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Leveraging PD: Build community engagement

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Whether your teachers love it or hate it, professional development is an integral part of every school’s ecosystem. PD provides the foundation for exceptional leadership and instruction and, when done right, it can catapult a school community to new heights.  It can be a challenge for school leadership to balance the eager participants with the reticent ones.  Fortunately, there are many ways for school leadership to build a robust PD program that inspires, motivates, and dramatically accelerates the learning process. It all starts with building a learning community in your district.

Step into the doors of any high performing school and you will likely feel a special sort of harmony amidst the halls of the building.  Hear the engaged chatter and excited discourse from classroom to classroom; witness the tilt of student’s shoulders as they angle towards the board; notice the commonality amongst the language spoken by the teachers around learning and behavior.  This is the community that is built through great leadership and strong professional learning opportunities. 

Start with Sharing a Clear Strategic Plan

In the same way we ask our teachers to backwards plan the school year, education leaders should also backwards plan the path for professional growth.  Among a leadership team, schools should develop their professional development philosophy and lay out a focus: an inch wide and a mile deep or a mile wide and an inch deep? 

In a perfect world you would cover every topic and spend endless hours ensuring competency in every member of your team. But, there are only 24 hours in a day therefore you have to be selective in your decision-making.  Best to pick a few topics that permits teachers to immerse themselves in their learning.


Time spent devoted to theory and its application is considered a focus on pedagogy.  Teachers at every stage in their career benefit from talking about the foundations of education and the best practices that research support.  Many schools often start and end here but the failure to include other foci is a missed opportunity.


Teachers who are experts in their content area are a vital but challenging need.  Therefore, many schools devote professional development time for teachers to gather within their subject area.  In Japan, content mastery comes after five consecutive years of teaching a subject and time devoted to the study of said subject matter.  There, content study occurs in a variety of ways including what is known as lesson study.  Teachers across a grade level spend dedicated time co-planning, executing, and revising a lesson in order to deepen their lesson planning prowess and content delivery expertise.  

Student supports

Diverse student populations call for diverse skills to support them.  Dedicated time for learning how to catapult the learning of students with special needs and english language learners is a growing need in today’s world. Often, this type of professional development can involve a study of students within the community but also may incorporate best practice and research presented to expand the skill set of teachers tackling challenging needs and behaviors in the classroom.

Instructional & Virtual Learning

One final, and increasingly more relevant, focus for professional development is instructional technology and virtual learning.  Helping teachers to become more familiar with new technology in order to use it to drive instructional outcomes keeps schools on the cutting edge of learning experiences. 

Today, schools are also looking for expertise to support their staff in transition to full or partial remote learning in light of the COVID19 school closures.  Incorporating this into the professional development repertoire will be necessary for schools to ensure the comfort of staff and students, and the quality of learning experiences.

Model Best Practice 

Lead your school community’s professional development efforts in the manner you wish to see learning occur in everyone of your classrooms: encourage ownership by offering choices and give teachers a platform so their voice is most commonly heard.  Throughout this text, references have been made to practices we observe in the best of schools: evaluation, choice, backwards design, and more.  The unveiling of your school’s professional development plan is the perfect opportunity to model classroom best practices.  

Some imperative best practices to incorporate into your practice are:

50/50 Participation Ratio

The last things teachers want is to sit in a room and be lectured to.  Education pedagogy informs us that lecture style teaching results in less engagement and less interest.  If we do not want to see this type of teaching in the classroom, why use it for professional development? 

We find it helpful to keep a 50/50 participation ratio in mind when planning for workshops and presentations. This guiding ratio means that participants are sharing, talking, building, researching, and steering the ship at least 50% of the time. When teachers can collaboratively interact with content, you are building a learning community.


As logical as this category may sound, it is highly uncommon for implemented professional development programs to assess teacher learners with more than a satisfaction survey. In a Professional Development Resource Guide for Adult Educators, the author states, “given the certainty of diminishing resources and competing priorities, the luxury of unfocused and unexamined professional development no longer exists.” The text lays out an extensive framework for professional development evaluation in a thorough manner that can be replicated in full or even in parts. The crux of this framework relies on four levels of assessment: reaction, learning, transfer of behavior, and results.  It is imperative that, just like in our classrooms, leaders are measuring the efficacy of professional learning through widespread assessment measures as outlined here.


Professional development has come a long way in the past 20 years alone. The options for administrators to choose from are endless but now, more than ever, it is vital for these decisions to be rooted in our original call to action: How can we build a strong community around professional learning in our schools? For more educators, the answer is innovation. 

Innovation can, but does not have to only mean, new technology. As part of the school’s commitment to ongoing learning, administrators must decide on the format with which to present each professional development focus in order to maximize engagement and learning. Innovation of delivery plays a huge role here: simply bringing in “the expert” will not suffice. It is important to incorporate a variety of methods but also to survey staff members and use their feedback to adjust course. Some potential formats embraced by schools are: group video analysis, independent self-study, lesson study, school visits, professional learning communities, collaborative field trips, instructional observation and coaching, and peer observation and feedback.

But, we would be remiss if we did not focus on the role technology plays as a part of innovative professional development initiatives. Students today are digital natives, born and raised in the era of technology.  Thus, our instructional choices ought to incorporate this language of learning.  Cutting edge professional development which introduces state-of-the-art resources, gives staff new tools to accelerate student learning. As the market is ever changing, administrators can follow trends in popular publications or rely on an agency to do the heavy lifting and curate resources to expand learning opportunities.

The future of professional development is fruitful for schools but it all starts with the attitudes your foster and the community you build around continual improvement and learning.

Have the option of innovative professional development at your fingertips.  Differentiate PD content for new and experienced teachers, built-in checks for understanding, and leverage technology with the integration of on-demand PD by Clerisy at your school.

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