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Professional Opinion

7 tips for creating an effective PD program

Skip the clown nose and get down to business
Jean Fleming brings over 25 years of experience in education to her role at the Northwest Evaluation Association, where she specializes in PD practices and instructional supports.
Jean Fleming brings over 25 years of experience in education to her role at the Northwest Evaluation Association, where she specializes in PD practices and instructional supports.

One of the worst “professional learning” experiences from my teaching days involved a clown nose. The entire teaching staff—700 of us—were gathered in the town’s civic auditorium to hear a speaker. Talk about “sit and get.”

At a pivotal moment, the speaker had us reach under our seats and pull out the envelopes that had been hidden there. In them were bulbous red rubber noses. We were all supposed to put these on—as a reminder that our work was graced with humor. Believe me, no one was laughing.

Even now, more than 20 years later, I still feel the anger I shared that day with 699 other teachers at having my work compared to a clown.  

I share this with you because building teacher capacity is the best way to make sure students grow. The research on this is unequivocal: No single school-based factor impacts student achievement more than the teacher. So if we want to invest limited budgets wisely, the smart money is on excellent professional learning support for every teacher. Simple, right?

Not really. Not all professional development is the same, but a few key elements define a successful program.

Consider these seven tips for building an effective PD program in your school or district. And please, skip the clown nose. You can thank me later.

Align PD to instructional goals

Learning goals for staff must be driven by learning goals for students. Look for synergies between assessment data, curricula and other instructional resources. These connections can provide valuable insight when creating PD opportunities.

The more information that goes into preparing professional learning for teachers, the better aligned it will be to your school’s or district’s goals.

Identify learning outcomes

Once you have identified staff learning goals, it’s time to determine goals for specific teams and individuals. While some objectives fit all teachers, you may find that the special education team or intervention specialists, for example, will benefit from more targeted goals that focus on their specific approaches and their students’ needs.

Review existing PD options Many districts have access to abundant PD opportunities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these opportunities are the right ones.

Take stock of all options available to you and select the ones that best match your school’s or district’s goals. Through this process, you can discover where you have unsupported goals—and determine whether additional learning would be beneficial to them.  

Give the gift of time

Successful PD is a regular and ongoing activity, and that can’t happen unless you dedicate actual time. Building time into teachers’ daily schedules for planning and collaboration allows powerful practices to take hold. It will also support a culture where teacher professionalism is understood and valued—and that is a culture teachers want to join and stay in.

Make professional learning relevant

A well thought out PD plan connects learning activities to teachers’ daily work. Teachers should leave learning sessions with insights, strategies and tools that are relevant to their curricula and can be used in the classroom right away.

Measure success with metrics

A PD program is successful only if teachers find it supports their work. Build evaluation metrics into the program so teachers can continually evaluate their progress and the effectiveness of new methods. Importantly, schools and districts should be prepared to adjust programming based on these evaluations.

Keep staff engaged

Educators should be engaged throughout the entire PD process, not only during sessions and collaborative learning time. Staff should be able to view these PD efforts as a process that empowers them to identify and work toward their learning goals. 


Jean Fleming brings over 25 years of experience in education to her role at the Northwest Evaluation Association, where she specializes in PD practices and instructional supports.