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5 Strategies to Make Professional Learning for Teachers More Effective

Professional Learning

Each morning, over 11,000 students step out of cars or bounce off buses into their classrooms at Greece Central School District. This suburban district — a 15-minute drive from Rochester, New York — consists of 17 schools and has been named one of the Best Communities for Music Education in the U.S. for several years running.

Marguerite Dimgba is deeply invested in the education that takes place at Greece Central. Her own kids attend here, after all. And as the Director of Professional Learning, she has the unique opportunity to make a lasting impact on the instruction these kids receive.

To support inspired teaching and learning in every classroom, and continual growth for every educator, Marguerite and her team place a high value on best practices in Greece Central’s professional learning program.


So what are some of those best practices that Greece Central employs to ensure professional learning is effective?

1) Provide Learning Based on Classroom Observation Results

Like many forward-thinking districts, Greece Central views teacher observations as opportunities to collaboratively work toward greater teaching practice.

“My role is to really look at the various scores on the rubric, and to see, ‘Okay, if there are some teachers developing in this area, what supports and professional learning can I organize and provide so the teacher…gets the resources and support that they need?’"

2) Give Teachers ‘Voice and Choice’ in Their Learning

Professional learning at Greece Central isn’t one-size-fits-all. Marguerite notes the importance of providing learning opportunities that address each teacher’s individual needs.

“Professional learning over the course of a teacher's career should evolve as the teacher evolves. I think about when I first started teaching it was very much an after-school workshop, and I still think there's a place for the after-school workshop, but that really is only a fraction….

“Choice is so important. It's important to our students, so therefore it's important to our staff. Trying to offer more creative choices — a more online, blended-type approach — is a challenge. It's something we're always constantly thinking about and growing in ourselves. To meet the teachers where they are at that particular moment, and to evolve and change as a professional learning team.”

3) Offer Professional Development for All Staff (Not Just Teachers)

Teachers aren’t the only educators in the district, of course. Bus drivers, monitors, security officers, cafeteria workers — they all play an important role in education. At Greece Central, certified and non-certified staff alike pursue excellence through professional learning.

“Teachers are obviously our big chunk of our time, our major focus, and they really have that direct link with students. But if you think about when a student wakes up in the morning, and they get on the school bus, that's the first person who interacts with them….Everyone is supported in the process no matter what their position is.”

4) Apply Learning to Practice

The work doesn’t stop once a teacher completes a learning activity. Greece Central actively works with teachers to ensure that professional development for teachers makes a difference in the classroom.

“I'm not evaluating you and your knowledge after having taken this course. I want to know, ‘Did this course have a change on your practice? Did it have any impact on student learning? What's the evidence you have on the student learning piece?’ … That sort of changed our thinking in terms of evaluating professional learning, so that's really been a positive.”

5) Align Professional Development to Strategic Goals

“Data-driven” is commonly used to describe effective professional learning. At Greece Central, when proposing professional development activities, teachers must identify how those activities align to the district’s strategic action plan in order to receive credit for them. Then, following each activity, they’re required to submit feedback.

“Our rule is to look at the data in terms of professional learning, and how we might use that to inform our work. This committee also develops our PDP, our professional development plan, that's required for the state. Without having data, we wouldn't be able to take a look at what we're doing. It's all tied back into our strategic plan. Whenever a proposal is submitted, [employees] have to tag it to specific elements of our strategic plan.

“Anyone can count, ‘I had five people take this class for ten hours.’ That's not very meaningful data. I wanted the whole picture. I wanted to look at the evaluation of the courses. I wanted to look at how that ties into teacher growth and professional learning.”

How They Do It

Orchestrating professional learning for thousands of teachers and staff — and all the details that come with it — might seem to require superhero powers and 28 hours a day. But Marguerite and her team don’t need a small army to impact teaching in the district. They were able to trim costs and save time, enabling them to be more thoughtful about the professional learning process and spend more time working with teachers.

Check out our case study to learn how.

About Ryan Estes

Ryan works at Frontline Education writing, blogging and creating content to support those working in K-12 education.