Back
The District

PD that innovates

The Newsela Team
Nov 13, 2020

Great educators are fully capable of overcoming the challenges that come with this profession, but everyone needs support once in a while. At many schools, that support takes the form of professional development (PD) sessions — which can be incredibly powerful resources when executed well. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in many schools, where PD takes the form of undifferentiated, stale workshops with little accountability or follow-up for implementation. Decades of scholarly literature has shown that this method doesn’t change practices or benefit students — but despite loud critiques from educators and researchers, PD for teachers has failed to evolve. That might be because revitalizing PD seems difficult: Workshops are low-cost and often low-effort, and administrators may be hard-pressed to find resources to do better, like funding or trusted PD providers. 

In our view, there are a few simple and actionable ways to rethink PD. Here are four ways to reinvent PD that are within reach for any school:

  1. Flexible session formats

The first and most important step to reimagining PD is to go beyond the standard workshop model — and there are more resources available than ever to help with this. For example, Newsela’s Educator Center and similar resources allow teachers to work through materials at their own pace and access them on their own time, returning to the material as often as necessary. Administrators can also draw on the same pedagogies that their teachers use with students in the classroom. For instance, Novak Educational Consulting recommends giving teachers choices about what topics they learn and what format they receive the information in (such as videos, articles, or sample lessons). Structuring PD sessions around discussion and teacher contributions can also be more effective than a top-down approach, giving high fliers a chance to mentor teachers who are new or struggling. 

2. Curriculum based on data about teachers’ needs and interests

Too often, administrators select their PD curriculum with little or no input from their teachers. This is a problem: Only teachers fully understand the challenges they face in the classroom and where they most need support. Of course, the best administrators communicate constantly with their teachers and will already have some idea of their needs and interests. But that’s no substitute for comprehensive data collection about teachers’ unique problems and PD goals. Soliciting input by survey — or even better, at the end of PD sessions — ensures that a school’s PD curriculum will be responsive to all its educators, not just the most vocal ones. 

3. Implementation support and accountability

The scholarly literature shows that when teachers receive PD through standalone workshops, they don’t implement the new knowledge in their classrooms. That’s not surprising: If a new practice is substantive and innovative, as the best PD curricula are, then putting it into action will require far more education and support than a one-off workshop. Even after they’ve mastered the material, teachers have no way to know whether they’ve implemented it effectively if, like most workshops, there is no follow-up.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, the best ways to address this problem are choosing PD curricula with longer durations and encouraging collaboration, especially in job-embedded situations. Sustained, multi-session PD programs on the same topic give educators the opportunity to practice and adjust their use of the new techniques, and then receive the support and feedback they need to keep improving. Teachers can play an active role in this, encouraging each other through collaboration and mentorship. This is another great opportunity for differentiation: Educators can implement differentiated versions of the same techniques, tailored for their needs and their classrooms, and then share their successes and new discoveries with each other. Making time for this brand of collaboration may require extra PD hours or reorganizing schedules — but the efforts will be rewarded with higher student achievement. 

4. Adapting PD’s format for technology solutions

One of the biggest pitfalls for twenty-first century PD comes when it’s time to teach technology. High-tech solutions are becoming more embedded in classrooms every year, but without effective support and training, some teachers — and their students — will fail to reap the benefits. Unfortunately, many schools teach tech solutions in “technology PD” sessions that focus on the tools’ mechanics rather than their applications, leaving teachers to figure out for themselves how the tool will work best in their classrooms. Instead, try teaching technology resources in subject- or grade-specific breakout groups, where teachers can focus on the ways the tool can enrich their specific standards and curricula. 

When it comes to PD, effectiveness means efficiency: Well-designed PD strategies are a better use of teachers’ time and district resources and pay off in student performance gains. When teachers feel their time is being put to good use, they feel more motivated to embrace PD and its rich array of benefits. A differentiated, engaging, and implementation-focused approach benefits all teachers and all students — and while this may look different in different schools and districts, it is a goal that all PD designers can strive for. 

Check out our latest infographic, PD that innovates, to learn more about PD do’s and don'ts. 

