Elements of an Effective Professional Development Program

It is no secret that effective professional development continues to prove how it improves instructional practices.

Due to the complexity of teaching, one-third of teachers leave the profession within three years, and nearly half of them leave within five years, as found in a study by Ingersoll. All teachers, even the experienced ones, encounter new challenges each year, including:

  • Changes in standards
  • New instructional methods
  • Advances in technology
  • Changes in procedures
  • The growing diversity of student learning needs

This reinforces the need for teachers to collaborate and engage with one another around meaningful topics in education and other supportive learning opportunities. It is no secret that not all teacher professional development opportunities are equal or effective. However, specific professional development characteristics are linked to long-lasting, positive outcomes for teachers and their students. 

Unfortunately, most of the professional development opportunities out there are not up to par with the expectations of high-quality professional development. According to research, opportunities that are less in-depth are provided by administrators and districts to serve larger groups of educators within an allotted time and budget. 

Teachers need professional development experiences that are more effective, sustained, and focused on promoting lasting change.

The term “andragogy” (similar to pedagogy) is referred to as adult learning and was developed by Malcolm Shepard Knowles. Knowles discovered adult experiences, whether positive or negative, are strong means for their learning. It was discovered that adults seek problem-centered information to be applied instantly to advance positive change in their work. 

Gains outweigh associated costs when we fully recognize the outcomes of high-quality professional development. Three primary learning outcomes of professional development are:

  1. Based on their participation, teachers will benefit from the knowledge and skills learned
  2. Teachers improve their teaching practices by implementing what they learn
  3. As a result of the new content learned, student learning and performance improves 

Specific characteristics that are identified and documented to foster successful learning further enhance the outcomes of students. 

Effective Professional Development Criteria


Teachers should walk out of their professional development training with a new bag of tricks up their sleeves. Gaining explicit instruction of knowledge, skills, and strategies while improving the teacher’s existing content knowledge is the ultimate goal of professional development. Teachers should get back into their classrooms prepared to apply the information to lesson planning, assessment, and distinguished instruction. Content-based professional development will be aligned with statewide standards and assessments. 


Relevant learning is explicit, realistic, and challenging. When content is meaningful, and teachers can link it to their prior knowledge, teachers are motivated to learn. The content must be relevant to what is currently needed in their classroom. 

Teachers feel more supported when professional development is directly related to the current needs and requirements of both teaching practices and their students. 


Teachers love inspiration, new ideas, and engaging ways to bring their classrooms to life. Hands-on opportunities to model and practice, engage in planning, review lessons, or watch live videos of implementation are what we call active learning. 

Visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic modalities are activated in multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham learning. This engages and challenges all learners, children, and adults alike! Teachers should experience the methods they will deliver to their students while taking part in professional development opportunities.

Teachers should be given multiple opportunities to seek clarification, process information, raise concerns and ask questions with peers and expert trainers in professional development that spans days or weeks.  


Effective professional development should be collaborative and provide opportunities for collective participation between teachers, leaders, and experts. This quality experience allows teachers to share their strategies and knowledge with others in the same grade, department, or school. It improves troubleshooting and focuses on progress. Teachers can leave this type of high-quality learning energized and inspired.

Administrators can magnify the benefits of effective professional development if they provide it to multiple cohorts within the school. Educators across all sectors develop a common language, and student needs are targeted through thoughtful shifts in instructional delivery.


Engaging teachers in professional development that is directly aligned with their school’s mission and philosophy gives them a sense of urgency to bring this new knowledge into practice within their classrooms. 

Opportunities for communication that promotes value, inquiry, uncertainty and builds teacher confidence is supported through professional learning communities. Students take notice when teachers return to the classroom with new activities, ideas, strategies, and engagements. 

Leaders, too, should engage with their educators who have taken part in professional development and ask questions and provide encouragement. Teachers who take part in uplifting professional development training are always open to sharing their enthusiasm. 


Teachers should consider an ongoing commitment to professional development that is specific and deeply focused on their specific subject. This ongoing commitment allows educators to translate ideas into practice effectively. This allows the teacher to build upon their knowledge and experiences over time and potentially gain specialist knowledge in their highest area of need. 

Sustainable learning is an ongoing process that spans weeks, months, and even years. This includes workshops and classes, practicum or internships, and even certification programs.


To master a new skill, it takes roughly 20 trials of delivery.

When teachers are provided ongoing expert support and feedback post-professional development, it allows time to troubleshoot and contend with implementation challenges within the classroom. This opens opportunities for teachers to benefit from constructive feedback, assessment, and observation to improve delivery, practice, and long-term outcomes.

In Conclusion

It is no secret that effective professional development proves to improve instructional practices. Education leaders should always consider teacher choice when choosing effective professional development that can positively impact teaching culture in the classroom, grade, department, or entire school. 

The most important result of effective professional development is how students improve. When teachers learn, students learn.