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5 Don'ts for Teacher Professional Development

Jessica Piper

A professional development session can leave a teacher feeling knowledgeable and excited, or feel like the session was a waste of their time.

I’ve had the benefit of working in three different districts; some were very laid back, and others were very uptight. I’ve seen both extremes as far as the PD spectrum goes; I’ve had great, and I’ve been subjected to bad, so I feel qualified to write on professional development. 

When I came across the article 5 Ways to Fail at Design in the Harvard Business Review, I became inspired to relate it to teaching.  I knew the points of design failure could aptly be used in the teaching profession, especially in regard to professional development failure.

Take these teachers' perspective tips on what to avoid when planning your next professional development.

Don't Tease Teachers with Tools They Can't Use

Teachers like receiving insightful and innovative professional development with exciting methodology, but dislike when administrators then refuse to change any other part of the district/building/department.

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Giving a teacher great professional development with exciting new technologies, new methods of teaching, and new products to play with, and then turning her back into the “same” building, with the “same” expectations is brutal. There is only so much innovation that can happen when only a few are excited.  Other aspects have to change as well.

Teachers need a culture of innovation to blossom and if they have tools introduced to them, but then are never given the chance to run with those new tools…well, they won’t run for long.

Don't Choose Irrelevant PD Topics

Teachers are disappointed when professional development is not useful to them where they are, in that moment. The crucial word is R-E-L-E-V-A-N-C-E. 

The absolute worst PD I’ve ever been to was one that taught me to create a PowerPoint…in 2009! Really? It was an awful way to waste my time. I’ve been to a PD for graphic organizers (snooze), one for storytelling (and I’m not talking the digital kind…let’s just say there was a walking stick that I was supposed to converse with), and even one on Foldables (okay…that one was fun but I’m not sure how useful origami is=).

My point is, I may be a little more technologically-advanced than others, but not quite as adept at assessing reading strategies as some. Please learn where your teachers are, and go from there. Differentiation applies to teachers as well as students.

Don't Focus ONLY On Another School's Success

Professional development that is solely organized around another school’s success is bound to fail. Sure, all teachers want to learn what works in other schools. We want to hear about great RTI, fantastic test scores, and fabulous discipline techniques, but, one school’s success has to make sense in a another school. 

Good professional development stays true to the needs of a school and its’ teachers; it can bring forth methods that have worked in other schools, but we can’t just “copycat”. PD in schools that work needs to be tailored to each district, and from there, each building.

Don't Underestimate Teachers

Professional development that that is piecemeal, at best, will surely lose the interest of the teacher. Deciding on a direction a school will be going, and then handing out only the tiniest bits and pieces of information is hard for many teachers to swallow.

I know that there is another side of the coin– being overwhelmed–but many, if not most teachers can take on a challenge with a big chunk of information (and, give us a little credit…we didn’t earn advanced degrees by being intimidated with a lot of information). Teachers don’t like incoherence, and that’s exactly what it feels like when we are given teeny bits of information or strategies in isolation. Give me something big to work with…small isolated pieces feel adolescent and frankly, really (really) boring.

Don't Choose Non-Practicing Presenters

The worst PD is condescending and patronizing. These awful PD’s usually come from someone who is one of two things: 

A.) One who hasn’t been a teacher in years.


B.) One who has never been a teacher.

In either case, it’s easy for condescension to creep in. It’s important to remember that most teachers are active learners and also professionals.

*Please don’t tell me to differentiate in my classroom while in a “one size fits all” PD.
*Please don’t ask me to have a constructivist classroom while you’re giving me a handout.
*Please don’t remind me that I need to use inquiry…while you lecture.
*Following me? If you ask for something of my classroom, please return the favor in professional development, otherwise, it feels patronizing.

Excuse me for little bit of a soapboxy, but teachers need to grow as professionals. We want to stay on top of our game. Please help us by giving us the most innovative, relevant, tailored, differentiated, and professional professional development you can plan and you won't have a school full of angry teachers!

What tips do you have for successful teacher professional development? Share in the comments section!

Reprinted with permission from the author. Originally posted on author Jessica Piper's blog, Writing is Immortality.