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Creating Sustainable PD: A Roadmap for Leaders

Introduction

As someone who operates in social media education circles, I see the same question pop up from a well-meaning administrator on a bimonthly basis. It usually goes something like this: “Teachers, what is something that admin can do to make your job easier/better?” Usually, the most popular response is “time,” but a close second is “no more one-off PD.” Professional development that is a one-time-only activity strikes as tone deaf; like administrators and leaders want to try the newest, freshest idea in education at the expense of teachers' time and energy. Professional development in schools often lacks follow-up measures to ensure sustained growth. As an experienced educator and researcher, I've observed this trend in various schools and believe a more sustainable approach is needed.

Usually, the most popular response is “time,” but a close second is “no more one-off PD.”

I have been a secondary administrator for over five years, a pedagogical leader for 10, and a teacher for 17. I worked overseas for most of my career and have had the joy and privilege of experiencing a variety of school models and types of curriculum. After moving to the U.S. and completing my doctoral degree in 2022, I began to take a more serious look into how professional development is delivered. At schools I have both worked at and visited, the same patterns emerge. I have heard veteran teachers admit to not actively engaging in PD initiatives because without a doubt, the initiatives will later disappear, never to be spoken of again. 


Teacher PD, A Leadership Priority

As leaders, we need to do better planning professional development as our teachers’ growth is arguably the most important aspect of our jobs. In the research conducted by Day and Sammons (2016), it was found that while classroom teachers have the greatest impact on student learning, principals come in a close second. Plus, I might argue that most of us entered the leadership realm for exactly this purpose… not because we wanted to be dealing with discipline, bus duties, and plagiarism. Planning PD is not unlike writing a unit plan. We would never do a one-off class activity on how to write a research paper and expect our students to have mastered the skill. 

As leaders, we need to do better planning professional development as our teachers’ growth is arguably the most important aspect of our jobs.

With it being March, I have already started to design my PD roadmap for next year. Consultants get booked, and time is taken by other needs, and I want to make sure PD is well done and prioritized. So, let’s get started now so you can be off and running for next school year.


What is high-quality PD?

So, how can we write a plan for meaningful PD and ensure that the learning is sustained and later implemented? You can start with a blog we wrote, which gives an overview of the criteria for high-quality PD designed and used here at ACP.


DiPaola and Wagner (2017) and Darling-Hammond (2017) are our resident experts in this area. Here’s a synthesized version of their criteria for effective professional development:

  • Is aligned with school, division, or individual goals

  • Is data-informed

  • Integrates theories and research

  • Aligns outcomes with educator performance and student outcomes

  • Is sustained/ ongoing 

  • Includes time for feedback and reflection

  • Is evaluated; the impact of the PD is assessed

  • Centers student learning

  • Allows for teacher collaboration

We consistently ask our teachers to differentiate for their students and meet their students where they are at. We need to walk the talk when it comes to designing professional learning for them.

Another note made by DiPaola and Wagner (2017) is that “one size fits all” PD is frustrating to teachers. We consistently ask our teachers to differentiate for their students and meet their students where they are at. We need to walk the talk when it comes to designing professional learning for them. Some ways to differentiate PD include:

  • Creating PLCs (professional learning communities) based on individual goals within the main learning goal. For example, if the school is working on delivering more effective feedback, there might be a group of teachers working on using single-point rubrics and another group of teachers working on conferencing skills.

  • Utilize in-house expertise. “Teachers teaching teachers” is one model I have seen used. Given the feedback example above, teachers who have worked on one facet of feedback can lead a session for other teachers on that facet.

  • Provide a professional growth menu with options for teachers to deepen their learning about the school goal. For example, one teacher might attend a webinar on formative feedback, while another might observe a colleague conferencing with students about their work.


Mapping Your PD Plan

Developing PD that meets all of the above criteria can be a challenge and is certainly time-consuming. One way to accomplish this is by determining one school-wide goal at the start of each academic year and dedicating all of your PD time throughout the year to this one goal. Too often, there is one-off professional development offered, and once teachers get back into their classrooms, even with the best of intentions, their plans for implementation are replaced by regular workload. Determine which other pockets of time in your school year can be dedicated to this goal. Some examples:

  • Entire professional development days

  • Regular weekly or biweekly faculty meetings

  • Department meetings

  • Professional growth and evaluation meetings with the administration

  • Department retreats or time off given for groups working through a goal


Create a map of all of the professional development time you have throughout the year and utilize backward-by-design planning to determine how that time will be used to reach your goal. Consider where your internal expertise exists or if you need to bring in an outside expert or consultant. Ensure each “lesson” includes collaborative time and opportunities for feedback. Reserve the end-of-year professional development for reflection on both individual progress toward the goal and evaluation of the professional learning itself. Some goals will require a multi-year approach, while others need less time. No matter how small the goal is, the learning needs to be sustained and revisited for it to be implemented.


Using Outside Experts

As tempting as it is to relinquish full control to outside experts, to make PD meaningful, we must include their work with faculty in our ongoing, sustained PD plan in order to close the loop on the learning. We want to avoid the refrain of “we had so and so consultant come in and then never heard anything about that topic again after that.” At the same time, we want to avoid keeping all PD in-house. There is a lot of value in bringing in an external consultant. Often, the same message can be communicated repeatedly, but it won't be fully understood until it is delivered by someone new. Here are a few suggestions for ensuring that the learning extends beyond the consultant's visit:

  • Before the visit, set the stage in a faculty meeting. Share the school’s goal, who you will invite, and why. Prep teachers for the visit the same way you would prep students for the visit of a guest speaker.

  • After the visit, collect feedback which you ask two questions: (1) what was your key takeaway and (2) what do you still have questions about/ need support with implementing? Use this feedback to guide the next set of PD experiences. This will help with differentiation as well; you can break teachers into PLCs based on areas that they want to continue working on. 

  • When choosing a consultant, it's important to prioritize someone who places the needs of your school or district above their own agenda. This is precisely how I was introduced to Alicia and ACP. Their willingness to personalize the learning experience for our teachers to align perfectly with our long-term goals was exactly what we needed. 

  • Once you find your match, work with the consultant to understand what outcomes or experiences would be the best follow-ups to their visit. Based on your own internal expertise, you can implement these follow-ups yourself, or you can invite them back for a series of visits with the school that have deliverables that carry over from session to session.


PD Planning Framework

At ACP, we love to reveal what we do to speed up the process for others. That's why we're offering the exact PD plan I use for free on our Resources & Shop page. This plan includes criteria for effective PD, a sequential timeline, and strategies for mapping out your PD plan. We believe in sharing and collaboration, so we hope our plan can help you create a more meaningful approach to PD for your staff. Take a peek below to see the PD planning template and an example of my plan for next year.



An example filled out of a PD framework


Conclusion

When we shift our mindset from planning a professional development day to planning a professional development program, we are better setting up our teachers for success, ensuring some level of progress toward our goal, and honoring our teachers’ time and individual journeys towards growth. Let that “one-off” day you planned last year be the last of its kind.


 

Sources

DiPaola, M. F., & Wagner, C. A. (2018). Improving instruction through supervision, evaluation, and professional development. Information Age Publishing, Inc


Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., Gardener, M., and Espinoza, D. (2017). Effective 


Day, C. and Sammons, P.  (2016). Successful School Leadership. Education Development 



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