Seven questions to ask when building a teacher professional development plan

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself When Building a Teacher Professional Development PlanPositioning teachers for success in the classroom starts with a smart, well-built teacher professional development program. Does your school or district have a strategic, ongoing teacher education program that helps enrich their practice and support students in the classroom?

While seminars and conferences are great at providing information and motivating teachers, they are not a sustained and systematic approach to improving teaching practice. Best practices indicate that successful teacher professional development programs contain these elements:

  • Choice. Teachers are like students; they need and appreciate choice. Choice within a given framework or focus allows teachers to determine their personal priorities.
  • Flexibility. In addition to choice, teachers need to be allowed to make modifications to make the new learning work best in their own classroom environments.
  • Small steps. Learning is incremental. It takes time to change a practice, and to be lasting it must become a part of the teacher’s routine. Professional development for teachers that allows them to practice, in small steps, supports this idea.
  • Support and accountability. Change in teaching practice is challenging and requires both support and accountability. Developing a community approach provides teachers the opportunity to develop personal action plans, report back to the group on what happened as a result of implementing those plans, and reflect and receive feedback from colleagues who are working on the same changes in their practice.

To create a strategic teacher professional development program, ask yourself these seven questions:

1. What are your top two or three instructional goals for the year, both at the school or district level?

Your staff learning goals must be driven by your goals for students, so be sure to check with all stakeholders, including district and school leaders as well as teachers. Check data from all sources available including summative and interim assessments, attendance records, and curriculum maps. The more information that goes into the planning of teacher professional development, the more aligned it will be with goals.

2. How do our instructional goals translate into learning outcomes for all staff, specific teams, and individual staff members?

Decide what you’d like everyone to achieve, then drill down and determine what goals might suit specific teams and individuals. You may find some teams or individuals, such as special education or intervention specialists, will likely benefit from targeted goals of their own.

3. What teacher professional development options are already available to us, both internally and externally?

Take stock of all options already offered by your district staff or assessment providers and take advantage of those that can help you achieve your instructional goals. The NWEA Professional Learning team can help you put assessment data to work, improve formative assessment practices in your school or district, and more.

4. How can we make sure we have time for teacher professional development?

You need to proactively carve out the time necessary for meaningful professional development. Successful professional development is a regular and ongoing activity.

5. What can we do to make the learning practical?

Connect learning activities to teachers’ daily work to make teacher professional development stick. Teachers should leave their development sessions with insights, strategies, and tools they can use in the classroom right away.

6. How will we know if our teacher professional development plan was successful?

What metrics will you use to measure success? Build those into the program to continually evaluate your  progress, and be prepared to adjust or refine it based on the results you see.

7. How can we engage staff through the three phases of professional development: planning, implementation, and evaluation?

Make sure your staff members see the teacher professional development efforts as a process that lets them actively identify—and work toward—their learning needs.

It’s not enough to give teachers more information about what works; they also need a framework for long-term integration of new skills. School and district leaders can empower teachers with a comprehensive plan that accommodates time for new learning as well as professional experimentation, personal reflection, and collaboration around new practices.

To learn more about the power of professional development for teachers, watch our videos “Empower teachers with tailor-made professional learning” and “How data coaching can transform teaching,” and read “Why investing in professional learning is essential for educators—and students, too.” To learn more about NWEA’s professional learning offerings, visit our website

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