3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development

Spending the last week in Oslo, Norway, with the visionary Ann Michaelsen and other school leaders here, I have really thought about the way that we deliver professional development, and to be honest, some of the practices that either don’t make sense anymore, or we have to rethink.  Although this is focused mainly on what we do as adults in our time together, many of these lessons have applications to the classroom.

1.  Creating a detailed agenda – As much as I understand that people want to have an idea of where a day is going, too often we focus too much on when we are having lunch, as opposed to getting to know participants and understanding where they are at in their learning.  If we are truly to honour the learners in front of us, how can I know where they are going to be at 1pm if I haven’t even met them yet?  Listing objectives for the day is one thing, but saying when they will be achieved throughout the day is another.  If we are going to differentiate our workshops, let’s quit focusing on a time, and focus more on a person.

2.  Scheduling back-to-back-to-back-to-back learning – How many times have you been really interested in two sessions at a conference and found yourself running across a large convention hall to make it from one session to another?  With so many people connecting through social media now, the hallway is becoming as valuable a learning space as any large room; some would say more so.  The opportunity to connect and talk face-to-face is invaluable, and I believe that this has to be embedded into our days.  I was shocked a few years ago when I delivered a workshop to a group of Australians and they wanted a full 30 minutes for a break, as we were used to usually having a quick coffee and jumping right back into the learning.  They had it right, and if anything, that time could be a little longer.  A conversation with a colleague about the information presented helps to bring any knowledge shared into context within an organization.  Let’s make sure we build time in for that.

3. Thinking that “collaboration” with others is the only way we learn – It is great when we are in a room with so many colleagues that bring a lot of learning to the table.  Often the drill seems to go, someone shares information, talk with others, rinse, and repeat.  Why do we not create a time for people to sit and reflect.  Not necessarily create something, but actually write a reflection.  I have been doing this in workshops for awhile, and to be honest, a lot of educators seem to feel uncomfortable with that process, yet feel fine writing notes of everything a presenter says.  How much do we learn when we “copy and paste” our learning like that.  My belief is that until we get a chance to process and make connections, we don’t really learn that much. In one ear and out the other.  If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms.  We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

We constantly talk about changing practices in the classroom, but until we rethink and redo the way that we learn, nothing will change in the classrooms.

What would you do different?

P.S. If you want to talk to someone who is, in my estimation, an expert on the topic of professional learning, connect with Cale Birk.  He knows this area inside-out.


  1. Jeff said:

    Great stuff. Whenever I’ve been to a conference the hallways are always buzzing with excitement. Inservices can be more useful if teachers are given time to digest and share what they’ve learned.

    January 30, 2014
  2. Chett said:

    We are taught in college and in professional development that we should focus on the individual learner, give appropriate wait time, measure growth, check for understanding, allow learners time to process and apply what they’ve learned. Now, think back to all the professional development sessions you’ve suffered through. How many applied those same principles to the instruction that is provided for education professionals. I wrote an article on this topic and some suggestions on how to make professional development meaningful.

    http://www.k12hrsolutions.com/2013/02/28/whats-the-point-of-training-and-professional-development/ .

    Great topic. I hope educators continue to demand the same learning opportunities for themselves that they are expected to provide in the classroom.

    February 1, 2014
  3. John Wink said:


    I hadn’t thought of incorporating conversations and reflection into PD before, but what you say makes sense. In order for learning to change our practice, we have to figure out how this applies to what we are currently doing. I always build conversation into my trainings, but really it helps with digestion of information rather than engage in transforming practice. Thank you for the ideas


    February 2, 2014
  4. Dave Shearon said:

    For points 1 & 2, it depends on what is the primary form of “professional development.” Is that what happens at PD “events”? Or, is that what teachers do together, perhaps pulling from the “knowledge” they “acquire” at a PD event? In a Lesson Study model of PD, then the events would be selected to provide knowledge, perspective, or experience relevant to the issues involved in lessons teachers were designing. In a Lesson Study system of PD, the role of the event might allow for a fairly concentrated delivery of content – with reflection and application reserved for the Lesson Study group. When “professional development” is thought of as what happens during PD events rather than an on-going, collaborative process of reflective practice, then PD is likely to be fairly superficial at best and often a complete waste.

    February 2, 2014
  5. Your third point about providing time for reflection really resonates with me. It also reminds me of one of the main points of “Quiet” by Susan Cain that introverts need time alone for reflection and creativity. While introverts may find that reflection comes to them more naturally, I wholeheartedly agree with you that everyone can benefit from it. If we build in that time, it is more likely to happen. As Cain says, even though our current culture is collaboration crazy, it’s not necessarily the best way to learn or create.

    February 3, 2014
  6. Nicely said. Time for reflection is so important. I find that the quiet of reflection time makes people uncomfortable. If we sit with and let it sink in and use the practice over time, I think educators become more comfortable and see the value.
    As we know, professional learning should be a continuous, recursive process – not an event.

    February 7, 2014
  7. subhash said:

    We have been doing this in the most of our Professional Development workshops but, almost always, in a hurried way. We want quality reflection but we do not give enough time for that. Point number 3 makes me re-think about it. Thanks a lot.

    March 3, 2014

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