Professional Development for Teachers: What Works and What Doesn’t

Development for Teachers

Recently, researchers have found that students often learn best in non-traditional ways. The most common practices of previous decades, such as lectures and heavy reliance on exams, have undergone reform.

Likewise, the k12 training program demands modification. Researchers are discovering that adults learn best under specific conditions and require a unique approach.

Once these programs adjust to incorporate new approaches, teacher performance will improve exponentially.

What Doesn’t Work

First, those who design professional development workshops must eliminate ineffective methods. The most counterproductive of these are mentioned below.

Passive Learning

Countless studies have highlighted the importance of active learning for students. They learn most effectively when provided with the opportunity to try new things. Yet, unfortunately, passive learning is still embedded into the k12 training program for teachers.

When teachers listen to lectures, it can be challenging to process mountains of information quickly. Often, instructors’ breeze through important topics, and teachers struggle to understand them.

Generalized Lessons

Teachers often suffer because they are all lumped into the same group. Experienced teachers attend the same lectures they have heard before, while new teachers need help to absorb all the information.

Vague Topics

Because professional development seminars are often short, instructors try to cover every topic as quickly as possible. They may discuss time management, collaboration, and communication in as little time as possible.

The curriculum suffers when instructors believe they must include every important topic in one day.

Lack Of Connections

During professional development, teachers often bounce between multiple instructors discussing several topics. Unfortunately, there are no connections between these discussions, leaving teachers overwhelmed and confused.

Moreover, the information does not connect to individual teachers. As a result, there is no time to discuss the implications of new methods in diverse classrooms.

No Follow-Through

After a k12 training program, teachers should have time to process and practice what they learned. They should reflect on their current techniques and explore how new information will change their approach.

Additionally, the instructors are not available to follow up with teachers. Once they return to the classroom, teachers must implement new methods without knowing whether they are doing so correctly.

What Works

Discovering which methods are ineffective is only half the battle. Teachers should be provided with opportunities to optimize learning during teacher professional development.

The Research

In 2017, the Learning Policy Institute published a study of the effectiveness of teacher professional development. The report covers 35 studies showing a positive interaction between professional development, teaching practices, and student outcomes.

The researchers could highlight common features and approaches by examining these success stories.

Overall, they determined a k12 training program should teach and improve upon the teaching strategies used to promote critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and independence for students.

The specific details are discussed below.

Active Learning

Just as passive learning is ineffective, active learning is very beneficial for teachers’ professional development. A popular theory about adult learning, known as the theory of andragogy, states that adults are more self-directed, internally motivated, and ready to learn than children.

Adults are eager to take an active role in the learning process. When they are involved in the curriculum and provided the opportunity to teach themselves and each other, they learn more than through lectures.


Teachers should have the opportunity to customize their learning experiences. Every topic is only relevant for some teachers. For example, teaching play skills is only useful for early childhood teachers.

When teachers have choices, they optimize their time by receiving the most relevant information. They can even focus on their weaknesses rather than areas in which they already excel.

K12 training programs that offer online resources provide teachers with many choices, allowing them to select relevant topics.


Adults learn a great deal by watching each other. When teachers learn new techniques, they should practice in front of a group. This system allows teachers to practice, receive feedback, and learn from each other.

Additionally, co-teaching is a valuable skill. Seminars that promote this skill help teachers to continue learning from each other after the workshop.


Feedback is crucial for the success of professional development. After a workshop, teachers should be confident they can perform new methods correctly.

Once they practice these skills in front of instructors and receive feedback, they can implement them confidently in the classroom.

This step also includes reflection. Teachers should take the time to consider how they believe they are performing and areas where they need to improve.


Workshops should last an extended period. Teachers become overwhelmed when instructors try to cram too much information into half a day and miss key points.

A study by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education indicated that teachers require about 50 hours of learning to master new teaching strategies.


It is not always possible for teachers to take action during a workshop. Luckily, modeling is a great teaching tool. Adults can learn quite a bit by observing each other. Instructors can capitalize on this by allowing teachers to watch each other or by modeling.

When an instructor models a new teaching method, teachers can see it unfold flawlessly. Plus, the details will be easier to remember than if discussed in a lecture.


One way to help teachers connect to the material is to relate it to their curriculum content. For example, learning new methods to teach spelling may seem insignificant to a science teacher until they see that breaking complex words into sections helps with comprehension.

Final Thoughts

When college students decide to work toward a teaching degree, they do not expect to receive generous salaries. They also know their jobs will be exhausting, and they will rarely receive the respect they deserve.

Nonetheless, these students step up, aiming to help children. These teachers are committed to doing their best, but an ineffective k12 training program impedes their progress. Once this system is adjusted, teachers will learn to connect with students in new and meaningful ways.


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