What Makes PD Worthwhile?

I’ve written about professional development (PD) several times over the course of the years as I’ve held both the role of presenter and audience member. Most of the PD I’ve experienced in my 25 years of teaching has followed the one-shot, sit-and-get model which research (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Dede, Ketelhut, Whitehouse, Breit, & McCloskey, 2008; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001) suggests to be one of the most ineffective ways to provide PD. The reasons behind the one-shot PD as an ineffective mode of professional growth is the lack of coherence, relevance, and sustainability. In addition, PD that happens to teachers as in they are talked at for the hour or so is not effective either (Appova & Arbaugh, 2017; Macià & García, 2016). This is why my dissertation study focused on examining the influence of PD that included the following:

Conceptual Map of Best Practices of Teacher Professional Development
(Desimone & Garet, 2015)

Disclaimer: While Desimone and Garet (2015) and by extension me (via the findings of my research study) believe that this PD model works, this is by far not the only model of best practices for teacher professional development.

The PD I attended this past Thursday was hosted by the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) under the leadership of Marika Manos, Coordinator of History/Social Science. This PD was designed around a community of practices model in which educators from all levels (e.g., K12, higher education) came together to learn from other educators (collective participation). There were four sessions planned throughout the school year (sustained duration) with the theme of Environmental Principles and Concepts and application of these ideas to the History/Social Science content (coherence, content focus).

I was unable to attend the first three sessions, so I cannot speak to the level of active learning that occurred on those days. But I can attest to the level of active learning during the fourth session in which the esteemed Bob Bain presented on Surfacing & Engaging Students’ Thinking When Teaching History and the Social Sciences.

To begin, what I appreciated was the fact that he not only asked us our names and what we taught…he wrote those down so that he could speak to us on a personal level by using our names. Bob also started his session by sharing that when he teaches or presents, he asks his audience to think about three things as they reflect on their learning:

  • What supported your thinking?
  • What extended your thinking?
  • What challenged your thinking?

I loved this.

By setting us up with questions that he was going to ask us to address by the end of the day, Bob ensured that we would be actively engaged in the learning.

Throughout the day, Bob presented research, shared student examples, personal anecdotes, and asked educators to share their questions, thinking, and understanding. To anyone who walked by the room, it might have seemed as if we were all passively learning as much of the time we were listening and viewing Bob’s presentation. But that takes me back to the blog post by Blake Harvard titled The Myth of Passive Learning. For years, I erroneously believed that if learners were not physically active during the learning process, then the learning could only be categorized as passive. However, Blake points out that while the body may be physically passive, when the mind is engaged in focused cognition, the person is actively learning. But I also think that just because one is physically active does not equate to learning. I’ll expound on this in another blog post.

And that takes me back to Desimone and Garet’s (2015) conceptual model of PD. Everything about the presentation on Thursday engaged me on a cognitive level. All cylinders were firing–I could barely keep up with the amazing amount of information being presented. So yes, the PD definitely fulfilled the notion of active learning.

But here’s the most important take-away about this PD…I wanted to be there. I made the choice to go because I was interested in meeting Bob and the learning about what he had to share. This is the part of PD that I think is one of the most under-rated: participant interest.

It’s an easy hook…and one that (in my opinion) is often overlooked. This is why I love EdCamps and my network of peers. We talk about what interests us and what we know would interest others. We come together to learn from each other. Our discussions are typically content-based, aligned with what we’ve been discussing in the past, sustained over time, actively engaging, collectively participatory…but more importantly…it is of interest to us.

In closing, here is my reflection of the PD from this past Thursday:

  • The information Bob shared about historical thinking and the gaps between experts (teachers) and novices (students) supported my efforts both as a classroom teacher and professional developer. It’s important to be cognizant of the in/coherence problem. But it’s more than awareness, I need to find ways to narrow the gap.
  • My thinking was extended in that I need to provide more scaffolds for my English language learners. I need to spend more time gaining a better understanding of their comprehension of the content so that I can clear up any misconceptions. In other words, I need to make the hidden visible. NOTE: This is something I am currently working on with the brain dumps.
  • I left the day challenged to be a better educator, not only for my students, but also for the people who attend my PD sessions and who are part of my PLN. I need to not make assumptions about what I think they know. I need to be better at addressing the gaps between expert and novice…teacher/student and teacher/teacher.

I can and will do better.


Appova, A., & Arbaugh, F. (2017). Teachers’ motivation to learn: Implications for supporting professional growth. Professional Development in Education, 7, 1–17. doi:10.1080/19415257.2017.1280524

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (with Espinoza, D.). (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev

Darling-Hammond, L., & McLaughlin, M. W. (1995). Policies that support professional development in an era of reform. Phi Delta Kappan, 92, 81–92. doi:10.1177/003172171109200622

Dede, C., Ketelhut, D. J., Whitehouse, P., Breit, L., & McCloskey, E. M. (2008). A research agenda for online teacher professional development. Journal of Teacher Education, 60, 8–19. doi:10.1177/0022487108327554

Desimone, L. M., & Garet, M. S. (2015). Best practices in teacher’s professional development in the United States. Psychology, Society, & Education, 7, 252–263. doi:10.25115/psye.v7i3.515

Garet, M. S., Porter, A. C., Desimone, L., Birman, B. F., & Yoon, K. S. (2001). What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 915–945. doi:10.3102/00028312038004915

Macià, M., & García, I. (2016). Informal online communities and networks as a source of teacher professional development: A review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 55, 291–307. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2016.01.021

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