What makes for high quality teacher learning?

Professional development?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about teacher learning (aka professional development).


A few reasons:

  • I’m taking a class at UW Oshkosh this summer about professional development and doing research for this class
  • I was selected as one of ten Success at the Core Fellows and this organization is all about professional development (for teachers, teacher leaders, coaches, administrators, etc.)
  • I’ve experienced some good PD in my career and a lot of bad PD

So, the real question I’m wresting with right now is “what makes for high quality teacher learning?”

This question really has two  parts: what IS high quality teacher learning (what does it look, sound, feel like, etc.) and how can schools facilitate effective learning for teachers (what are the criteria, key aspects, logistics, etc.)?

A few core ideas that I keep circling back to about effective teacher learning are that it must be inquiry-based, differentiated, ongoing, supported, and job-embedded.

So, readers – if there are any of you left – what makes for high quality teacher learning?

Image used under CC license from http://cynicsgirl.blogspot.com

12 thoughts on “What makes for high quality teacher learning?

  1. I like your list and have recently been intrigued by the flipping the PD or faculty meeting idea. I know there will be teachers who will show up unprepared but for those who are prepared the discussions might be more invigorating. I don’t know. I do get a lot from my time spent with peers learning so even if the PD is bad, I can still get something positive as long as we get time to work together. So there’s one, time to work and talk with other teachers. Connecting, whether face-to-face or online, is important to me.

  2. When I truly engage in professional developme, it’s because I can relate the PD to my teaching context. I also need to go with a need in mind. Who is the student who can benefit from what I am learning?

  3. Al,

    I’m intrigued by the “flipped PD” idea too! Something to look into further…

    I agree that connection – more importantly, collaboration – is critical for effective teacher learning. Working together on a common goal makes us all smarter!

  4. Heather,

    Yes! There has to be relevance to your teaching context. Much like students need “real-world” connections, so do adult learners. I’ve always been frustrated with PD that was too vague, hypothetical or theoretical. Conversely, I felt I learned the most when I was working to apply a new concept directly to my classroom.

  5. Hi Tyler

    The most effective professional learning in my school has been through voluntary focus groups, run by passionate people within the school. Often small groups have grown into bigger groups because people don’t want to be left out once it’s not compulsory! I’m not entirely sure why this works!!

    We have also had success since changing the grade level coordinator’s role from an administrative one to a learning one. They are now called curriculum team leaders and meet once a week for sessions related to teaching and learning… they take the learning back to their teams too. We have a flexible PD schedule where these team leaders add their own ideas for after school meetings, as per the needs of their teams.

    There is no doubt that the least productive PD, is the kind where the whole staff sits through a compulsory session, often with no follow up!

  6. Ed,

    What a great model for PD!

    The key aspects I see integrated here are choice, time, support, and collaboration. Sounds like a recipe for strong teacher learning!

  7. Interesting how the core ideas you mention at the end of your post are really very similar to the core ideas we have about how our students learn!
    Edna, your school really does seem to have a great big picture way of thinking and is obviously managing to steer away from the administration and bureaucracy which, whilst it has to be dealt with, can sometimes take over from our core business – the learning!

  8. The only thing I would suggest adding to your list would be “reflective”. Sometimes you need to take a stop and look at how things are currently going before you can inquiry about changes. We often miss stuff that becomes routine and we don’t think if it is really working.

  9. Dale,

    I agree 100%. I have always felt that reflection is the most underrated aspect of the learning process – for all learners.

  10. Pam,

    I think there is much less difference between adult learners and students than we would like to believe. I’ve seen many of the same disengagement behaviors from teachers in PD that we see from students during a boring lesson – texting, taking long restroom breaks, doing other work, doodling, surfing the web, having side conversations, passing notes, skipping, etc.

    The thing is – if we want teachers to change how they teach kids, the learning of teachers must be respected as well!

  11. I have never been a journal person, though I can see the merit. I am personally challenging myself to do one reflective exercise each day. So far not too bad.


    I have to agree with Mr. Rice, as a university student almost pushing 30 I see all those behaviors regularly. I also see students trying to avoid doing work or doing the bare minimum.

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