The Latest from @Newsela

The right content resource keeps learning going, even through times of disruption. See how schools and teachers nationwide are using Newsela for the 2020-2021 school year. https://t.co/pFYUlO4b4o https://t.co/VSukeGa663
November 24, 2020, 3:04 PM
It is hard to imagine a more challenging year, but that doesn’t mean good things haven’t happened, too. We put together a list of our favorite things from 2020. From panda birthday cakes to llamas in tuxedos, there are fun moments to be thankful for. https://t.co/JtwGfug0fy https://t.co/Xzl9r8gsoq
November 24, 2020, 12:04 AM
Love hearing about students wanting to learn more after reading a Newsela article! 💙 https://t.co/7zDf4w9yvs
November 23, 2020, 7:33 PM
Odds are you’ll be using butter during your Thanksgiving meal, so why not make it yourself? With simple supplies and a bit of arm strength, you can use science to make homemade butter! https://t.co/B10uQt6ydx https://t.co/SN04LEsZqS
November 23, 2020, 6:12 PM
Make Social Emotional Learning a part of your distance learning classroom. The articles in this Text Set come from Newsela’s SEL Elementary School Collection and cover topics relevant to language arts 👉 https://t.co/055i7dGjwS
November 23, 2020, 4:36 PM
A safe Thanksgiving during a pandemic is possible, but health professionals know their advice is as tough to swallow as dry turkey. Make the most of your turkey dinner by following these tips from health experts: https://t.co/ZMYHSLcxgg https://t.co/MMQv0V7q4o
November 23, 2020, 2:18 PM
Kamala Harris, a Democrat, made history as America's first woman to be elected vice president. However, Republican women have their own successes in the election of 2020. A record number of them are heading to Congress, with more races still to be called: https://t.co/RyVX9HWeZX https://t.co/QjykHpKTLL
November 23, 2020, 1:19 AM
Shoutout to Mr. Macha's English class! 👏 A great project to keep students engaged in a relevant way. https://t.co/jhraxT7pxv
November 22, 2020, 9:01 PM
With high school around the corner, middle schools make math, science and English a priority — but what about learning to manage stress? Or developing healthy habits and friendships? Make them a priority with Newsela's SEL collection for Middle School: https://t.co/PHe94GZorZ https://t.co/nhw3bU6tTC
November 22, 2020, 4:31 PM
With Thanksgiving right coming up, lots of people will be thinking about turkey: Where to buy one, how to prepare the bird and how many leftovers there will be for sandwiches the week after. But how much do you really know about turkeys? Let's find out: https://t.co/JAJVKqItbl https://t.co/2KSNhsA2Zi
November 22, 2020, 1:31 PM
How and why did the foods served at Thanksgiving dinner come to be so fixed? Many falsely assume that most of the same meats and vegetables were eaten by the Pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving, but let's explore the true origin: https://t.co/KWZ4sNj3vh https://t.co/zIJfxJVWEc
November 22, 2020, 12:27 AM
This past week is the second week in a row that a major drugmaker has issued data indicating its new vaccine could be successful at fighting COVID-19. Preliminary results indicate that the vaccine by Moderna is nearly 95% effective in preventing sickness: https://t.co/FYQk4sfvbo https://t.co/KKMIeB2o1h
November 21, 2020, 9:05 PM
On November 7, former Vice President Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States. Use this collection to educate students about his inspiring journey to the oval office and controversial transition ahead: https://t.co/E3tI8wPIxz https://t.co/kFvbFk4X4n
November 21, 2020, 6:06 PM
Weave SEL into your lessons with content selected for elementary, middle, and high school learners. Take a closer look at the Newsela Social-Emotional Learning Collection: https://t.co/pOK7cSxH3z https://t.co/8Oq9RPlgoG
November 21, 2020, 4:34 PM
In search of creative new ideas and resources for your teaching? 💡 Explore the Newsela Educator Center for videos, lessons, and ready-to-go assignments for leveling up your classroom 👉 https://t.co/XkF9zQwAIz https://t.co/Oq3Jvi2P3M
November 21, 2020, 3:02 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales