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Professional Development

Professional Development

10 May, 2016

Professional Development is used in reference to various specialized training, formal education, or advanced professional learning intended to help administrators, teachers, and other educators improve their professional knowledge, competence, skill, and effectiveness.

Typical Professional Development Topics and Objectives for Educators:

  1. Enhancing education and knowledge in a teacher’s subject area—e.g., learning new scientific theories, expanding knowledge of different historical periods, or learning how to teach subject-area content and concepts more effectively.
  2. Training or mentoring in specialized teaching techniques that can be used in many different subject areas, such as differentiation(varying teaching techniques based on student learning needs and interests) or literacy strategies (techniques for improving reading and writing skills), for example.
  3. Obtaining certification in a particular educational approach or program, usually from a university or other credentialing organization, such as teaching Advanced Placement courses or career and technical programs that culminate in students earning an industry-specific certification.
  4. Enhancing technical, quantitative, and analytical skills that can be used to analyze student-performance data, and then use the findings to make modifications to academic programs and teaching techniques.
  5. Learning new technological skills, such as how to use interactive whiteboards or course-management systems in ways that can improve teaching effectiveness and student performance.
  6. Refining fundamental teaching techniques, such as how to manage a classroomeffectively or frame questions in ways that elicit deeper thinking and more substantive answers from students.
  7. Working with colleagues, such as in professional learning communities, t/o develop teaching skills collaboratively or create new interdisciplinary courses that are taught by teams of two or more teachers.
  8. Developing specialized skills to better teach and supportcertain populations of students, such as students with learning disabilities or students who are not proficient in English.
  9. Obtaining leadership skills, such as skills that can be used to develop and coordinate a school-improvement initiative or a community-volunteer program.
  10. Pairing novice teachers with more experienced “mentor teachers” or “instructional coaches” who model effective teaching strategies, expose less-experienced teachers to new ideas and skills, and provide constructive feedback and professional guidance.
  11. Conducting action researchto acquire a better understanding of what’s working or not working in a school’s academic program, and then using the findings to enhance educational quality and results.
  12. Earning additional formal certifications, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification, which requires educators to spend a considerable amount of time recording, analyzing, and reflecting on their teaching practice (many states provide incentives for teachers to obtain National Board Certification).
  13. Acquiring an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree or doctorate in education, educational leadership, or a specialized field of education such as literacy or technology.


In recent years, state and national policies have paid more attention on the issue of “teacher quality”—i.e., the ability of individual teachers or a teaching faculty to improve student learning and meet expected standards for performance. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, provides a formal definition of what constitutes high-quality professional development and requires schools to report the percentage of their teaching faculty that meet the law’s definition of a “highly qualified teacher.” The law maintains that professional development should take the form of a “comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach to improving teachers’ and principals’ effectiveness in raising student achievement.” Same rules that describe professional-development expectations or require teachers to meet certain expectations for professional development may be in place at the state, district, and school levels across the country, although the design and purpose of these policies may vary widely from place to place.

Generally, professional development is considered to be the primary mechanism that schools can use to help teachers continuously learn and develop their skills over time. And in recent decades, the topic has been comprehensively researched and many strategies and initiatives have been developed to improve the quality and effectiveness of professional development for educators. While theories about professional development abound, a degree of consensus has emerged on some of the major features of effective professional development. For example, one-day workshops or conferences that are not directly connected to a school’s academic program, or to what teachers are teaching, are generally considered to be less effective than training and learning opportunities that are sustained over longer periods of time and directly connected to what schools and teachers are actually doing on a daily basis. Terms and phases such as sustainedintensiveongoing, comprehensivealignedcollaborativecontinuoussystemic, or capacity-building, as well as relevant to teacher work and connected to student learning, are often used in reference to professional development that is considered to be of higher quality. That said, there are a wide variety of theories about what kinds of professional development are most effective, as well as divergent research findings.