comment on this post, and let me know if you think those questions are answered. I would like to think so, but would love your thoughts.

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