The District

PD that innovates

The Newsela Team
Nov 13, 2020

Great educators are fully capable of overcoming the challenges that come with this profession, but everyone needs support once in a while. At many schools, that support takes the form of professional development (PD) sessions — which can be incredibly powerful resources when executed well. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in many schools, where PD takes the form of undifferentiated, stale workshops with little accountability or follow-up for implementation. Decades of scholarly literature has shown that this method doesn’t change practices or benefit students — but despite loud critiques from educators and researchers, PD for teachers has failed to evolve. That might be because revitalizing PD seems difficult: Workshops are low-cost and often low-effort, and administrators may be hard-pressed to find resources to do better, like funding or trusted PD providers. 

In our view, there are a few simple and actionable ways to rethink PD. Here are four ways to reinvent PD that are within reach for any school:

  1. Flexible session formats

The first and most important step to reimagining PD is to go beyond the standard workshop model — and there are more resources available than ever to help with this. For example, Newsela’s Educator Center and similar resources allow teachers to work through materials at their own pace and access them on their own time, returning to the material as often as necessary. Administrators can also draw on the same pedagogies that their teachers use with students in the classroom. For instance, Novak Educational Consulting recommends giving teachers choices about what topics they learn and what format they receive the information in (such as videos, articles, or sample lessons). Structuring PD sessions around discussion and teacher contributions can also be more effective than a top-down approach, giving high fliers a chance to mentor teachers who are new or struggling. 

2. Curriculum based on data about teachers’ needs and interests

Too often, administrators select their PD curriculum with little or no input from their teachers. This is a problem: Only teachers fully understand the challenges they face in the classroom and where they most need support. Of course, the best administrators communicate constantly with their teachers and will already have some idea of their needs and interests. But that’s no substitute for comprehensive data collection about teachers’ unique problems and PD goals. Soliciting input by survey — or even better, at the end of PD sessions — ensures that a school’s PD curriculum will be responsive to all its educators, not just the most vocal ones. 

3. Implementation support and accountability

The scholarly literature shows that when teachers receive PD through standalone workshops, they don’t implement the new knowledge in their classrooms. That’s not surprising: If a new practice is substantive and innovative, as the best PD curricula are, then putting it into action will require far more education and support than a one-off workshop. Even after they’ve mastered the material, teachers have no way to know whether they’ve implemented it effectively if, like most workshops, there is no follow-up.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, the best ways to address this problem are choosing PD curricula with longer durations and encouraging collaboration, especially in job-embedded situations. Sustained, multi-session PD programs on the same topic give educators the opportunity to practice and adjust their use of the new techniques, and then receive the support and feedback they need to keep improving. Teachers can play an active role in this, encouraging each other through collaboration and mentorship. This is another great opportunity for differentiation: Educators can implement differentiated versions of the same techniques, tailored for their needs and their classrooms, and then share their successes and new discoveries with each other. Making time for this brand of collaboration may require extra PD hours or reorganizing schedules — but the efforts will be rewarded with higher student achievement. 

4. Adapting PD’s format for technology solutions

One of the biggest pitfalls for twenty-first century PD comes when it’s time to teach technology. High-tech solutions are becoming more embedded in classrooms every year, but without effective support and training, some teachers — and their students — will fail to reap the benefits. Unfortunately, many schools teach tech solutions in “technology PD” sessions that focus on the tools’ mechanics rather than their applications, leaving teachers to figure out for themselves how the tool will work best in their classrooms. Instead, try teaching technology resources in subject- or grade-specific breakout groups, where teachers can focus on the ways the tool can enrich their specific standards and curricula. 

When it comes to PD, effectiveness means efficiency: Well-designed PD strategies are a better use of teachers’ time and district resources and pay off in student performance gains. When teachers feel their time is being put to good use, they feel more motivated to embrace PD and its rich array of benefits. A differentiated, engaging, and implementation-focused approach benefits all teachers and all students — and while this may look different in different schools and districts, it is a goal that all PD designers can strive for. 

Check out our latest infographic, PD that innovates, to learn more about PD do’s and don'ts. 

The Latest from @Newsela

In a changing world, materials can easily get outdated. With up to 10 new texts added every day, teachers can make connections to important current events using Newsela.
April 15, 2021, 7:42 PM
Microplastic pollution is everywhere. It's in the ocean. It's in our food. And now it's on Mount Everest. Discuss microplastics and the ecological threat they pose, using this article:
April 15, 2021, 4:16 PM
Myanmar's military used force to overthrow the government on February 1. More than two months later, the country is still in crisis. This article can help students understand the military coup and the ongoing protests:
April 15, 2021, 1:02 PM
As slow as they are, sloths may be quick to adapt to the changing world around them. Students can learn about sloth behavior through scientists' new findings, using this article:
April 14, 2021, 7:24 PM
In response to widespread hunger during the pandemic, communities have set up community fridges in public areas where anyone can take or donate food. Students can examine how communities have rallied together during COVID-19, using this article:
April 14, 2021, 2:04 PM
Sometimes the hardest part of learning a new tool is integrating it into your daily schedule. The Educator Center can help you seamlessly implement Newsela into your routine. ➡️
April 14, 2021, 1:02 PM
When it comes to teaching literacy, content matters. We believe the best reader is an engaged reader, and content makes all the difference. Bring context and relevance to any ELA curriculum with Newsela ELA.
April 13, 2021, 7:00 PM
Our world is changing every day. While some of these changes are natural, many can be traced back to humans. In this Text Set, students will explore ways humans have affected the environment and what can be done to preserve Earth's resources.
April 13, 2021, 5:06 PM
Bridge the gap between educator and student experiences to ensure active anti-racist instruction. Join us for more best practices and considerations in moving beyond "diversity" in the classroom. Register now ➡️
April 13, 2021, 1:30 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales