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Human Capital Management

5 Questions to Ask for Effective Professional Development

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Ineffective vs Effective Professional Development With ESSA

Historically, professional learning has tended toward the ineffective end of the PD continuum: teachers attend a workshop, lecture or meeting, passively listen and check it off the list of things that must be done. Once it’s over, they may never think about it again. On the other end of the continuum is a more dynamic professional learning experience, in which teachers are engaged in learning that will immediately and lastingly affect their pedagogical practice and enable them to reach students effectively. The question is, how does the move from one end of the continuum to the other happen?

As you think about the professional learning program in your school system, here are five essential questions to ask — and a look at how ESSA influences each.


    1. What data analysis would allow evaluation of how effective professional learning efforts have been over the past year?

    ESSA states that professional learning must be data-driven and targeted to specific educator needs. But beyond that, it must also be regularly evaluated to determine whether or not it produces changes in practice. This is a broader conception of what it means to be “evidence-based.” Gone are the NCLB days of strict “scientifically-based research.” The current focus is on making sure that professional learning makes a difference in the classroom. The evidence can be very local — what’s proving effective in this classroom, school or district?
    With that backdrop, building leaders must decide how they will collect the kind of evidence they need to provide meaningful feedback to teachers.

    2. To what degree were professional learning efforts aligned and coherent?

    ESSA calls for PD that is part of broader school improvement plans — a systems approach that highlights the interactive nature of recruitment, educator development, retention, ongoing learning and growth and advancement. The goal is to build a unified approach for supporting excellent educators throughout the cycle of their careers.
    It’s important to develop a strategic professional learning system that helps district offices collaborate and share data to make decisions. This includes strengthening the connections between district, building and individual teacher goals to create alignment, so that coherence can flourish.


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    3. Did job-embedded learning structures have the support needed to function effectively last year?

    ESSA allows ample opportunity for educators to create their own learning paths. This stretches them well beyond simply tracking completion, hours and credits. Effective professional learning is about individuals, pairs and learning teams defining and working toward their learning goals — based, of course, on student needs from day to day, week to week and month to month. It’s recognizing that most of the answers are within the building today — within coaching pairs and PLCs and in collaboration between educators, to name a few. System leaders need to create settings for educators to access and apply those profoundly relevant insights and integrate a variety of supplemental just-in-time content and other resources as needed.

    4. Were technology tools effectively used to extend, enhance and document evidence of the effectiveness of professional learning?

    When it comes to professional learning, ESSA emphasizes transparency. This often requires districts to evaluate their professional learning technology solutions. Do these solutions make it easy to collect and report on multiple data points, including teacher qualifications, how professional learning is applied and the impact it has on teaching? If all educators and leaders can access this data, they’ll be better able to collaborate, and together can take responsibility for planning, monitoring implementation and reviewing outcomes.

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    5. What has innovation in professional learning looked like during the last year?

    The notion of flexibility is woven throughout ESSA, which opens the door to great possibility!
    Giving all educators a voice in their professional learning — including in areas like goal-setting and by using individual learning plans — can play a vital role in this. Flexible mechanisms for state reporting are also helpful.
    One key question to ponder: “As we engage our teachers, giving them greater choice and possibilities for innovation, what processes and tools do we have in place?”