Practical Tips & Tools

5 Keys for Effective Professional Development

February 16, 2023

Teachers and tutors make a difference in what we do. But many adult education and literacy programs, especially small ones, have both limited staff and financial resources to support professional development. So it’s important that what they choose is effective. 

The article “What Works—and What Doesn’t—in Teacher PD” synthesizes the findings from a report from the Research Partnership for Professional Learning that was written by researchers at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brown University. The article outlines five keys for effective professional development (PD): 

  1. PD should focus on instructional practices rather than content knowledge
  2. PD should prioritize concrete materials for practice over general principles
  3. Have follow-up meetings after PD or coaching
  4. PD should help teachers build relationships with students
  5. Coaching and teacher collaboration are key strategies

When I think of the first two, I think about learning to cook. If you’re learning to cook, you don’t start with a list of various herbs that go well with chicken and then try to create a dish on your own. You start with a simple recipe, preferably one that uses basic cooking techniques—dicing, boiling, roasting, etc. As you become more experienced, you might add something to a recipe or even create something on your own. But with a good recipe and some basic skills and tools, you can produce an excellent dish. 

Items 3 and 5 emphasize the importance of providing tutors and teachers with opportunities to talk, share ideas, and support each other. We’ve encouraged programs to implement things like Facebook chat groups or PD learning circles. Our latest training project, Teacher Training Plus, does this through small group coaching sessions that participants can sign up for two to three weeks after they attend a webinar. 

In addition to Teacher Training Plus, Education Network has an extensive collection of quality professional development to meet the needs of your program. And, while not exhaustive, the keys for effective PD outlined in the article serve as solid guidelines that we hope you use to choose the professional development opportunities that most benefit your tutors and teachers.  

Todd Evans is ProLiteracy’s Director of Professional Development. This article is based on a larger literature review: Building Better PL: How to Strengthen Teacher Learning. You can find this research paper on Education Network.