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Shanker Blog: What Teachers Want From PD

Teacher professional development (PD) often gets a bad rap. As a former educator of nearly a decade, I can count on one hand how many successful PD sessions I attended over the years. I can also remember how impactful those select few sessions were to my teaching craft.

According to the 2020 International Literacy Association (ILA) survey for teachers, higher education professionals, literacy consultants, and school administrators, PD was identified as a top priority for improving instruction. Participants also stated that PD needs more focus and attention to support teachers in their ongoing professional growth. Teachers understand the need for PD, but often feel unfulfilled by the experience.

So, I wondered—what do teachers really want from PD? After reviewing several articles and studies from the perspective of primary and secondary teachers, six common trends emerged.

1. Teachers want professional development to be interactive. Teachers noted that they must have ways to get involved with PD sessions. Suggestions ranged from role playing classroom scenarios to observing and receiving feedback while analyzing student work (Harris, 2019). These hands-on experiences made teachers feel more empowered over PD content. In contrast, teachers said that they felt disengaged and disempowered when they had to sit passively during lecture style PD (Robinson & Smith, 2020)

2. Teachers want professional development to be collaborative. Teachers favored a cohort model where they could work with other teachers from the same grade and/or subject area because they believed this was the most effective way to share best practices. Many teachers remarked that attending PD sessions with teachers from other schools was not helpful, because norms and needs vary from school to school (Harris, 2019). Teachers also stated that schools must provide common planning periods or collaboration time during the day to discuss and share expertise from PD (Robinson & Smith, 2020).

3. Teachers want professional development to be ongoing. For PD to be effective, research mandates that it has to be consistent for at least one semester with a minimum of 20 contact hours (Harris, 2019). Teachers wanted to be able to process, plan, and reflect on PD sessions—all of which takes time. Quick-fix PD can often overwhelm teachers and is just a band-aid solution for ongoing issues (Alber, 2011). Teachers who participated in continuous PD noted feeling more confident in the classroom when using acquired strategies and resources from PD sessions (Robinson & Smith, 2020).

4. Teachers want professional development to be relevant. Teachers wanted strategies, resources, and/or materials that can easily and immediately be implemented into their classrooms in a meaningful way (Harris, 2019). Teachers also wanted strategies that were specific to the needs of all their students. When strategies seemed too time- consuming or were not presented in plain language, teachers did not feel as compelled to use them in their lessons (Robinson & Smith, 2020).

5. Teachers want professional development coaching from their colleagues. Teachers stated that they were more receptive to a coaching model where their colleagues led PD sessions. Teachers were not as enthusiastic about PD from hired programs because they found it to be more confusing and impractical (Robinson & Smith, 2020).

6. Teachers want flexibility and respect when implementing professional development. Teachers maintained that PD cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution because every class has its own specific set of needs. Additionally, teachers wanted administrators to respect that everyone will enter a PD session with a different level of background knowledge and will not become an expert on a topic after just one session (Robinson & Smith, 2020).

Much like schools and teaching, PD is complex. A successful implementation of PD requires collaboration, engagement, continuity, and flexibility—all the things we ask of our teachers every single day and should be able to provide them in return. Teacher PD gets a bad rap, not because teachers are disinterested in learning new content, but because PD often does not meet their needs. To make the most of PD sessions, simply ask teachers what they want and need.

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The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Kayla Reist

Kayla Reist is a fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, D.C. She is currently completing her master’s degree program in Educational Transformation ...