Planning Impactful Professional Development

The new year rang in a new focus of study in my graduate program. We are beginning to learn about needs assessments and program evaluations related to our current positions. As a fifth-grade general education teacher, I have found myself considering the different possibilities to focus my attention on. To start this phased approach of reflection upon a current need or program, we are diving into professional development and taking on the role of a professional learning facilitator. Our current essential standard of study is ISTE Standard 5. 

5: Professional Learning Facilitator 
A. Design professional learning based on needs assessments and frameworks for working with adults to support their cultural, social-emotional and learning needs 
B. Build the capacity of educators, leaders and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback 
C. Evaluate the impact of professional learning and continually make improvements in order to meet the schoolwide visions for using technology for high-impact teaching and learning 

The first step towards becoming an effective professional learning facilitator is to focus on effective professional learning. What are the best practices in educational technology professional development?  

This led me to thinking back on some of my personal experiences and opportunities with professional development. When racking my past opportunities, one specific conference and session stuck out to me as the most inspirational and impactful learning experience; a Minecraft for Education session at NCCE (Northwest Counsil for Computer Education) Conference 2018. I sat, in awe, at two primary teachers who travel with their students around the United States to teach educators about the powerful learning that can take place with Minecraft for Education. While I thoroughly enjoyed every single session I attended during the 3 day conference, this one has stuck with me and I continually find myself dreaming of having the chance to implement Minecraft for Education with my students. Don’t get me wrong, the content was superb… but there were more aspects to this professional development that helped It remain impactful. The entire time I was fully engaged; we collaborated with peers, had the opportunity to talk to the students about their experiences, and had prompts to help us with questioning to have a deeper understanding of the program. The presenters also made the content feel immediately accessible by showing multiple ways to adapt and implement for different subjects, grade levels, and levels of knowledge of the program. I left motivated, informed, and ready to start the learning with my students (if that were to be possible… our technology was not compatible at that time). This session was focused, kept me engaged through collaboration and activities, offered expert support and adaptability, and gave us time to reflect and brainstorm lesson ideas of our own.  

It was quite easy for me to think of a great professional development, but I came to realize that I could not think of the worst or least impactful professional development I have attended… which through more reflection makes sense. I can’t remember poor examples because I did not retain the information! However, I can think of a few general feelings I have had during professional developments that did not work for me. Having learning that is not adaptable for my position or my students, not having time to collaborate and work through my new knowledge with peers, and not having the opportunity to plan based on the content I just learned. 

While these are instances of my own experiences, I wanted to find what research says about planning effective and impactful professional development surrounding educational technology. 

What are the main components of planning impactful professional development that utilizes educational technology? 

I began my research with an report published by the Learning Policy Institute titled, “Effective Teacher Professional Development”. Authors Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner highlight the main components of effective professional development after completing a review of 35 studies. They begin by stating “we define effective professional development as structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practices and improvements in student learning outcomes”.  

The 7 key elements consisted of:   

  • specific content focus 
  • incorporation of active learning 
  • supportive of collaboration 
  • use of models of effective practice 
  • provides coaching and expert support 
  • offers feedback and reflection 
  • is of a sustained duration 

After finding this first source, I saved the info (read their full report here) and continued searching. This brought me to an article written by Vicki Davis, “8 Top Tips for Professional Development”. Davis hits the nail on the head when she states “It’s not enough to teach the right things to your teachers – you have to teach your teachers in the right way.” This could not be more true! Find her full article here

Davis states her tips for effective PD in these 8 statements: 

  1. Use what you are teaching 
  2. Develop something that you’ll use right away 
  3. Use the lesson and receive feedback 
  4. Improve and level up with another lesson 
  5. Local responsibility and buy-in 
  6. Long-term focus 
  7. Good timing 
  8. Empower peer collaboration 

We can see some of the parallels between Hammond, Hyler and Gardner’s key components with Davis’ tips in one more take on planning impactful professional development: 

study / improve
J. Cox, “15 Professional Development Skills for Modern Teachers”

Janelle Cox took a different approach to the important factors that go into a professional learning experience. Instead of looking at the pieces of the learning experience, she speaks to the skills that a teacher needs to have to be a modern and successful teacher.  

Her 15 professional development skills for modern teachers include: adaptability, confidence, communication, being a team player, continuous learning, imagination, leadership, organization, innovation, commitment, ability to manage online reputation, ability to engage, understanding of technology, knowing when to unplug, and having the ability to empower. Read more in depth in her article here

While this may feel off-topic, it is related to professional learning in a different manner than learning a program, or curriculum. It is the way in which teachers should strive to learn and grow. If our professional development can incorporate the components of effective PD from our first authors, while drawing on the tips derived from Davis, and holding ourselves to developing the skills from Cox, I believe you will have the tools necessary to plan and implement an impactful professional learning experience.  

What are other tips, tricks or elements of effective and lasting PD that you have found to help you? What have you tried that was successful during a learning experience you facilitated? Comment below! 


Cox, J. (2020, May 14). 15 Professional Development Skills for Modern Teachers. TeachHUB. 

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. 

Davis, V. (2015, April 15). 8 Top Tips for Highly Effective PD. Edutopia. 


  • Megan H

    I really appreciate the ideas you shared from Cox around the skills that teachers need. What a great connection too, connecting this to how we design professional development opportunities that help educators become more adaptable, confident, innovative, etc. I think you are right when you said that you couldn’t remember the bad experiences because they weren’t relevant and there was no connection to your own classroom. Just another reminder of how important it is to design with our teachers in mind and their needs.

  • Kaelynn Noel Mumley

    I liked how you approached your question – not only do we need to think through the components of effective PD when planning but teachers also need to be ready, willing, and active learners. I think it would be worth discussing Cox’s article with the whole staff at the beginning of the year to help set expectations for staff participation and growth. They can weigh in on the ones that really resonate with them, disagree with others, or add more items to the list. I imagine it would be very informational for the admin/coaches leading the PD and I think it could help set the culture for the school’s professional development sessions for the year. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *