Professional Development Opportunities: How Should PD be Organized for Maximum Effectiveness?

One of the most effective math PD I have experienced was a three-part workshop over the course of six weeks, where the first day consisted of incorporating technology and manipulatives into math (specifically algebra). At the end of the workshop, they asked teachers to do two things: first, to come up with ideas of what they want addressed during the next workshop and, second, to apply some of the ideas we learned that day to our math lessons and then bring student samples to the second meeting.

I think that this was a great idea as the audience became involved in their own learning and development. Just like how we as teachers want our students to be meaningfully engaged during our lessons, teachers should be just as engaged and active in their PD opportunities. Since this PD was spread out over three workshops, the developers had the unique opportunity to determine the needs of the audience the first day and then address these needs over the next two meetings. I understand that not all developers have the flexibility of three-part workshops; however, they could send out a quick email or survey to determine what teachers want to discuss during the PD. The whole point is that teachers could be actively involved and engaged in their professional learning opportunities with some effort by the workshop leaders or developers.  What really stood out to me was that the teachers in attendance were co-constructors of their professional development, instead of simply being a member of the audience.

Another example of effective PD is “vertical PD” where teachers from various grade levels learn in collaboration.  Throughout the last year, we have been working with our area SSLN (Student Success Learning Network) for math, so this is an excellent example of vertical PD. Each SSLN is composed of one high school and about five elementary schools that meet at the high school with resource teachers to discuss an area of importance, with this year’s focus being on Numeracy Assessment for Learning Cycle (NAfLC). It was a great opportunity to work with high school and other intermediate teachers throughout the year as we discussed: the transition from elementary school to high school; how to incorporate more problem solving into our units; using the SmartBoard and other technology for math; learning how to use Bansho, gallery walks, and math conferences during lessons; how to address the needs of our ELL and SpecEd students; and the importance of allowing students freedom and choice during problem solving. We had a focus for each workshop and worked in heterogeneous groupings of teachers from various grade levels, so we were able to not only reflect on our own teaching practices and learn new strategies, but we had very meaningful and eye-opening discussions with high school math teachers that centred around how we can better prepare our students for high school math.

Finally, two important questions that should be answered at every PD experience are: how can this be practically applied to my classroom and where does this now take us? I have been to some workshops where I did not gain much insight nor did I receive any resources that could be used with my students. I believe that a great PD experience provides teachers with resources that they can use in their classrooms and with their students. I love going to a workshop and finding out that an actual classroom teacher was part of the planning and development because then the content is more practical and “real” to me—the presenters or developers are teachers themselves with current classroom experience, so they know what is important to teachers and what needs to be addressed.


Here’s a great article that discusses professional development in a 21C context.  I LOVE the P21 blog!!


What do you think makes a great Pd opportunity?

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