4 Professional Development Planning Mistakes That Drive Your Teachers Crazy

We’ve all been there - a Professional Development learning session that we are excited about and can’t wait to share with our colleagues.  Then it doesn’t go according to (our) plan.

How familiar does this sound?  You’ve spent countless hours pouring through the (teacher evaluation, student achievement, etc) data, identified a concern that needs addresses, and created fun and meaningful ways for your staff to interact with the data.  You have it planned out perfectly:

  • I’ll share the data

  • My teachers will see the need

  • They will do what I think is best to address this problem.

Boom - done.  We’ll solve the problem in one after-school meeting!

However, your professional development session doesn’t work out like you thought it would.  Your teachers ask questions about some of the data, have (legitimate) reasons for why the data is what it is, and already have the answer:  we just need more people , resources, and/or time, and we can take care of this problem.

Your one-meeting plan just turned into a multi-day conversation where there are different perspectives of what the problem even is.

Or how about this one?  You’ve again spent countless hours planning for ways to engage your teachers in learning about [topic] - let’s say lesson objectives.  You’ve visited all your classrooms, and you know this is a concern. To help your teachers, you’ve gathered the resources - even being careful to not copy more than 10% of your lesson objective book you are sharing so you aren’t breaking the law!  You’re completely organized and ready to share your thorough understanding of lesson objectives.

Your professional development session starts with you telling everybody about classroom observations and how most teachers aren’t properly communicating lesson objectives with their students.  Then you talk about the ‘right’ ways of making the lesson clear to students in the classroom, and then you give them a 15 question checklist so your teachers can check their own lessons before teaching to make sure they’re doing this the ‘right’ way.

Again: Boom - done.  We’ll solve the problem in one after-school meeting!

You notice during the PD session that your teachers don’t seem overly engaged.  You were expecting a high level of engagement because this is a need. After all, you saw it yourself!  Later you hear your teachers talking about your time together, and none seem excited. In fact, your staff seemed disinterested and even combative about it.

Worse yet, you see no change in classroom practice in teachers communicating lesson objectives.  But you planned it out perfectly and everything!

How can we prevent issues like this in the future?  What were the problems with our perfectly-planned professional development?

  • You did all the work.  In these examples, the person leading the professional development identified her own problem and led the teachers to her own answer.  All the data was collected and analyzed by the one leading the professional development. The teaching staff didn’t see the problem in action, analyze the data, come up with possible solutions, or even have the ability to ask questions that were important to them.  Instead the presenter told the teachers what problem was and presented them answers.

    Instead of doing all the work yourself, start by posing a few simple but powerful questions that will engage your teachers in thoughtful consideration and dialogue.  Powerful examples include:

    • What is this data telling you/What can we learn from the data?

    • Is this what we’re expecting?  Why or why not?

    • Are we accomplishing [topic] as well as our students deserve?

    • How might a change in [topic] affect [results]?

    These questions will engage your teachers and help them think critically about problems they are facing.  Problems they come up with might even be different than what you were expecting.

  • Your Professional Development isn’t seen as a need by your teachers.  Professional Development opportunities are intended to help move teachers forward in their skillset, mindset, or heartset.  Just like in our initial bullet above, it is the teachers who will be taking the steps to improve. You may know what exactly needs to be done or where certain areas of improvement are needed.  Instead of giving your teachers the answers, help them discover the importance of a change.

    If your teachers lack the perspective of what is happening all across your building (because how would they know without actually being in classrooms across the building?), allow them to visit their peers’ classrooms.  Give these teachers a few look-fors, such as the communication of the lesson’s objective, the use of technology, etc. Then have these teachers document their noticings and synthesize these noticings from all those who observed in others’ classrooms.  If teachers can identify and witness first-hand the need for a change in practice, they will advocate for the change and champion the cause. There is nothing better than a champion from within!

  • Your Professional Development is individual instead of collaborative.  Teaching is mostly an isolated profession.  Sure, teachers are around others throughout the day, but the actual act of teaching oftentimes includes the closing of doors, isolated review of student work, and independent planning.

    Instead of providing professional development that requires your teachers practice on their own, create meaningful ways for them to work collaboratively.  Allow teachers to visit each other’s classrooms, invite in an instructional coach or administrator, or have your teachers be accountable to one-another. Creating a culture of collaboration will allow your teachers to lean on and learn from one another.

  • Professional Development requires practice and a culture of risk-taking.  Even if you are passing the cognitive load to your teachers, the PD is seen as needed, and is collaborative, it will still take time for teachers to master the skills, mindset, and/or heartset you’re seeking.

    It is critical that you allow your teachers to experiment, fail, and keep trying.  Model this yourself during your PD and conversations with teachers. Tell them stories about how you once tried to change a certain practice and how it went.  Let them know that you failed but kept trying. Share that persistence allowed you to experience great results, and share these results with your teachers. Once you set the stage for your teachers to not succeed immediately, and that they will be supported as they keep trying, you have allowed them the freedom to try.

No matter how much you plan and how perfect you think your professional development is, be sure that you are keeping in mind your goals.  If you are planning for growth of your teachers, let’s set them up for success from the beginning by following these four strategies.